Like Nakano, Crutchlow and Marquez before him, Loris Baz has survived a stupendous getoff. This is his story
ot many people have crashed a motorbike at speeds approaching 200mph. Even fewer can say they did it and walked away in one piece.
But that’s exactly what Avintia Ducati rider Loris Baz managed at the first MotoGP test of 2016 at Sepang, when his rear Michelin exploded on the start-finish straight of the Malaysian circuit and sent him into an ultra-high-impact tumble with no warning.
“In the last corner, I heard something, and I think maybe the tyre had started to touch something. Then, one hundred metres later, it exploded! There was no chance to think about trying to save it though. It was impossible.”
Thanks to the internal datalogging on Baz’s Alpinestars Tech Air suit, we know exactly how hard he hit the ground. His left shoulder survived a 29.9g impact. Most reference tables show greater than 25g as ‘death or serious injury likely’.
“When I saw the data from Alpinestars, I was like, ‘Fuck – but I don’t feel anything in my shoulder!’ But I was really lucky – more than anything, not to hit a wall and not to be hit by the bike. I didn’t have anything: no burns, just some bruising to my elbow and some pain in my back. It was a little tight and sore, but after a crash like that – well…”.
But even after he got off that lightly, you’d think the last thing on the lanky Frenchman’s mind would be jumping back on for another go. Yet that’s exactly what he did, making it back out for the final two hours of the day, as well as completing the final day. The nature of the fall made it easy, he says.
“When you understand why you crash, it’s easy to go fast again – it’s always been that way for me. I forget it quite easily. When you don’t understand what went wrong, you have to be careful, but I understood. Michelin took away the tyre, and there was nothing to be concerned about.”
Perhaps a bigger challenge than jumping back on, though, was the dreaded phone call to tell his mother what he had been up to.
“My mum was sleeping. The only person awake was my dad. I was worried, because I know they had stayed awake for the first two hours, so the first thing I did was sent them a message saying, ‘I’m ok.’ My dad messages back right away to say, ‘But really ok?’ He didn’t believe me. I had to call him to make him sure I was fine.
“My girlfriend was sleeping too, so I sent her a message, because sometimes you wake up and the first message might be something like, ‘Is Loris ok?’ But she didn’t even know anything about it!
“When my mum woke up and looked at the crash, she said, ‘I don’t know how you’re ok, but at least you are ok!’ My dad was stressed all day afterwards, but I guess that’s normal after a crash like that.”
So what causes a MotoGP tyre to let go in such a dramatic manner? With new supplier Michelin withdrawing the soft option Baz was using right after the crash, culpability was quickly directed their way.
Subsequent paddock rumours suggest that it was instead the team using a lower than recommended tyre pressure to try for more grip – something that has caused similar crashes in the lower classes in recent seasons.
In the end, however, it turned out that no one was to blame. A reconstruction of the tyre by Michelin instead found the cause of the incredible accident - a puncture caused by debris on the track.
And despite all the speculation, Baz himself remained diplomatic throughout the aftermath. “Since the first, Michelin have been doing a great job – and I think all of the riders agree now. Everyone makes mistakes – riders, mechanics, everyone. There’s some you can’t make, but we’re lucky that I wasn’t hurt and we can all learn from it with no consequences.”
Words Simon Patterson Photos Cormac Ryan Meenan and Gold & Goose