Motor sports: MotoGP racing goes virtual amid coronavirus outbreak

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Vinales is one of several premier class racers who are still racing amid the coronavirus outbreak, albeit virtually. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MAVERICK VINALES

SINGAPORE - Like most sports, MotoGP has not been spared by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The piercing sound of high-revving MotoGP motorcycles hurtling at more than 300kmh fell silent for the Qatar season opener on March 8 after its organiser decided to put a halt to racing.

But a handful of premier class racers are still going elbow-to-elbow, albeit virtually, and in the safety of their homes in order to keep fans entertained during lockdown.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Vinales told The Straits Times via Skype that virtual racing can be equally exciting and challenging.

"It was fantastic racing," said Vinales, a 25-year-old Spanish rider, who was runner-up in the second MotoGP Virtual Race held in Austria's Red Bull Ring on April 12.

"If we can do something to make people enjoy at least for one hour, it will be very nice."

Vinales, a Moto 3 World Champion in 2013 who had also finished third in last year's MotoGP championship, will be on the "grid" on Sunday (May 3) for the Spanish MotoGP Virtual Race.

In the Austrian virtual race, he was engaged in a last lap dogfight with winner Francesco Bagnaia of Pramac Racing - leaving MotoGP World Champions Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi in their wake.

On Wednesday, Dorna chief executive Carmelo Ezpeleta told of plans to resume MotoGP at the end of July.

While Vinales said he was optimistic racing would restart soon, the suspension of scheduled races had initially caught him by surprise.

He had thought his team manager was joking when he was told not to attend the Qatar race. So Vinales continued packing his luggage for the flight to Doha.

"We were ready," said Vinales of him and teammate Rossi. "I trained so much and very hard. And then, they said we were not going to race in Doha because of the outbreak."

While disappointed with not being able to push his Yamaha YZR-M1 race bike to the limit on the circuit, the Andorra-based Vinales accepted the new reality and understood the importance of putting racing on hold.

There were 1.28 million coronavirus infections in Europe, with more than 132,000 deaths, as of last Thursday (April 30), according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

For someone who lives out of his suitcase and has never stayed home for more than a week in a typical race season, home isolation has given him time to reflect on life.

"The little time (you) go out of your home or stay in a park are very important things," said Vinales. "Before (the lockdown) I never appreciated them. I will say enjoy the little moments and value them."

He is using the downtime to connect with friends and his parents, who live 200km away. He also keeps in touch with Rossi as well as his team via video calls.

But Vinales has not been idle at home. He follows a workout plan - indoor cycling, light weights and calisthenic exercises.

"I keep it quite relaxed," said Vinales, who has posted short workout videos for fans.

For now, his mind will be focused on his "home" virtual GP, which he admits is "totally different" from circuit racing.

"You have to work the controller well," Vinales said. "The only thing that's very similar are the (cornering) lines."

Virtual racing may be child's play to some, but he said it helps in sharpening his track knowledge and focus.

"For me, it seems harder on the PS4 than in real-life (circuit) racing. But it's really good to maintain your concentration and train yourself mentally."

Catch the Spanish MotoGP Virtual Race at 9pm on Sunday on Fox Sports 2.

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