MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Are track limits MotoGP’s new tyranny?
Some people hate MotoGP’s rules over track-limits, but to understand why they are there we need to look at racing safety over the years
It’s a funny old world. Here we are in 2019 arguing about MotoGP riders exceeding track limits when motorcycle racing already had the best punishment for this crime more than a hundred years ago.
Great big stone walls did the job just fine – the ultimate deterrent to riders who sought to better their lap times by taking faster, wider lines.
Of course, the punishment could be severe. But, hey, as cynics used to say (and some still do) “the throttle works both ways”.
The first rider to fatally exceed track limits at the Isle of Man TT was Rudge factory rider Victor Surridge, who ran wide exiting the Glen Helen left-hander and rode into a rockface, on 27th July 1911.
Helpers at the nearby hotel tried to revive him with brandy, but without success.
Similar ends for riders pushing the boundaries were horrifically common over the decades, until clever people created purpose-built race tracks on open land, so the asphalt wasn’t bordered by walls, buildings and telegraph poles.
In Britain, dozens of these tracks were born out of disused Second World War airfields, including Goodwood, a vital Battle of Britain base.
Goodwood hosted its first (and last) motorcycle meeting in April 1951, which was dominated by Norton’s Geoff Duke. You would’ve thought that everyone would’ve been delighted by the track’s improved safety. But no, one reporter harrumphed that it allowed riders to see all the way through the corners, which encouraged them to take risks they wouldn’t usually take.
Purpose-built circuits saved the lives of countless bike racers, but soon they started killing them again. During the late 1960s, Formula 1 drivers demanded Armco barriers to contain the flight of out-of-control F1 cars. The barriers were an important safety improvement for car racers, but they were no softer than brick-walls for bike racers. In the Grand Prix paddock, they were nicknamed “death rails.”
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.