Math Behind The
Morecambe Missile

What makes John so Fast?

John McGuinness is a legend in motorcycle racing, with 23 victories at the challenging Isle of Man TT among many wins. Everybody who knows racing knows he is fast. But why? What makes John king of the motorcycle mountain? EMC partnered with Alpinestars and Freescale Semiconductor, using big data to find out what makes John so fast.

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The secret revealed

See the results from our big data analytics competition

The Man

John McGuinness, The Morecambe Missile

John McGuinness is a rider of vast experience with 23 Isle of Man TT and 6 NW200 wins under his belt. Known as the Morecambe Missile for the Lancashire town in England where he grew up, John is not only a legend on road racing circuits, he can also count on a host of short circuit and other international successes. John’s other successes include the British 250 Championship in 1999 and riding for the Honda TT Legends Endurance World Championship team from 2011 to 2013.

At the 2015 TT, he secured his 23rd TT win when he stormed to victory in the Senior race, bringing his TT tally to 44 podiums and 23 wins, standing second only to the legendary Joey Dunlop.

See John Race the Isle of Man TT
of racing
Isle of Man TT
1 Race

“For 25 years I’ve known I was fast. Fast in the corners; even faster on the straights. 200 miles an hour. What happens to my body at that speed? My brain? My reactions? Where any mistake could be my last. Yeah, I’ve always known I was fast—but I’ve never known why—until now.”

– John McGuinness

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The Technology

The Sensors and the Science

To understand why John McGuinness is so fast EMC invited John and Adam “Chad” Child, Senior Road Tester with Motor Cycle News, to the Circuit Monteblanco in Spain to complete six laps of a 4,000 meter course under race conditions. Using a specially equipped bike and suit — fitted with sensors measuring over 20 different aspects of their rides — we captured body position, bike position, biometric, and mechanical data.

We brought these disparate sources of data together in an EMC business data lake which enabled us to paint a live picture of what the rider and bike are doing at any point on the track. We then shared this data with the global data science community to see what insights they could glean from a statistical modeling and data visualization perspective. Could they uncover the secret to John’s success?

What We Captured

the rider

Heart Rate


Breathing Rate






the bike

GPS Location





Gear Speed


Banking Angle

“This is the first time in motorcycle history anyone has gathered data from man, machine and the environment—and in the harshest of conditions—to uncover the secret behind what makes one unique rider the fastest man on two wheels. It’s proven to be a monumental big data challenge and the insights we’ve uncovered thus far are fascinating.”

– Michael Foley, Director, Marketing Science Lab, EMC

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The Test

Compare John to a Competitive Rider

John has always known he was fast but to determine what factors truly lead to his success we needed to measure him against a strong competitive rider — someone with the experience to emulate competitive conditions and provide our baseline control data. Chad, riding the same course as John with the same sensors, provided that data set and gave us a good mark to measure John against. By comparing and contrasting the two riders’ styles and performance, we can learn what factors spell success.

the time trials

John and Chad’s Best Lap
  • Circuit Monteblanco
    South of Spain
  • FIA T1 & Grade 2
  • Circuit Length: 3926.38m
  • Curves: 10
  • Maximum Slope: 4.4%
  • Main Straight: 960m
Fastest lap
Fastest lap
269.3 kph
Maximum speed
266.5 kph
Maximum speed
130.4 kph
Avg speed
124.8 kph
Avg speed
140 bpm
AVG Heart Rate
160 bpm
AVG Heart Rate

the analysis


Before John and Chad rode at Monteblanco we had a lot of assumptions and questions about why John was faster: Did he have better body and bike control? Was he more aggressive? Did he have a better awareness of the course? Was it some combination of all these factors?

Providing the data to the global data science community through a contest on CrowdANALYTIX invited skilled academics and professionals from varied backgrounds and industries to test our assumptions and help us answer the question “why is John McGuinness so fast?” Through two separate competitions — one geared towards statistical modeling and one towards data visualization – competitors utilized many of the same tools that EMC’s data scientists and analysts use every day to solve complicated business problems and provide accessible, intuitive, and detailed analysis.

Over 750 individuals worldwide entered the competition but the difficulty of the problem and the challenge of managing a large data set led to only 28 complete submissions and two stand above the rest as the grand prize winners.

modeling competition winners
1ST PLACE: Stefan Jol, PhD

Only competitor who investigated how performance in one section of the track impacted performance in the next section. Used a robust random forest modeling technique to determine that body and bike position, rather than mechanical variables, were most important in determining the success of a rider.

2nd place: Phillip Gilley, PhD
3rd place: Alexey Mitrofanov
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visualization competition winners
1ST PLACE: Charlotte Wickham, PhD

Built an intuitive and interactive visualization that allows the user to conduct their own analysis on a section-by-section basis. Provided information on track position, speed, rpm, body position and a number of other variables in an easy to access and understand format.

2nd place: David Foster
3rd place: Parveen Sharma
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next challenge

at the isle of man tt

These results are fascinating and give us a glimpse into this athlete’s competitive edge. So interesting, that we are partnering once again with both John McGuinness and Adam Child. Only this time we will be at the Isle of Man TT itself and we’ll be capturing an even larger pool of data. We will again analyze the results to definitively answer the question: what makes John McGuinness so fast?

Big Data

Insights That Drive Success

Big Data is behind countless achievements in everything from science to commerce to racing. Use EMC Business Data Lake Solutions to find opportunities you may never even knew existed, and discover everything is possible.

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