When the rain came down at the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix, Brad Binder took a chance and won his second MotoGP race, but things could have gone very differently. Because slick tyres have no tread, they can’t grip the road when it’s wet, right? Wrong. In the rain, completely bald slick tyres grip exceptionally effectively, leaving you wondering how this is possible.
‘This wasn’t about racing – it was about surviving,’ says Brad Binder
But something is occurring when you’re out there having fun, taking care to be smoother on the brakes and smoother on the throttle. The tyres lose temperature corner by corner, a degree here, a degree there, until they hit the critical threshold. Most teams estimate that the optimum temperature for the front tyre is 40 degrees Celsius, whereas the rear tyre doesn’t matter as much because any good racer can ride a motorcycle with almost no grip. Below 40°C, the front tire loses traction, and the rider finds himself riding on ice. You know what it’s like to ride a motorcycle in the snow or ice if you’ve ever done so. If you even consider tapping the front brake, your front tyre will lock and you’ll end up on your backside.Not only that, but when it’s too hot, MotoGP’s carbon brakes are virtually ineffective. Under a race, the normal temperature is around 450°C, rising to 800°C or 900°C during hard braking, but once they go below 250°C, they stop working. So Brad Binder was going around with little grip and no brakes during the final laps of Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
When the rain clouds came falling down over the Styrian highlands and saturated the track, the 26-year-old South African found himself in this scenario. MotoGP racers walk the line every time they go out on the course, but the line is so thin in these conditions that it is nearly invisible. And how can you prevent falling over it if you can’t see it? Binder battled through the early stages on the dry track, climbing from ninth on lap one to sixth with eight of the remaining 28 circuits to go, with the lead group still four seconds ahead. On a typical day, it’s way too far. This, however, was not a typical day. Rain began to pour intermittently, slowing the leads by a few seconds. Binder had the advantage of observing how the five men in front were doing, and by the end of lap 24, he was just 1.1sec behind Bagnaia, Marc Márquez, Fabio Quartararo, Jorge Martin, and Joan Mir, who had been 5.9sec behind him on lap 21. The first five riders withdrew into the pits one circuit later as the rain worsened, swapping to their spare bikes with rain tyres. With only three laps to go, this wasn’t a tyre change for performance; it was a tyre change for safety, since all of the leaders believed rain tyres were the only option to get to the finish.
At Red Bull Ring, riding into pit lane, swapping bikes, and exiting pit lane takes roughly 37 seconds, a time that riders are aware of because it must be considered while deciding whether or not to change tyres. They all realized it would be nearly difficult to make up those 37 seconds in the final three laps. They also realized that remaining upright on slicks was nearly impossible, therefore rain tyres were the only option. Binder, who was near the back of the pack, had a single second to decide whether to twist or stick.
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