Moneyball For MotoGP

Grand Prix Scout adds data-crunching insight to our passion

MotoGP
Grand Prix Scout crunches data to find the patterns in MotoGP results.Honda

Scott Robinson’s motorcycle addiction appears just like yours and mine; he rides dirt bikes with his daughter, has roadbikes and trackbikes, follows racing, teaches as a rider coach for N2, and has ridden for 47 years. He loves two wheels. Normal, right? But something in his brain constantly asks a single question: Why?

About two years ago, this 58-year-old tech and analytics expert applied his question to Grand Prix racing. Why did certain riders rise to the top? Why were certain riders strong at certain circuits and why were others struggling? What were the effects of weather? Of leading or chasing? Was it all random luck, or were there measurable factors involved?

Scott Robinson
Scott Robinson’s passion for motorcycles mixed with his analytics background to create grandprixscout.com.Robinson Collection

Those are fantastic questions and the answers allowed Scott to combine his love of motorcycles with his natural aptitude for statistical analysis. It wasn’t long before he began to see patterns, and the deeper he dug, the stronger those patterns became. Rather than fan-boy exuberance for a favorite racer, Scott’s numbers and analysis had him watching MotoGP in a much-more involved way. Watching became studying.

So what to do? Start a website of course! Scott drafted his daughter Julia when she graduated from UC Santa Barbara (where Scott has established an on-going internship for talent), added data scientists Antonio Samaniego and Tomas Healy, and launched Grand Prix Scout.

Julia Robinson
Julia RobinsonRobinson Collection

Their Mission: To provide MotoGP fans and other stakeholders with performance benchmarks for every rider on every sector of every circuit.

Their Goal: To educate fans, increase MotoGP's popularity, and help to promote talent though the series.

How They Do It: The team has created a variety of indexes based on factors that are highly correlated to performance. The indexes take into account a variety of variables including speed, consistency, track/sector difficulty, weather, machinery, and rider history. The methodology is scientific with essential art in execution. It's not just numbers, it's the interpretation of those numbers.

Coverage: The Scout team ran the numbers for all riders before each race in 2018 and 2019. In-depth rider coverage is determined by combining the core speed and consistency indexes with the other observable factors. Yeah, it's a whole new way to look at your favorite racer and see what separates those at the front from those in the gravel.

Limitations: There are three swing factors that can't be accounted for before a race: crashes, penalties (e.g., jump starts), limited rider data on a circuit. This is where science and data meet the human factors; suddenly rider consistency looms large.

This site is fascinating for those of us hooked on GP racing because it goes far beyond the biographies and banal quotes we are currently privy to. The Scout team geeks out on climate and weather per track, the riders’ stats and projected results, their podium picks for upcoming races, how riders train… Getting the idea? As they spread to Moto2 and 3, the Scout team’s stats will become increasingly important to teams searching for the next MotoGP contender.

Friendly Betting: Along with the data and information is a chance to do a little friendly betting on who will finish where under the Gentleman's Betting tab. The betting side of MotoGP will be helped by the Scout team's analysis. So will rider choices by teams. Even riders themselves will be helped when they see how Scott's team has broken down their strengths and weaknesses. If you're thinking that this is Moneyball for MotoGP, you've got the right idea.

The COTA Contest

We all have our favorite racers and every fan has an opinion on who will win, place, and show. Most of us base our opinions on emotions and some knowledge of the sport and feelings about each rider. In contrast, Grand Prix Scout crunches hard, unemotional numbers that include weather forecasts and history, rider strengths and history, team advantages, and a few additional parameters to pick an “MVP Team” that will finish in the top five.

For this year’s Circuit of The Americas Grand Prix, I asked a group of friends for their top-five finishers two weeks prior to the race, the lead time in which Grand Prix Scout predicts the top five. See the results of the top-five “friend” picks as well as the Grand Prix Scout picks below.

The scoring is simple: Each correct rider in the top five earns a point. If the prediction placed the rider in the correct position, first through fifth, that earned two points. The maximum best score would be 10 if the top five finishers where accurately predicted in order. Um, nobody was even close to 10!

Who wouldn’t pick Marc Márquez to win at COTA? Almost everyone did with a few insightful differences. Who would envision Rins’ first MotoGP win coming at the expense of Rossi? Nobody did. The rookie Morbidelli was almost universally overlooked as was third-place Jack Miller.

Scoring: Only the three best "Nick's Friends" guesses included... The rest were way off.

COTA MotoGP Finish:

  1. Álex Rins
  2. Valentino Rossi
  3. Jack Miller
  4. Andrea Dovisioso
  5. Franco Morbidelli

Grand Prix Scout Predictions And Score: 2 Points

Marc Márquez 0
Andrea Dovizioso 1
Valentino Rossi 1
Maverick Viñales 0
Cal Crutchlow 0

Brian Smith
Brian SmithJosh Smith

Nick’s Friends Predictions And Scores (Best Three):

Brian Smith: 5 Points
Andrea Dovizioso 1
Valentino Rossi 2
Franco Morbidelli 1
Johann Zarco 0
Álex Rins 1

Chris Carr
Chris CarrNick Ienatsch

Chris Carr: 5 Points
Marc Márquez 0
Andrea Dovizioso 1
Jack Miller 2
Valentino Rossi 1
Álex Rins 1

Scott Rybarik
Scott RybarikJanelle Thomas

Scott Rybarik: 4 Points
Andrea Dovizioso 1
Jack Miller 1
Valentino Rossi 1
Álex Rins 1
Takaaki Nakagami 0

The remaining nine of my friends who responded with predictions (Don Cook, Carry Andrew, Andre Castanos, Chris Peris, Keith Culver, Ryan Flemming, Rob Cichiello, Louis Ferrari, and Steven Crociata) had an average of 2.55.

Cold Hard Numbers Versus Rider Error And Emotion

Scott Robinson has an underlying sense of humor about his new website and realizes that the rider error Márquez experienced and the extreme emotion Rins felt as he was catching Rossi can’t be quantified. As a rider from the old school before traction control, ABS, and data acquisition, I am heartened to see that racing hasn’t become predictable. Mistakes and emotion still ruled the day at COTA.

It was fun to pit my emotionally driven, fan-boy idiot friends against the team and algorithms of Grand Prix Scout. The true purpose of this website is to increase our knowledge and enjoyment of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, whether we use that for betting, sounding smarter, or even to improve our own riding.

Grand Prix Scout began with a curiousness about an incredible sport played at the top of the world and gained strength as Scott Robinson and his team began to find correlations to success, mediocrity, and failure. Casual observers of the coolest sport in the world are happy to wave a #46 hat in the air, but the rest of us will revel in the information Grand Prix Scout produces.

Julia and Scott Robinson
At the heart of Robinson’s drive with Grand Prix Scout is a love of riding motorcycles...plus understanding and quantifying success and failure.Robinson Collection

More next Tuesday!