Overtaking – The art of doing it well

Here’s our guide to overtaking like a MotoGP pro during your next trackday session.

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Guys like Rossi and Marquez may make it look easy, but overtaking at world championship level is never easy because everyone is going as fast as it’s possible to go. When you see Marquez dive past a rival, it’s unlikely to be a spur-of-the-moment attack, but a well-planned manoeuvre that began several corners, maybe several laps, earlier. Passing is all about looking, watching and waiting.

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Most overtakings are done on the brakes – when everyone is going about the same speed it’s almost impossible to just ride past someone through a corner. The best chance would be at the end of a long straight, because the faster the straight, the longer the braking area and the greater the opportunity for leaving your braking just a little later, while sneaking up the inside and stealing your rival’s line.

Image credit: Aspar Mahindra Moto3
Image credit: Aspar Mahindra Moto3

The whole manoeuvre usually begins at least one corner earlier, since you need some serious speed on the straight to allow you to get as close as possible to your intended target, ideally in his slipstream. This may require dropping back from him on the run to the previous corner, so you can get out of that turn unhindered and at maximum speed possible.

Freddie Spencer vs Kenny Roberts @ 1983 Swedish GP (image source: Pinterest)
Freddie Spencer vs Kenny Roberts @ 1983 Swedish GP (image source: Pinterest)

The planning may begin much earlier, and that’s how it was with one of the most famous overtaking moves in the history of the sport, when god-like Freddie Spencer outfoxed Kenny Roberts to win the ‘83 Swedish GP and eventually the crown. A young Spencer at 21, stalked Roberts throughout the race, the more nimble Honda closing on the Yamaha as they dodged their way through backmarkers. Spencer was setting himself up for the most important pass ever made by anyone on a Honda, for it won Honda’s first 500cc GP crown.

A more recent example of this can be seen during last weekend’s 2016 Shell Malaysia MotoGP, specifically when Andrea Dovizioso rode his Ducati Desmosedici GP16 past superstar Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 at Turn 1 on Lap 15. This was a decisive manoeuvre that granted Dovizioso with the win in Sunday’s wet race.

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Overtaking is just the biggest buzz there is in racing; you time your move to perfection, ease through on the inside when it doesn’t look like there’s even half enough room, and get in front, while forcing your rival out wide at the same time, hurting his speed and giving yourself an added advantage on track.

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On the other hand, if your bike’s not well set-up for braking, you’ve little chance of defending your position against attackers. If your front suspension is too soft you know someone’s going to get you, because you won’t have the stability on the brakes. The harder you go on the set-up, the bike becomes more unstable at full lean, making it run wide at mid-turn.

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There are other ways of course of keeping the guys behind you, one of them is to suddenly slow a little earlier during mid-turn, forcing them to run wide to avoid hitting you, which puts them off the grippy line and onto the slippery bit of the track. They can’t get on the gas early thus giving you an added advantage.

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Some top GP riders don’t mind riding into people, although most would like to pass as clean as possible, but if you’re getting frustrated and it’s the last lap, you ride into the guy. Most GP riders accept it as part of racing at this level. Everyone’s on the edge, with just an element of control.

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Like we said, overtaking has got to be the biggest buzz in racing. Remember to suit up on track, set-up the bike well and enjoy the ride.

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