OK it may not win races, but we are totally fascinated by ultimate top speed. Mugello, the Temple of Speed, was the place to witness the spectacle at its absolute best. Sometimes and especially if watching on the screen it is so easy to forget just how fast a modern MotoGP™ motorcycle is travelling. If you have any doubts stand on the crest of the rise on the 1.1 kms Mugello start and finish straight and focus on the approaching blur. If you blink you miss it. If you try and turn your head to follow it, you have no chance. Front wheel lifting on the crest they have disappeared in a blink before braking so hard for the San Donato corner at the bottom of the hill their brake discs reach a temperature of 770’c
On Sunday Jorge Martin, riding the Prima Pramac Racing Ducati, was timed at 363.6 kph over the rise before braking for the 95 kph frightening first turn. It is the fastest speed ever recorded in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing. To reach the corner safely riders’ brake for around 5.9s in a distance of 317 metres. Even Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One Mercedes could not match that top speed over the crest last year. In the first F1 Grand Prix at Mugello he was timed at 322.1 kph although of course braking was a lot shorter and speed through San Donato a lot quicker on four wheels.
Ironically, it was two crashes at Mugello that vividly brought home to me just how fast the riders are going. Miraculously both riders escaped serious injury. Shinya Nakano’s 2004 crash when a rear tyre blew on his Kawasaki came moments after I had been spectating on the Mugello crest where the crash started. He hit the tarmac at around 305 kph. Nine years later I was commentating when Marc Marquez fell from the Repsol Honda at the same spot. Crashes at that speed are frightening to witness but the fact that both Nakano and Marquez were able to race that weekend illustrates just what enormous improvements have been made in riders’ equipment, track safety and instant medical intervention.
This weekend the venue for that very first World Championship event in 1949 returns after a two-year absence. The legendary 60.721kms Mountain circuit in the Isle of Man staged the first premier class race. Harold Daniell brought Norton victory in his only Grand Prix victory. His single cylinder four-stroke machine had a top speed approaching 200 kph. The fastest lap of the seven-lap race was 144.383 kph set by Bob Foster riding the Moto Guzzi. Four years ago, Peter Hickman lapped the circuit at an average speed of 217.98 kph on a machine that was capable of around 340 kph top speed.
One feat has remained in the record books for the last 45 years. In 1977 Barry Sheene riding the works 500 cc Suzuki lapped the old 14.120 kms Spa Francorchamps circuit at 220.721 kph. It is still the fastest ever lap recorded and he also established the faster ever race average of 217.370 kph. The length of the legendary Belgium venue was reduced soon after on safety grounds. Today even the shorter Spa circuit is not deemed safe enough for MotoGP™. It makes you wonder just how fast that top speed would be and the difference in the lap times after over four decades.
I remember the excitement in the media centre and paddock at Hockenheim at the German Grand Prix in 1993 when the first ever top speed of over 200 mph (322 kph) was ratified. It came in the final qualifying session when Japanese rider Shinichi Itoh riding the fuel injected NSR Rothmans Honda went through the speed trap at the 6.792 kms circuit. We all thought that was getting near the limit. Twenty-nine years have passed. Martin was an incredible 40 kph faster on Sunday.
This week the MotoGP World Championship arrives in Barcelona where top speeds are close to Mugello proportions on the start and finish straight. Where will the speed limit end?