Fog And Rain Force Scheduling Contingencies For Motegi MotoGP Round

After losing the first day of practice at Motegi to the weather, Race Direction have announced contingency plans for a schedule to allow practice, qualifying and the races to be run at the Japanese circuit however the weather turns out. With rain set to continue on Saturday morning, but clear up on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, schedules have been drawn up to take account of all the possible combinations of weather.

The problem is not the rain, it is the fog and low-hanging cloud, Race Director Mike Webb explained in a press conference at Motegi. Because of the location of the Twin Ring circuit, set in a bowl up in the hills in the Tochigi district in Japan, the combination of heavy clould and relatively weak winds saw the surrounding hills cloaked in cloud. That cloud and the reduced visibility it caused meant that the medical helicopter, which is required to transport injured riders to the nearest hospital, was not allowed to fly, Japanese aviation law preventing helicopters flying in such circumstances. The helicopter had not yet arrived at the circuit, being stationed a few minutes flight time away. Without the medical helicopter, practice could not be run safely, as the hospital designated by the chief doctor at the circuit is an hour away by road. Should a rider sustain a severe or life-threatening injury, they could not be transported to the hospital quickly enough to ensure proper care, Webb explained.

The lack of visibility was why Friday practice had been postponed all day, rather than canceled right away. Practice could not go ahead without the helicopter on site, but it was waiting on standby for permission from the Japanese aviation authority, ready to fly to the circuit as soon as they were given clearance. The cloud never lifted enough for the helicopter to be allowed to fly, however, and in the end, practice had to be called off.

Preparations are now being made for practice and qualifying for the race, and Race Direction has drawn up a number of scenarios depending on the weather. The sole factor is visibility, Webb explained. Rain may make for a wet practice session, but if visibility allows the helicopter to fly to and from the track, then practice will go ahead. If the fog is still preventing the helicopter from flying, then practice will have to wait until the fog lifts. If the helicopter is still unable to fly on Saturday, plans are in place to dismantle the helicopter, transport it to the Twin Ring circuit by road, and have it ready to go on Sunday morning.

The actual schedule will depend on the weather. Because of the time zone Motegi is located in, it gets light around 5:30am and light conditions fade around 5pm, restricting the window for practice. The following possible schedules have been drawn up for different scenarios:

Acceptable weather on Saturday morning

If conditions permit practice on Saturday morning, then there will be extended sessions of practice on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying as normal on Saturday afternoon, and then a normal schedule on Sunday, with warm up on Sunday morning and the race in the afternoon. This is the most optimistic scenario, as the current forecast is for rain to continue on Saturday morning, though there is no word on what visibility conditions will be like.

Poor visibility on Saturday morning, good weather Saturday afternoon

If practice is not possible on Saturday morning, qualifying will be moved from Saturday and an extended session of free practice for all three classes will be scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Free practice will likely be 75 minutes for the MotoGP class, and the same for Moto2 and Moto3 if possible. Warm up and qualifying would then take place  on Sunday morning, with the race taking place as scheduled on Sunday afternoon. This is the most likely scenario given the current forecast, which is for the rain to clear around 2pm on Saturday.

Poor visibility on Saturday, good weather on Sunday

If no practice is possible all day on Saturday, then the entire program will be scheduled for Sunday. Race Direction's plans are for all three classes to have one session of practice and one session of qualifying in the morning, followed by the race as normal in the afternoon. In a meeting between Race Direction and the teams, the teams expressed a preference for a single, long session of combined practice and qualifying in the Sunday-only scenario. Race Direction has agreed to put both proposals to the riders, and adopt the single practice session if both riders and teams prefer it. Whatever the schedule adopted, it will mean a very early start. Moto3 riders could take to the track as early as 6am if practice is only possible on Sunday.

There was currently no plan to run the race on Monday, in case the weather prevented the race on Sunday, Dorna's Javier Alonso told the press conference. That scenario had not yet been discussed with the promoter. Given the weather forecast, that is extremely unlikely to be necessary.

Decisions on when practice will take place will be made entirely based on the weather. No schedule can be set until visibility actually clears up enough for the medical helicopter to fly.

The weather conditions at Motegi continues the run of bad luck the Japanese Grand Prix at the circuit has had in recent years. In 2010, the race had to be postponed from April to October after ash clouds from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland forced the cancelation of much air travel inside Europe, preventing teams from flying to Japan in April. In 2011, the Tohoku Earthquake hit off the coast of Japan, triggering a massive tsunami which devastated much of the Japanese coastline, and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, causing a massive release of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Dorna was forced to commission a report into the safety of the region, investigating background radiation in the area. Radiation continues to be a problem at the Fukushima plant, with radioactive cooling water leaking into the groundwater and surrounding ocean.


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..... fully written article on the subject.

Why do I waste my time reading "pretend" website? I should have learnt by now just to wait for this report.

Looks like I'm still getting up early for FP3 then. I had an easy morning's typing on MRF today!

Thanks David.

The level of coverage is unparalleled among the english language sites, and even when i disagree with David on things like Phillip Island, it is still a thought provoking community of fans.

Thanks for the prod, I finally paid the nominal fee for this outstanding coverage. My login says I've been a lurker for almost four years, so I'm long overdue to contribute. I'd encourage others to do it today as well!

Thanks a lot. Your contributions are a very important part in helping to keep the site running.

Back-in-the-day we used to have to wait for the fog to lift at Laguna Seca some mornings. Too bad the weather won't cooperate after the man-made fiasco of last week!

None of the scenarios examine the possibility of postponing the race to monday. Instead of a 3 day raceweekend, it is even considered to run FP, QP and the race on a single day. Again I expect TV schedules are a priority over rider safety. As much as I would like to see the race on sunday, the decision making process focus on TV schedules bothers me.

I've been involved in several MGP and WSBK events 'from the inside'. And I can shared that pushing the schedule in to another day would be a monstrous undertaking independent of television considerations (and certainly to a large extent MGP exists at the pleasure of broadcasting).

Consider, for example, that the entire content of the paddock is already scheduled to be moved on this or that truck to this or that airplane. And that it is very likely that the support crews (think corner workers, medical staff, track workers, security, concessions, drivers, ambulances, helicopters, parking, ticket sellers, technical staff to run the facility and so on many of whom may be volunteering) may have jobs, lives and schedules to attend to on Monday.

Certainly none of this would be "impossible", in the strict sense, to arrange at the last moment (planning for the event having being in progress for any months). But the burden and headaches associated are very much worthwhile to avoid when possible. Even if it means that everyone (and I do mean everyone) is going to have to work harder and be more tired and frustrated because, I suspect, for it to be a viable event, the show must go on.

Being on the mainland, if any problems arise, they should be able to make sure all of the inventory available is up to the challenge. Without any chunking, of course. :)

So wait. If the weather is too poor to take off, they are going to move the helicopter by road. But if the weather is too poor to allow for take-off from its original location, wouldn't they still be prohibited from taking off from the circuit? I feel like I'm missing something.

I had exactly the same question. Is it possible that where the helicopter is stationed at the moment has too much fog, but the track and the hospital it would fly to in the event of a serious injury do not (even though the track and where the helicopter is currently stationed are apparently in fairly close proximity)?

It could well be that there is an exception that allows flying in case of a life-threatening situation...

Or maybe taking off is permitted under low fog, but not landing, as it is very hard to crash a helicopter if you just go up.

But yes, I am curious about the reasoning there too.

As a retired helicopter pilot (almost 50 yrs.) I can assure you that a helicopter can crash very easily in fog - lack of reference to a horizon, and the ability of a helicopter to climb straight up is very limited, mainly by power/weight considerations. Not something to be taken lightly and that is why all bodies who govern commercial aviation have very precise and strict regulations with regard to minimum weather, forward, lateral and vertical distances from cloud. To answer another question re if there are exceptions for medical emergencies, the answer is no. In years gone by there have been a number of fatal crashes involving medivac flights where the pilot whilst trying to maybe save a life finished up crashing and killing all on board. Most agencies now will not even tell the pilot the nature of the emergency so as not to put pressure on the pilot who might be tempted to be a "hero" and put his aircraft and all on board at risk.
A fully equipped IFR (Instrument flight rules) medivac helicopter will have better but still stringent capabilities.

I agree with you, as an ex-heli mechanic. One too many cases of no return due to low visibility in the heli world.

The idea is that if the fog won't allow the helicopter to fly on Saturday, they will move it by road to Motegi on Saturday night, then get the helicopter ready. Weather for Sunday is expected to be good, and so they won't have to wait for the helicopter to arrive (or be trapped by fog where it is currently stationed, despite the weather at Motegi being clear) before they get underway. If the authorities won't permit the medical helicopter to fly on Sunday, then there will be a problem, but if they can, then practice can get underway as soon as possible.

Ignore what I posted about the weather - it's beginning to look like another man-made fiasco. As in WTF wasn't the damn helicopter already at the track instead of now needing to be hauled there via road? The folks who run MOTOGP are threatening to rival the incompetence of the AMA back when I raced - check THIS out for serial stupidity! (Note: you can see a glimpse of yours truly behind Wayne Rainey on the grid)

I respect you as a racer, I've spent many days as a club racer not riding waiting for the weather to turn before getting out on track. Some days it never happened, & waited the whole day in pit lane; it's life. I can't. & won't blame Dorna or RD for that. Looks to me like the best plan possible is in place.