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The ups and downs of MotoGP - well mainly downs!
20th November, 2003

What's the best way to win a world championship – work the percentages to score points at every round or ride your heart out and crash a lot, finishing every race either on the podium or in the kitty litter? The statistics on the number of crashes this season have just been released by MotoGP and they're not going to solve any arguments.

Nobody has ever accused MotoGP World champion Valentino Rossi of being cautious but he achieved his nine GP wins this season with just one crash in 80 hours of official practice, qualifying, warm-up and racing. The Italian went farming on a number of occasions but only fell off once during the entire season.

On the other hand, new 250cc World champion Manuel Poggiali doesn't have a reputation for wild riding, yet the 20-year-old from San Marino crashed 16 times on his way to the title. Even on the day he won the championship at Valencia in Spain he was lucky to walk away from a spectacular accident during the morning warm-up.

What the statistics confirm, however, is that World championship GP racing is closer and more competitive now than at any time in its 54-year history. In this season's 16 GP's (including practice and qualifying) there were 705 crashes - which is an average of 44 fallers per event. That is the highest number for the last 10 years, showing an increase of almost four crashes per event over the 2002 season.

To put the figures into perspective, though, that’s a surprisingly low accident rate, considering that during every GP weekend 90 riders put in an average of 12 hours each of practice, qualifying and racing over three days. This year the 4.180km Bugatti circuit at Le Mans in France hosted the most crashes with 72 fallers during the French GP while the South African GP at Phakisa produced the least tumbles - just 23 on a track that's notoriously dirty and slippery.

It was the weather that caught the riders out; during a miserably wet Saturday at Le Mans 11 125cc, six 250cc and six MotoGP riders crashed during morning practice while in the vital final afternoon qualifying session there were seven 125cc, four 250cc and two MotoGP fallers. By contrast, in the warm African sunshine at Phakisa, only six riders from all three classes fell throughout practice and the first qualifying sessions on the Friday. Not surprisingly, it's the ultra-competitive 125cc class, mainly contested by nerveless teenagers, that led the way with race crashes. 115 125cc riders crashed during races this year, compared to 86 250 pilots and 75 in MotoGP.

In practice and qualifying, however, it was a different story with the 250s heading the pack. 86 250cc riders, 80 125 and 63 MotoGP contestants crashed during the two official qualifying sessions.

So who actually fell off most? The official Crash Test Dummy award for 2003 goes to 15-year-old French rider Mike di Meglio who crashed 19 times in the 125cc class. It was his debut season in GP racing and certainly nobody could accuse him of not trying hard enough.

Just two crashes behind him was former World Superbike star Noriyuki Haga, who dumped his 990cc Aprilia RS3 Cube 17 times during a difficult season for both him and his teammate, World Superbike champion Colin Edwards, who fell eight times – which meant their long-suffering pit crew were rebuilding on average two bikes every weekend!

World champion Poggiali and Frenchman Eric Bataille each crashed 16 times in the 250cc class while two riders with very different MotoGP experience were next on the list. Former World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss threw away the Ducati Desmosedici 15 times on his MotoGP debut season while the most experienced GP rider of them all, Brazilian Alex Barros, fell off his Yamaha M1 14 times.

Team mates Max Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa also had their fair share of crashes; Biaggi fell eight times on his way to third place in the championship and two GP victories. The Italian rider's worst day was at Phillip Island in Australia when he crashed in the morning warm-up and in the race - although he bravely remounted to finish 17th.

Ukawa fell 10 times en route to eighth in the title chase, starting and ending the season disastrously when he crashed in the first race of the season at Suzuka in Japan and during the last race at Valencia in Spain.

Valentino Rossi's only fall of the season came eight minutes into the first practice session for the German GP at the Sachsenring in July.

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