Fire In Yamaha Garage Gets Austin MotoGP Round Off To Bumpy Start

A fire in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha garage in the small hours of Thursday morning has caused disruption for several teams at the start of this weekend's Austin round of MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas. A lithium battery on a motorcycle starter engine appears to have caught fire, after being left on a charger overnight, a common occurrence in the paddock. Fortunately, the sprinkler installation in the garages put out the fire quickly, meaning there was no damage to the race bikes, and most importantly of all, no injury to anyone at the circuit.

There is damage, though. Sprinkler systems went off in the garages set aside for the factory Yamaha, Tech 3 Yamaha, Cardion AB and LCR Honda teams, soaking everything in the garages with water, and filling the boxes used to store equipment with water. Computers and servers were lost to water damage, while other electrical equipment is being examined for signs of water damage. The loss of the computers is inconvenient, but Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told the media that they had another server which was undamaged, and a full data back up plan in place.

Everyone in both Yamaha teams was full of praise for the Circuit of the Americas. "I think if we hadn't been here, in this circuit, with these excellent facilities, we'd have lost probably six bikes," Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told the media. "It would have been another story. So my thanks go to the circuit, to the people that helped us, also to the fire service, because their help during the incident, but also frankly their help now is exemplary, to help clean it up." The excellent fire prevention facilities at COTA had made all the difference. At many traditional tracks in Europe, the fire would not have been dealt with so quickly.

Jarvis summed up the damage done: "we've lost computers, we've lost TV screens, monitors, servers, all of our crates are full of water, so that means all the gear's filled with water, all the spare parts, so you know, it's an issue, it's a big issue," Jarvis said. It would not affect their ability to race, however. "We'll be able to race this weekend, we're quite confident of that, but we have to really look, we have to take everything to pieces basically, and then dry everything to make sure we don't have corrosion issues."

Those corrosion issues could be more of a problem in the next few races. Water damage to electrical components is extremely difficult to trace, and can often take a few weeks to take hold. "The bigger concern we have here is that we have to check everything today, and make sure everything is functioning," Jarvis explained. "But what we can't anticipate is what is the knock-on effect, after this race we go back to Europe, then we have the next race in Jerez so we need to make sure everything's dry, because you have corrosion problems."  Jarvis said that Yamaha's Japanese engineers were more concerned about electrical parts. "The problem is not mechanical parts, because you can see, the problem is when you have electrical parts, you cannot see [those problems]. So that requires a lot of testing, double checking. Hopefully we don't have any issues, small issues, corrosion problems, electrical connections, this is the concern."

Team staff - and sponsors, and track staff, and anyone who can pitch in - are currently in the process of cleaning out the six garages affected, working hard to get everything ready for practice on Friday morning. Everyone should be ready for this weekend, and ready to race on Sunday. But the fire raises two questions: in the short term, whether the teams involved will suffer electrical issues in a couple of races time, due to damage which is almost impossible to spot now, or later. If Jorge Lorenzo or Valentino Rossi suffer a DNF because of an electrical fault, that could have a major impact on the championship. And secondly, whether the lithium batteries currently being employed in a number of uses - including in the bike starter motors - are safe enough, and being employed correctly.

The Factory Yamaha team, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, and the Circuit of the Americas all issued press releases after the fire, which are reproduced below:

Tech 3 ready to compete in Austin after garage fire

The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team would like to thank the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and local Austin Fire Department staff for their immediate action after a small fire broke out inside Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith’s pit garage overnight.

One of the electric starters used to start the Team’s Yamaha YZR-M1 machinery caught fire, but thanks to the high standards of safety and fire prevention at the new COTA track, a sprinkler system was immediately activated and prevented any serious damage.

Computer equipment was damaged but despite the disruption to preparations for the inaugural Circuit of the Americas race, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team is not anticipating the fire incident causing any problems to its participation in this weekend’s much anticipated first race in Texas.

Team staff will now commence a thorough investigation into the cause of the fire and the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team would also like to place on record its appreciation to the management and staff at Yamaha for its cooperation in helping the French-based squad be as best prepared as possible for the weekend.

Herve Poncharal – Team Manager:

“Unfortunately there was a small incident inside the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage overnight. The process of starting a MotoGP machine requires an electric starter and overnight they are left on charge. This is standard procedure and something we have been doing ever since the introduction of the four-stroke era. Unfortunately in the night one of the batteries caught fire. We have suffered quite a lot of damage and of course it is not ideal preparations but thankfully the fire prevention measures undertaken by the Circuit of the Americas and the assistance of the local Fire Department were invaluable in limiting the damage. The sprinkler system was immediately activated and fire crews on scene promptly and I am grateful for that. We will be conducting a thorough investigation to find out why this issue occurred and take the necessary steps to ensure it is not repeated in the future. I would like to apologise to the Yamaha Factory Team, LCR Honda and Cardion AB too, as the sprinkler system was also activated inside their pit area as well. But it could have been much worse and with the fantastic support of Yamaha and others in the close-knit MotoGP community, I am confident we can participate in this weekend’s race without any additional problems.

Fire Causes Disruption for Yamaha at Circuit of The Americas

Austin (Texas, USA), 18th April 2013

Yamaha Factory Racing’s start to the Austin Grand Prix weekend was less than desirable as a small fire in the adjacent Tech3 garage in the early hours of this morning activated the fire safety systems, covering both the Yamaha Factory Racing and Tech3 equipment and MotoGP machines in water and powder. The fire was accidental and likely caused by and electric motorcycle engine starter.

As a result of the activation of the sprinkler system and the quick response of the COTA and local Austin Fire Department there is unlikely to be much damage.

Massimo Meregalli

Team Director

“The first impression we had when we arrived was really bad but fortunately it doesn't look as bad as we initially thought. We will now have to disassemble the bikes and dry them, clean them and rebuild them again. For sure it could have been a lot worse. We don’t know the cause yet but it is possible the fire started in a battery of an electric motorcycle engine starter inside the Tech3 garage. The emergency automatic fire system was activated and as a result we have water and white fire retardant powder everywhere. Most importantly no one was injured in this incident. The fire started around 1am and we were informed by IRTA at 6am. We are now in the process of cleaning everything. We have to say a big thank you to the circuit staff who are putting in a lot of effort to be of help.”

Small fire causes minimal damage to garage at Circuit of The Americas

Incident has no impact on final preps for Red Bull MotoGP of The Americas

AUSTIN, Texas (April 18, 2013) – Circuit of The Americas today announced that a small overnight garage fire will have no impact on final preparations for the Red Bull MotoGP of The Americas, which begins tomorrow, Friday, April 19, and runs through Sunday, April 21, at the new purpose-built Grand Prix facility in Central Texas.

The fire, which was first reported at 1 a.m. CDT, was contained to Garage 4, although water and fire retardant power from the Circuit’s fire suppression system also affected parts of Garages 1, 2, 3, and 5. No significant damage occurred and no one on the scene was injured.

Preliminary reports from Austin Fire Department officials on the scene indicated that the fire was accidental, and likely caused by an electric motorcycle engine starter that was charging at the time of the incident. The equipment was located in the garage currently being used by the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. Garages assigned to the Yamaha Factory Racing Team, LCR Honda Motorcycle Racing Team and Cardion AB Motoracing Team were also affected by water.

“We extend our sincere thanks to the Austin Fire Department for their assistance early this morning as they quickly helped us extinguish the fire in Garage 4,” Circuit Vice President of Public & Media Relations Julie Loignon stated. “The Circuit’s fire suppression system performed well, and while we have some cleaning up to do in the garages affected by water, there was no significant damage to the buildings or the equipment housed in the garages that is vital to the affected teams’ performance this weekend. We are continuing with preparations for the Red Bull MotoGP of The Americas and look forward to treating fans to world-class motorcycling racing this weekend as the champions from MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 come to Texas for the very first time.”

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If they were charging the batteries they were using Lithium-Ion batteries not Lithium batteries. I know I'm nitpicking but you can't charge/recharge Lithium batteries. If thats what was being done the fire was a clear case of someone not reading the instructions.

The following items WILL NOT be allowed in to Circuit of The Americas Pit facilities for this weekend’s MotoGP event:

Tools made of flammable materials such as timber or plastic
Promotional banners, chairs etc. of a flammable nature
Unauthorised flammable promotional material
Flammable large golf umbrellas
Flammable frisbees, balls, bells and whistles
Ford Pintos
Hydrogen-filled dirigibles
Nerf guns
Kevin Schwantz

The following items will be permitted inside the Circuit pits:

Umbrellas (small, hand-held style)
Baby strollers
Portable, collapsible chairs
Personal camera equipment (e.g. digital cameras, point-and-click digital cameras or film cameras)
Fireworks, explosives and other incendiary devices

that they were in the best facility with fire protection. Perhaps Boston made them more alert too.
All teams need to look at their risk management - the Williams F1 pit fire should have told everyone that having everything in one place was not a good idea.
Sure, many facilities have limited space and during 'working' hours when everything is needed/attended you can/have to manage risk differently, but it might make sense to have a separate overnight charging facility in future. Also those bike covers may now get charged to waterproof types. As with most fires I suspect that the water damage came from the fire service, not the sprinklers (which are usually of a type that only goes off when the head over a fire operates - not like the movies.
Yamaha are also right to worry about corrosion - but its not just water. Fires involving plastics release chlorides that 'condense' or may be washed into equipment. The accelerated corrosion that this causes has to be seen to be believed - things age 20 years in a day or so. Things (even electronics) have to be flushed with clean, preferably deionised water to remove the salts - otherwise stuff could go 'pop' at a crucial point this weekend , or next.......