What’s it like to line up at the front of the MotoGP grid?

Visordown was lucky enough to ride onto the grid with the stars of MotoGP as we join the official Dorna track inspection team with BMW

Silverstone MotoGP track inspection team

THERE are very few things in today’s world that are truly money can’t buy experiences. From laps in an F1 car, getting the Rolling Stones to perform at your party or flying out into ‘space’; if your pockets are deep enough, pretty much anything is on the menu.

But joining the MotoGP grid as part of  Dorna’s track inspection team doesn’t have a price tag… it’s priceless, literally and figuratively.

On the Thursday night prior to the British MotoGP at Silverstone, a late email came into the office with the tantalising invitation to ride the pre-race track inspection laps onboard a BMW S1000RR as part of Dorna’s official safety team.

The role of the track inspection team is to ensure that the track marshals and safety vehicles are all in place before the racing begins. It’s also a way to get some tyres on the far side of the track, helping to report any rain showers back to race control – not that this was a worry as Silverstone baked in 30° heat.

With my on-brand BMW leathers collected, I head off to meet the rest of the crew and to have a meeting about where we’d need to be and at what time. This was all great news as it’s beginning to dawn on me that we are the only people here with the keys, and the on-brand leathers, and the security clearance to ride the bikes. If we don’t turn up, Dorna’s vital pre-race procedure goes down the swanny. No pressure then!

With the inspection taking place at the start of each race of the weekend, our first job was to ride out in front of a packed and sweltering Silverstone, leading off the first British Talent Cup race on Saturday afternoon.

With some hazy direction from the Dorna team, I jump on the track-day spec 2019 S1000RR, click it into first gear, let the clutch out and stall it! “Shit, not a cool start Toad!” I think, clicking it into gear again. I restart the bike and – it stalls, again! “ForFucksaaaake!!” I shout into my lid, and then it dawned on me – it’s a race shift. Having never ridden a bike set up for race shift I’m cool with doing it, I’d just prefer to not pop my cherry in front of 100,000 paying punters!

With the pre-ride jitters out the way, we slide out of the track access gate at the start of the pit-lane and head out down the hallowed (and newly resurfaced) Silverstone start finish straight. And here’s where the nerves kick in!

When a circuit is empty, but racing is scheduled to take place, anything that moves on track is a target for people’s attention. Safety cars, track-sweeping machines, even rabbits get the punter’s eyes zeroed in on them!

This becomes increasingly clear as I trundle to the start-line, picking up my final position about 10-feet in front of it. The other track inspection rider and I are the only motorised things moving on the track and all eyes are on us!

After around 15 minutes sat on the grid, I’m really starting to feel what it’s like to be a MotoGP rider. And right now, it’s hot, uncomfortable and claustrophobic! With a tiny flick of his fingers, one of the race-direction team sends me on the way, down the short straight and into Silverstone’s iconic Copse corner.

With one half of mind screaming ‘just gun it’, and the other side reminding me that most of the crowd are armed with camera phones, and all are primed to capture a numpty on a cold tyre - I opt for a steady away approach, only beginning to open it up at the end of sector two along the new start-finish straight.

With the dress-rehearsal out the way, Sunday’s race day was the main event, and you can really feel the tension, even in the paddock. Rider’s assistants buzz around the pits on paddock scooters, empty trolleys are rushed back and forward to the tyre truck – it’s not a place for the faint of heart.

Out on the grid, the tension is magnified intensely. The smiles of the faces of the grid-girls, who are trying vainly to shield the riders from the intolerable heat, are sharply juxtaposed to the riders and engineers. As they busily pour over the lap-tops and take on the all-important energy drinks.

As the one-minute warning sounds, the signal to begin clearing the grid is given. With a final look over my shoulder, I can just catch a glimpse of the front row as the crowd begins to clear from around them. It’s the first time in the whole weekend that I felt a chill, of any kind! Seeing that front row, staring at Copse, visualising there first few seconds of the race – and I was in the frame!

As I hammer out of the revised, tighter exit of Chapel, I fire down Hanger Straight, snicking 6th gear and 160mph before pulling on the anchors for a date with a late apex at Stowe. From there, I begin ticking off the corners of Silverstone’s tricky infield complex and accelerate down the Wellington straight and into the last final, and busiest, corners of the circuit – Luffield and Woodcote.

It’s at this point I realise I haven’t really had any time to look around or take in the view of the fans from a racer’s eye view. Banking around Luffield, I slow the bike right down and instead of hanging off the inside of it I sit it up and gaze out at two, packed-to-the-rafters grandstands that are awash with fans, all waving the flag of their favourite hero. For the second time that weekend I felt a chill running down my spine.

Pulling back into the pits I park the bike in the first garage of the pitlane, take off my helmet and head over to the Pons hospitality truck for some well-earned refreshments – sadly not one of the beer flavoured ones though, as there were still three more races to chaperone!

Massive thanks you to Dorna, Triumph, Pons Racing and BMW for the opportunity to take part in a Grand Prix race weekend, albeit in a fairly small role!