Head first into speed records: How helmet tech helped Zarco become MotoGP’s fastest rider
On the 27th of March this year, Pramac Ducati rider Johann Zarco took the previous MotoGP top speed record and hurled it out of the window.
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The flying Frenchman achieved a (terrifying) top speed of 225.1mph in FP4 at the Losail circuit in Doha, Qatar. That’s a full 3.5mph faster than the previous record set by then factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso and it’s not even at the fastest circuit on the calendar – Mugello’s straight is 100m longer. How did he do it? More than just horsepower.
"Shark have been using computer technology to analyse motorcycle helmets since 2011," says Mark Eilledge, Shark UK’s Racing and Technical Manager. "We use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) which allow Shark to build a digital model of a helmet and get an idea for how it will work in the real world.
"It’s useful for racing purposes where you’re trying to achieve peak aero performance but also for sports touring lids like the Spartan GT, where you’re trying, for instance, to minimise buffeting."
The initial work for GP riders started with the Race-R Pro with very different goals to out and out top speed. The intention for that helmet was to improve stability for riders when they pop their head out from behind the screen at high speed in advance of braking for a corner.
To do that Shark created two fins on the top of the helmet, which created laminar airflow instead of turbulent airflow. But as things got faster, Shark realised there were more gains to be made.
"Previously the air was mapped over the screen and the helmet then on to the hump on the rider’s leathers," adds Eilledge. "But there was this big gap between the back of the helmet and hump, which could create turbulence."
Shark first began looking at placing a fin there in 2016 when working with then factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo as not only did he wear a Shark, but also because Yamaha and Shark used the same aero software. After lots of models, wind tunnel testing and CFD a fin was tested that helped to create a smoother path for the air over the helmet.
The big test came at Mugello when back-to-back tests in practice showed a top speed gain of 2.5mph. Shark made the fin a permanent feature that’s gradually been improved on. Just how much better is it now? Well Shark’s last wind tunnel test was with KTM and the results were apparently so good, they said they could tell us but they’d have to kill us afterwards...
There are clear safety concerns when adding physical features to the outside of a helmet and so key to the design is that the aero will cleanly break or deform on impact so it doesn’t add extra rotational forces in a crash.
Shark have been working on an aero fin for five years with clear gains ever since and it’s not just for top racers. You can buy the Race-R Pro GP FIM exactly as worn by Zarco for £779 – we can’t promise you’ll get the same top speed though.