Stoner: Tarmac run-offs ‘the worst thing that’s happened to motorcycle racing’

Marc Marquez rides past a large run-off area at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

Casey Stoner believes that large tarmac run-off areas are “the worst thing that’s happened to motorcycle racing”.

Track limits have become a controversial subject in the MotoGP world in recent years, with an array of rules to deal with what happens when a rider officially leaves the race track.

At last year’s Italian Grand Prix, the podium changed twice in a matter of minutes over track limits, firstly when Miguel Oliveira was relegated from second to third for a breach on the final lap.

However, he was reinstated to second spot when it was found that the beneficiary of that position drop penalty, Joan Mir, had similarly fallen afoul of regulations.

A week later at Catalunya, Fabio Quartararo crossed the line in third position but was put back to fourth due to a three-second penalty for a shortcut at Turn 1/Turn 2, then penalised again for infamously riding with his leathers open.

Tarred run-off areas are, of course, intended to be safer than gravel traps and the presence of grass immediately next to the race track, particularly at those circuits used predominantly for car racing.

Ironically, Stoner thinks they encourage more cavalier riding because of a perception of lesser consequences for wild manoeuvres should they go wrong.

It was an opinion which the two-time MotoGP champion voiced when asked what can be done to improve safety in junior classes after three fatalities in grand prix and/or World Superbike feeder competitions in 2021.

However, he is of the view that young riders are not the only ones to have exploited larger run-off areas.

“With the young riders, I think that the support needs to come more from Race Direction; a little bit more clarity or definitive decisions on riding and things like that,” said the Australian.

“Because, there have been no issues for so many years and now that there’s this leeway, there’s no edge of the track anymore. It just keeps going and is limited by some green paint. I think that doesn’t help the situation.

“People have no fear anymore because there’s no edge of the track.

“Before, when there was grass, everybody was kind of having to check themselves, whereas now it’s like ‘Hey, I’ll bust him and it doesn’t matter; he’ll run off the track but there’s plenty of [run-off] there.’

“I think everyone needs to learn to have a little more respect for each other. I don’t think it’s just the young guys causing it; I’ve seen a lot of more mature and more experienced racers still doing similar things.

“I think it all stems from the penalties and punishments maybe not being harsh enough and not being definitive and clear enough.

“If there’s a lot more of that, then everybody is going to be a little bit more reserved.

“But for me, the worst thing that’s happened to motorcycle racing is all that extra run-off. There’s just no edge of the track. No limit.

“I think that’s very hard to contain everybody inside.”

Last year, 19-year-old Jason Dupasquier, 14-year-old Hugo Millan, and 15-year-old Dean Berta Viñales lost their lives in crashes in major junior categories.

Just eight days after the latter’s death, Deniz Oncu caused a frightening incident in the Moto3 World Championship race at the Circuit of The Americas, for which he was hit with a two-race suspension.

While that crash was caused by weaving on an almost straight section of the circuit rather than anything to do specifically with track limits and braking zones, leading MotoGP riders welcomed the penalty, given how notorious Moto3 in particular had become for dangerous riding.

Meanwhile, safety upgrade work continues at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, including the addition/restoration of gravel traps, to accommodate the return of motorcycle racing in the form of the Endurance World Championship to the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix venue.

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