THE ROAD TO MOTOGP IS FAR FROM STRAIGHTFORWARD AND TALENT AND OPPORTUNITY ARE ONLY PART OF THE EQUATION NECESSARY TO MAKE IT INTO THE HALLOWED REALMS OF GRAND PRIX RACING
Competing in the Honda British Talent Cup offers the successful rider the opportunity to compete in the CEV Repsol Junior World Championship with the Junior Talent Team. The riders taking that road so far have been Max Cook, Scott Ogden, Josh Whatley, and more recently, Eddie O’Shea. The first batch of BTC riders hasn’t been able to take that step into Grand Prix racing as far as 2018 top three of Rory Skinner, Max Cook, and Thomas Strudwick, are concerned with Skinner now making waves on a superbike at FS-3 Kawasaki with Max Cook on the Junior Superstock machine and Thomas Strudwick ploughing his own furrow on a different Spanish plain in the Supersport category of the Spanish Superbike Championship.
Scott Ogden, Josh Whatley and Eddie O'Shea are the British representatives in the CEV Repsol Junior World Championship, the pinnacle of Moto3 racing. Whatley has been quietly learning his trade in Spain for a number of years after graduating from minibikes at an early age. Under the guidance of multiple British Superbike race winner James Ellison, the Worcestershire 16-year-old finished runner up to Brandon Paasch in the 2019 British Motostar Championship before joining Ogden in Spain to contest the Junior World Championship. While Whatley’s results have not yet mirrored those of Ogden, the former FAB-Racing champion has time on his side and his sights are still firmly set on the Grand Prix class. A difficult 2020 has given way to a brighter 2021 with improved results and should Whatley secure a top-level Junior World Championship ride for 2022, that dream will continue.
Eddie O’Shea has joined the European dream in 2021 after finishing third behind champion Franco Bourne and runner-up Charlie Farrer in the 2020 Honda British Talent Cup series. At the tender age of fourteen, O’Shea follows in the tyre tracks of Cook and Ogden into the Junior Talent Team and will also contest the Red Bull Rookies MotoGP Cup. The CEV Repsol Junior World Championship is one of the keenly contested race series in the world and has already proven to be a baptism of fire for the young Leicestershire rider this season.
After a season with the Junior Talent Team, 2019 BTC Champion, Scott Ogden, has been handed an opportunity with legendary Grand Prix team, Aspar under the guidance of former GP rider, Nico Terol. After a steep learning curve in 2020, the 17-year-old has already taken his maiden CEV podium, the first by a British rider since John McPhee in 2014 and is making substantial progress in the Spanish squad alongside his two 15-year-old Spanish teammates, Daniel Holgado and David Alonso. As a measure of the talent in the Aspar team, Holgado leads the Junior World Championship and lies third in the RBR Cup.
Skinner, Cook, Ogden, Whatley, O’Shea plus every rider in every junior championship, are all at an age where they are still developing physically, making the biggest drawback to progression not a lack of talent, as that’s something they all have in spades, but a matter of physics and genes. As in most sports where the human form makes the biggest difference, having an ‘ideal physicality’, a stature that enables the competitor to extract the maximum performance from both themselves and their equipment, is becoming more prevalent and ever more essential.
A BTC graduate is looking at potentially two years in CEV and two years in Moto3 if the planets align correctly from 15 or 16 years of age to 19 or 20, and so much can change physically in that time, especially 16 through to 18 years. If a junior rider is 170cm and his main rivals are 160-165cm and 4kg lighter they must ride that bit harder and smarter through the turns to offset the difference, especially on the straights where the smaller riders can tuck in easily and use any weight difference to their advantage.
In motorcycle racing, a sport where the rider makes the biggest difference to the performance of the machine, the physicality of a rider is under more scrutiny than ever. Where time differences are measured in tenths, often hundredths of a second per lap, and where any extra kilograms are a disadvantage along with extra centimetres in height, there becomes an ‘ideal’ height and weight for a rider and motorcycle. There are minimum weight rules for rider and motorcycle combined but not maximums, although there are certainly unwritten ones for the upper range; regardless of talent, this is something that can and has hurt many competitors looking to chase their dream in Moto3 and beyond as Scott Redding, proved in his later MotoGP years where his size and weight became a distinct disadvantage.
You can’t arrest physical status without losing effectiveness elsewhere, for example, if a rider cuts too much weight they risk mental and physical fatigue, and with that comes a loss of form and lack of results that accompany such a loss. There is much focus on weight as it is made up in various individual ways such as body fat, muscle mass, bone density even, but the most difficult weight attribute to accommodate is height. For a smaller rider to put on weight and strength is a much easier and simpler process than a taller rider working hard to stay as lean as possible to keep weight off. Taller riders will struggle to make their mark amongst the current crop of ‘ideal physicality’ European and World level competitors as the average height gets shorter. Even if their stature suits the intermediate Moto2 class better, the Moto3 championship contenders will always get the first draft onto the front-running machines or be on a team path as in the case of Raul Fernandez, Brad Binder, and Remy Gardner under the Ajo program, for example.
For height and weight to be so critical at such an early stage in a rider’s career can be a difficult hurdle to overcome. MotoGP Championship leader Fabio Quartararo, at 5’ 10” (177cm) and approximately 10.5st (67kg) is physically average for a MotoGP rider, Quartararo is right on the average height and weight for the current riders in the class and is ideally suited to the demands of his Factory Yamaha M1, as the season so far has proven, while at 169cm, weighing approximately 65kg, and with eight world championships on his shelf, Marc Marquez is arguably the physically perfect MotoGP rider.
How soon in their years a young rider reaches somewhere around these figures could have a big bearing on the path they follow, especially their height, where they run the real risk of being overlooked for someone smaller in stature who isn’t going to hit 6ft tall before they are 17-years old and the complications it can bring to an already complex sport. As the classes increase in engine capacity and overall weight, the figures are less important so it’s a shame then, that the riders at such a youthful age and with so much at stake can be left at the mercy of their genes.
The road to Grand Prix racing is difficult and unforgiving where talent is only part of the equation.