140°F is hot, very hot and when you are on a track in full racing leathers it is even hotter. In a 1-on-1 intervew with WorldSBK riders Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark tell what they do to give TMW readers an idea of how to cope, survive and thrive on a burning racetrack. As as bonus we also get brake and engine technical tips from Alberto Colombo, Yamaha’s WorldSBK Technical Co-ordinator.
On a side note, I was going to run a different Rider Inspiration story this week for you all, not that Racing WorldSBK in Brutal 140°F Heat isn’t a good one, it is; but something very cool is happening on June 13th with the other story and I didn’t want to not include that additional information so you’ll just have to wait a week.
Racing in Buriram, Thailand brings challenges unlike any other circuit on the current WorldSBK calendar. With air temperatures touching 40 degrees, creating track temperatures close to 60, even watching the race from the pit wall requires a lot of water intake and a change of shirt afterwards. Yamaha Racing wanted to explore how the riders and Pata Yamaha’s R1’s are able to race flat out for 20 laps in such extreme conditions.
First, we grabbed Alberto Colombo (known by all as “Moro”), Yamaha’s WorldSBK Technical Co-ordinator, to help us with the technical aspects.
Yamaha Racing: We have seen quite a lot of work going on with the Pata Yamaha R1’s relating to the heat here – can you let us know what are the biggest technical challenges?
Moro: Well, in general, racing machines don’t like to be too hot – and here it is an extreme problem! There are a few areas we need to control but it’s not so easy! Let’s look at the key problem areas.
A combination of really high temperatures and very hard-braking from top speed at the end of the two straights sees the front brakes pushed to, or over, the limit of their capability. We have implemented some changes here in Thailand designed to improve braking performance in the extreme conditions.
Alex and Michael are running carbon fiber air ducts on the bottom of the fork leg which channel air from the high-pressure area at the front of the bike directly onto the brake calipers, which normally sit in a pocket of turbulent air behind the fork legs. Other teams have used this system in the past – we have not needed it before – but now we are pushing harder and going faster! We also think our ducts are the most elegant design of all the teams… to match the best looking bike!
In addition, we are using thicker Brembo front brake discs than normal. The increased mass slows the heat build-up that can lead to a drop off in braking performance. There is a small negative in terms of weight, but at this track braking consistency and power is the priority.
We monitor the disc temperatures on the YZF-R1 using temperature sensitive paint applied to the outer edge of the disc. We use three different paints that change colour at specific temperatures – green at 430 degrees centigrade, orange at 560 degrees and red which doesn’t react and change colour until the surface of the disc reaches 610 degrees centigrade. After the races here, even the red paint is completely changed – so we are running the steel discs at over 600 degrees…! The mechanics must be careful when the bike reaches the pit box!
Finally, the maintenance of the brakes by the team is so important. After every session or race they are servicing the calipers, changing the brake fluid and making sure the pads and discs are in perfect condition.
If we cannot control the water and engine temperatures on the R1, we risk losing power and possibly creating durability problems. The air temperature being so high is one issue, but this is amplified by the long straight where the riders are looking for the best slipstream – which means the bike is not receiving any “fresh” air.
Our R1 already uses the best water and oil radiators possible, so there is no easy improvement in this area. We could improve airflow by removing the guards which sit onto the radiator surfaces, but if a stone broke either radiator this could compromise safety for our rider and also our competitors. So, this is not really an option.
So, we focus on getting as much air into, and out of, the radiators as possible. The team ensures that the fairing is closed as tightly as possible around the entry point of the air to the radiators, and we have made modifications to the bodywork, to the limits allowed within the regulations, to help higher volumes of air to exit the engine area. This may not be the best for aerodynamic performance but cooling is the bigger priority.
Also the team must be very careful to ensure that the water in the cooling system is completely free of air bubbles, and we change the Motul 300v oil very regularly due to the extreme temperatures it must endure. Like this, we can help the Pata Yamaha R1 to survive this extreme test and aim for the podium!
Lowes and Van der Mark – inside the pressure cooker
The R1 has to face some challenges in this temperature, but of course so do the Pata Yamaha riders. They are used to riding and winning at the Suzuka 8hr race in July’s extreme Japanese summer humidity, but WorldSBK is raced at a far higher tempo – a flat-out “sprint race” which requires full physical commitment over every lap.
We asked Alex and Michael to talk to us through what it takes to race in such extreme conditions…
YR: What’s the most important thing to be able to compete well here in Buriram?
Alex Lowes: Well I guess the first thing is that you to be properly fit to start with. I work really hard to ensure I’m ready for anything but for sure the temperature adds a different dimension to what you have to put yourself through in terms of dehydration and energy levels.
Michael van der Mark: Yeah that’s right – and on top of the base fitness, you don’t want to be suffering with any kind of illness because this heat makes everything more difficult. I think Alex and me are two of the fittest riders, it’s quite easy to see the guys who struggle more because they start making mistakes and the lap-times drop towards the end.
AL: You have the advantage to start with because you’re a quarter Indonesian. I’m from Derby and it never gets over 20 degrees!
MvdM: True but I live in Rotterdam on the water’s edge – if you want to know what cold is really like, come and visit me in January!
YR: Do you prepare differently for this race?
AL: A little bit, yes. I’ll do some hard training in very hot conditions so that I am used to the stress. I focus even more on the right nutrition and hydration. And I try to avoid air conditioning – Dave (Alex’s assistant) and I drove up from Bangkok to Buriram with no air-con the whole way! 5 hours of discomfort but it’s the right way to get used to the temperatures. Dave’s seat wasn’t very nice to look at when we arrived, though…
MvdM: Quite similar to Alex. There is nothing really “special” you can do, you just have to be confident that you are ready to go for 20 laps and be as strong at the end as you are at the start. This takes a lot of work and preparation over the winter months, you can’t suddenly be ready for it.
YR: What about your riding equipment – any changes to normal?
AL: I run a water bladder in the hump of my RST leathers but they only hold around 300 millilitres, so the advantage is negligible. Obviously the suits are vented but the air temperature is so hot it doesn’t really help that much! It’s also important not to get sweat on the inside of the visor – obviously no tear-offs on the inside! – so we use a special sweat pad in my Shark helmet.
MvdM: Alpinestars make a great cooling vest that I use before the race and on the grid to reduce my core temperature. I also use a drinks system and it helps a bit but it gets too warm after a few laps! The under-suit is also important, it wicks the sweat and allows the suit to move around freely and help you feel more comfortable.
YR: Is the break between sessions is important? What can you do after riding the bike?
AL: We both jump straight into a pool containing iced water after each session or race – separate ones though, I don’t share my paddling pool with anybody! Ashley from the team sorts this out for us and it’s a big help.
MvdM: This helps us to quickly lower the core body temperature, and also helps with any muscle fatigue. It’s also just nice to lay back and not feel like you are in an oven for a little while!
AL: I also start the rehydration process at the same time. In a 45-minute session in the Thai heat, we can lose between 1 and 1.5kg in weight through sweat alone. The fluids and minerals need to be replaced as quickly as possible. Coconut water (straight out of the coconut here in Thailand!) is one of the best ways of rehydrating, even better when relaxing in the paddling pool..!
MvdM: I keep the rehydration process going right up until the time I’m on the bike for the next session. It’s so important to take on enough fluid. It can be difficult to have a good appetite in this heat, but I make sure if load up with the right foods so I have enough energy levels. A cycling energy gel on the grid, a fist pump with my guys and I’m ready again for the fight!
Total Motorcycle would like to thank Yamaha, Yamaha WorldSBK, Michael van der Mark, Alex Lowes, Alberto Colombo and Pata Yamaha race team for bringing this week’s Total Motorcycle Rider Inspiration story to you. Thank you Yamaha!