A different kind of speed?

Wheels or waves? Red Bull don’t really show any preference to most forms of rush but there are aspects of MotoGP™ Grand Prix racing and this summer’s America’s Cup that are closer than you think.

By Adam Wheeler

What appears to be two different worlds reveals similarities upon closer inspection. PC: Rob Grey (Polarity Photo)

In a few weeks the Mediterranean Sea around Barcelona will be cut by the speed and technology of some of the fastest manually powered marine vessels and skilled crews in international waters. Alinghi Red Bull Racing, one of six teams in the 37th America’s Cup, will be clocking ‘knots’ and likely to be sailing up past the town of Mataro, a short distance from the Circuit de Catalunya -Barcelona where MotoGP was sliding rather than splashing at their own hectic pace during the penultimate weekend of May.

The Swiss effort has already spent almost two years designing their AC75 boat, and preparing for what is regarded to be the oldest continuous competition in international sport: the first event occurred in 1851 and with a jaunt around the UK’s Isle of Wight off England’s southern coastline. They have been based in a purpose-built facility in the heart of Barcelona’s old port since the summer of 2023 with an immense effort of staff, sponsors, partners and budget behind them. The outlay is necessary to fend off the ambition and the innovation of rivals from the USA, New Zealand, Italy, France and the UK.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing paid a visit to Alinghi Red Bull Racing. PC: Rob Grey (Polarity Photo)

Before the 2023 MotoGP Gran Premi de Catalunya in September, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing paid a visit to Alinghi Red Bull Racing and where they unveiled a slightly different livery for the works KTM RC16s, featuring graphics by renowned artist Javier Mariscal on the mudguard and the seat unit. The bikes were run in the Catalan sun that weekend; Brad Binder scoring a 4th place in the Saturday Sprint.

For the riders, Binder and Jack Miller, as well as some of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Pros, the occasion allowed the two teams to mutually discover and appreciate different forms of racing. Brad and Jack took part in some fun skill tests with two members of the ‘Driving Group’; these individuals are well-built and muscular athletes whose pedal power helps drive the potential for the AC75 (as well as the AC40 version used for training purposes) and while the physical conditioning might be similar in terms of stamina, the demands for MotoGP (compact, small, agile) and America’s Cup (brute force power) could not be more of a contrast!

Physique, and the ‘terrain’ of the courses are the most obvious differences between the sports but then some resemblances start to pop through. Aside from the Red Bull livery, the aerodynamic profile of the 23m AC75 competition boat is state-of-the-art. At full pelt, the boat flies on top of the water thanks to careful and considered deployment of the foil wings; the most crucial design element of each individual entry in the America’s Cup. The bulk of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing unit is made from semi-rigid carbon that is full of sensors and incredibly technical. The boat is followed by a howling ‘Chase’ vessel that is propelled by several 450cc outboards and contains work positions for laptop-equipped technicians that monitor the activity and performance of the AC75. 

The bulk of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing unit is made from semi-rigid carbon that is full of sensors and incredibly technical. PC: Rob Grey (Polarity Photo)

Wings, aero, data: sound familiar?

Like Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Alinghi Red Bull Racing have also collaborated with Red Bull Advanced Technologies for the shape and efficiency of the boat. There are areas of the HQ in Barcelona that were highly confidential to the KTM group in September, simply because of the secrecy of the work on the ’24 model. The AC75 regulation has been in existence for six years. A new boat is designed every four years, so every possible idea to gain an advantage in the water is cherished and guarded. The same strive for marginal gains applies in the world of MotoGP and for any special characteristic the KTM RC16 prototype might have over rivals.

It might take the force of 39 KTM RC16s to be able to pull a AC75 up to speed but vehicles are motionless without talent to guide them and to prepare them. Brad and Jack count on a comprehensive gathering of technical minds at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing (around 70 people in total). Alinghi Red Bull Racing, who have tasted America’s Cup victory twice, are a comparable size devoted to both the boats, the operation and the crews. Juxtaposed, MotoGP is a one-man sport once the lights go out on a Saturday and Sunday. The America’s Cup is a joint force. 

While both sports have a large team behind them, MotoGP becomes a one-man sport once the rider is on the bike, whereas Alinghi Red Bull Racing is a team effort through and through. PC: Rob Grey (Polarity Photo)

“I am in the ‘power group’ and we are responsible for providing the energy through a power system and for the other guys to trim the sails, everything above deck,” Barnabé Delarze, a former Pro rower, double Olympian, winner of the famous Oxford vs Cambridge race tells us. “We are eight in total: four in the power group and four in the driving group. It’s strange because we are in the same crew and on the same boat but it’s a completely different job, training and preparation. The driving group are more like the [MotoGP] ‘riders’: it is all about concentration, reaction times, knowledge and tactics. We are purely physical!” Teamwork is still key in both fields.

“There are also a lot of similarities with our own MotoGP team,” Binder said. “There are many people behind the scenes that put in massive effort every single day just to get us there in the best fighting shape possible from a technical side but also a physical side.”

The AC75 has been known to set speeds of 50+ knots (over 90kmph) on the water. MotoGP is fierce. Binder holds the current top speed of 366.1kmph (227mph). The rush is intense either way. “It’s exciting when we are going fast and we are in the maneuvers,” says Delarze, who joined the program in 2022. “We can feel the speed and the g-force. Most of all [the thrill] is discovering a new project and new sport and being able to express our physical capabilities.”

Miller felt some of the potential in the Chase boat and pursuing the AC40 in a practice run. “I've spent a lot of time on the water, generally in powerboats, but to see these racing boats out, foiling away, is incredible to witness firsthand,” the Australian commented. “To watch them flying over the waves and going at some really rapid speeds is impressive. We were out there and able to listen to the guys working as a team, there's definitely a big comparison there to what we do.”

Delarze was one of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing staff that went to the MotoGP event last summer to sample Grand Prix of the first time. We found him wandering the paddock. “Crazy guys!” he said. “I shudder to think how many of their bones have been repaired. The level of focus, and the risk they take is impressive.”

By the time MotoGP comes to Barcelona again for round six this spring, Alinghi Red Bull Racing will be in the final throes of their two-year residence in Catalunya and in their three-year bid for more success. Maybe Binder and Miller will again provide some inspiration with a Red Bull blur of a different (but vaguely similar?) kind.