In the final qualifying session at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, TX, the gap between Alex Espargaro in fourth place and Valentino Rossi in sixth was a mere four thousandths of a second — one millisecond faster than the human eye can discern. In fact, aside from Repsol Honda’s one-two punch of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, the remainder of the top twelve racers crossed the line within the span of seven tenths of a second. And timing goes well beyond positioning for the racers and teams of MotoGP. It’s used to calculate speed, provide immediate context and render vital tuning information for race day. Tissot, Official Timekeepers for all MotoGP races since 2001, are burdened with the proof of milliseconds. In this world of speed, their instrumentation deciphers the metrics of order within chaos: 23 riders piloting 230 horsepower motorcycles around the Circuit Of The Americas at 220 mph.
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Due to the highly competitive nature of motorcycle racing’s elite series, the accuracy of timing data is absolutely crucial. While the first bike to cross the line would seem the obvious winner, officially crowning that rider victorious requires a complete package of timing data. With 87 cameras (and millions of ravenous fans) scanning the action at the Circuit Of The Americas, it might seem unlikely that anything would be missed, yet the beauty of racing sometimes lies in its unpredictable nature. Inappropriate passing maneuvers — those occurring while under a “yellow flag” procedure, or during a safety car lead lap — can easily be missed by even the most eagle-eyed viewer. The transponder, on the other hand, never lies.
Tissot’s partnership with MotoGP extends itself well beyond the collection of track data. Each year the Swiss timepiece maker celebrates the start of a new racing season with the release of their official T-Race MotoGP Limited Edition wristwatch. This season’s model features a stainless steel PVD case with a playful dial design resembling a checkered flag — complete with “starting grid” style indices — housed under a sapphire crystal. Powered by an exposed ETA C01.211 calibre, the T-Race MotoGP has a 45-hour power reserve and features a three-register chronograph just begging to time some hot laps. Measuring 45mm and fashioned in the black and red livery of MotoGP, few race fans will miss that you grabbed one of the 3,333 made.
Tissot’s transponders are mounted on every MotoGP bike in the field come race day. During every lap at the Circuit Of The Americas (COTA) and other circuits, racers pass over receivers, or antennae, embedded across the entire width of the track. (Due to the need for redundancies, there are 12-15 timing zones in use at the COTA for MotoGP.) As a motorcycle crosses an antenna, a signal is sent from the bike directly to the timekeeping booth within the span of milliseconds; with the ability to record data crossing its path at up to 400 km/h, Tissot’s system is remarkably quick. From its headquarters, the Tissot timekeeping team monitors the performance of each rider.
Multi-screen monitors and banks of processing servers fight for room in the timekeepers’ booth at the start/finish line. As the information pours in, corner after corner, lap after lap, Tissot’s team of official timekeepers collect, analyze and interpret the data before broadcasting their findings, essentially in real-time, to audiences worldwide. One team member can still be found using an old-school ticker-tape data logging method, literally hand writing the riders numbers above a corresponding lap time as they fly by the line in front of him, just in case a problem arises somewhere within the system.
Now in its third generation, the Tissot Timekeeping system employed by MotoGP has become incredibly advanced. Where the original transponders could only emit signals, the newest version can also receive. 2014 is the first official season to use these two-way transponders, and they are already being heralded as the single most important advancement in timekeeping for the sport. For the first time, riders can now receive critical information regarding the race itself at each and every antenna point on the track. Safety broadcasts such as cautions (yellow flags) or even race stoppages (red flags) are sent as incidents occur, alerting the rider (typically via a light on the dash) to any upcoming obstacles or hazards. This lets the riders maintain focus on the task at hand: muscling a 350-pound rocket around the track in the fastest time humanly possible.