The 150 mph piggyback ride – MotoGP pillion
Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith (left) with CNN's Jonathan Hawkins.
August 28th, 2014
11:27 AM ET

The 150 mph piggyback ride – MotoGP pillion

Until last Tuesday my main experience piloting a motorcycle was renting a Honda C90, the weapon of choice for pizza delivery riders worldwide, and wobbling my way around the Thai island of Koh Samui for an afternoon.

I did also once ride pillion through late night Beirut on a Vespa - although that sounds more hazardous than it actually was. So when I found myself donning protective gear at Britain’s famous Silverstone circuit, you might say I wasn’t exactly prepared.

The MotoGP circus has arrived in the UK, as Silverstone plays host to the all-conquering world champion Marc Marquez – as well as several British racers, eager for success at their home race. Last week I joined three of these British riders for a special track day at the circuit.

First off, I was tutored on the basics of riding a low-powered scooter. I weaved my way around some traffic cones, practiced stopping, and had a little drag race up and down the car park. Then I was unleashed on the circuit itself - doing half a lap of Silverstone and reaching extraordinary speeds of up to 35mph. So far, so easy; but this was a mere hors d’oeuvre for the main course.

My basic body armor was replaced by a full leather race suit, my shoes substituted for armored boots, and I climbed warily on to the back of a specially adapted Yamaha R1 (about the closest thing you’ll find to a road-legal MotoGP bike), behind Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith.

After some initial confusion over which foot-pegs to put my boots on, Smith hit the starter button and the 185mph bike snarled into life. “You ready?” asked the 23-year-old rider. I offered a slightly wavering “Yes.” “Okay, visor down, let’s go,” he said.

I glanced over and could see Gresini Honda’s Scott Redding, carrying another nervous looking pillion passenger, shoot Smith a wry grin. I was about to get a taste of what it’s like to be a MotoGP racer.

I knew a fair bit about the physical training riders put themselves through - daily gym sessions alongside punishing cycling and running regimes - and within seconds I fully understood why.

Accelerating out of the pit lane, Smith drew alongside Redding and gunned the bike’s 1000cc engine. The machine catapulted forward, hurtling to the first bend, before a grab of the brakes wrenched it down to cornering speed. The Yamaha had a small set of handlebars for me to hold, mounted on the fuel tank, and beneath my armoured gloves I’m sure my knuckles were glowing white at this point.

VIDEO PROVIDED BY motorcyclenews.com and bikesocial.co.uk

Again the R1 lunged forwards, firing its way into the Wellington Straight. Squinting through my visor past Smith’s crash helmet the scenery around me blurred. Rounding the famous Brooklands Corner, on to the Luffield hairpin, Smith leaned the bike hard to the right, and I winced as the candy striped track kerb rushed up to greet my grimacing face.

When we blasted through the long, swift Woodcote Corner and back on to the Pits Straight I’m told we touched 150mph, before more gut-wrenching braking drew us back down to cornering velocity. Every muscle in my arms strained, and off we went again.

When we finally came to a stop in the pits, I eased myself out of the seat. “What did you think?” asked Smith. “Wow.” I said. “It’s not the acceleration, it’s the braking!” I exclaimed. “I know!” Smith answered, wide eyed, as if he’d just experienced it for the first time too.

MotoGP riders reach well over 200mph during a race, and this year’s Silverstone contest will take place over 20 laps - we’d had just a few circuits of half a lap.

Ducati’s Cal Crutchlow, also at the event, reminded us that he finished sixth in 2012 while riding with a broken ankle; an incredible, seemingly impossible achievement. I now know a little more about just how tough these two wheeled gladiators are.

CNN joined a track day organized by the UK’s MotoGP broadcaster BT Sport.

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The rise of Daniel Ricciardo
August 1st, 2014
04:59 PM ET

F1 surprise package: The revelations of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo

As Red Bull Racing closed its doors on Friday for Formula One’s mandatory summer holiday, the team's rookie racer Daniel Ricciardo clocked off on a high.

The Australian with the grin as wide as the Sydney Harbor Bridge has plenty of reasons to smile after his surprise star turn in the first half of the 2014 season.

The unassuming 25-year-old has asserted himself as the best of the rest, with two stylish victories and third place in the drivers’ championship. FULL POST

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Red Bull tycoon re-energizing Formula One
The hills are alive with the sound of motorsport: The Red Bull Ring in Austria.
June 23rd, 2014
12:04 PM ET

Red Bull tycoon re-energizing Formula One

Austrian Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz likes to do his talking - and his spending - on the track.

The billionaire made just one low-key public appearance during Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix. He was finally spotted by eagle-eyed TV cameras on lap 23 of the race, but by that point his Red Bull team’s chances of victory had fizzled out.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was lagging a lap off the pace and would later retire. Canada race winner Daniel Ricciardo had to settle for eighth after being shunted out of position at the start.

It was probably not the homecoming Red Bull envisaged but for Mateschitz re-energising one of F1’s best-loved tracks may be reward enough. FULL POST

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April 17th, 2014
06:05 PM ET

What's the secret to Mercedes' F1 success?

The Chinese calendar says it's the year of the horse. Some commentators were convinced it was going to be the year of the prancing horse when Kimi Raikkonen joined Fernando Alonso at Ferrari.

But they were wrong, 2014 is the year of Mercedes.

After a clean sweep of wins for the Silver Arrows in the first three races of the season, next up it's the Chinese Grand Prix.

The venue, the Shanghai International Circuit, is known as something of an engineering marvel - built on 40,000 concrete pillars to stop it sinking into the marshland.

But the circuit won't be the only spectacular feat of engineering on display this weekend. FULL POST

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January 8th, 2014
10:55 AM ET

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Open road racer
December 4th, 2013
12:03 PM ET

Sebastian Vettel: Who is the man behind the wheel?

Editor's note: CNN's The Circuit will screen a half-hour special on Sebastian Vettel at 1400 and 2130 Saturday Dec 7, 1030 Sunday Dec 8 and 0430 Monday Dec 9 (all times GMT).

I admit it, I was wrong.

I was one of those who didn’t like Sebastian Vettel, hadn’t really warmed to him. Yes, I admired his achievements - but the finger-pointing rankled, his standoffish approach to the media frustrated, and then of course there was the “Multi 21” incident when the German ignored team orders to overtake Mark Webber at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

I viewed it as arrogance.

Maybe the success had gone to his head? I was most definitely camped in the Webber side of the Red Bull garage. But after a few weeks on the trail of the four-time Formula One world champion for this weekend's Circuit special, I’ve changed my tune.

FULL POST

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November 17th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

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November 10th, 2013
01:20 PM ET

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Is Sebastian Vettel Formula One's greatest?
Sebastian Vettel wrapped up a fourth consecutive drivers' championship in India on Sunday. (Getty Images)
October 28th, 2013
06:03 PM ET

Is Sebastian Vettel Formula One's greatest?

There aren’t many four-time Formula One world champions to speak of. In terms of scarcity they’re up there with hen’s teeth, tires that last a whole race and single-dollar bills in Bernie Ecclestone’s wallet.

Of the hundreds of drivers who have pitted their wits in one of the world’s top motorsport divisions since 1950, only four have sealed a quadruple of titles: Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel entered this elite club with his win in India on Sunday and, for once, topped the podium to cheers rather than the boos that have become all too regular for the young German this season.

Speaking to reporters after the race the man from Heppenheim said:  "It's very difficult for me personally, to receive boos, even though you haven't done anything wrong.

FULL POST

F1: Uncertain future for Indian Grand Prix
A worker hangs an Indian flag from a post in the grounds of the Buddh International circuit in Greater Noida.
October 24th, 2013
11:35 PM ET

F1: Uncertain future for Indian Grand Prix

The hoardings are up, circuit lines freshly painted and the desert dust wiped off the greenery and grandstands.

The Buddh International Circuit in the outskirts of New Delhi is all set for the third Indian Grand Prix this weekend when the country will play host to a flashy mix of marketing glitz, technological wizardry and glamor.

But this year, the excitement is being eclipsed by speculation this could be the last grand prix in India, at least for now.

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