Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Morning Crew Chief: Disalvo? Check. Daytona? Check. Ducati? Dual engines? Check and mate.

Ducati finally won the Daytona 200, breaking a winless streak that was beginning to take on the proportions of a curse.


An engine change on a bizarre red flag initiated by Dunlop? That's not an '*'. It's an '*'.

I'm not taking anything away from Jason Disalvo, who's quick (especially so when he's just putting his head down for a few laps) and a genuinely good guy. He's a racer, and all you can expect him to do is go on green. Or from the Latus Ducati effort; their never-say-die engine swap was inspired. To say the least, the beers must've tasted great yesterday on the beach.

And it was, just, within the rules.

The relevant rule is this one:
2.23.c.iii. During the red flag hiatus period, repairs, adjustments and refueling may be performed on all competing motorcycles...

It's clear that in the absence of a definition for 'repair' that excludes swapping engines, Latus' engine-swap was legal. It's possible that no one on the Rules Committee ever really imagined a red flag incident long enough to do it, although you can be sure that top teams will now keep a spare motor, ready to swap in, in their hot pit arsenals. Latus was forced to swap motors because that deep in the race, just going to a backup bike was forbidden (it's permitted only if the red flag incident takes place in the first two laps.)

Ironically, while the team could change motors within the rules, they couldn't change the rear tire without the express permission of the Race Director, and even then would have had to start from the back of the grid, according to this rule:
2.23.iv. Tires may not be changed during such red flag hiatus period without the prior approval of the Race Director (who may confer with the official tire representatives as to the condition of specific tires).
1. After receiving specific approval, all riders who have changed any tires during such red flag hiatus period must restart at the back of the grid.

2. Riders who have changed any tire without the specific prior approval referred to above, may be subject to one or more of the following penalties: disqualification from restart, black flag and  disqualification, loss of championship points, suspension. Further official action will be at the  discretion of AMA Pro Racing.

Crazy, eh? Changing tires could be cheating, changing motors is fair game. There are many racing sanctioning bodies that require the Race Director's approval for any red flag repairs.

If I was one of the other riders in the lead draft at the (grossly premature) end of the race, I'd also have chafed at this rule:
2.23.f. When a race is stopped after the completion of two (2) or more laps by the race leader, riders’ re-grid positions will be determined by their race positions in the last official lap preceding the red-flagged lap. At the time the red flag is displayed, riders who are not actively competing in the race will not be classified for the restart.
Disalvo had blown one cylinder on his Ducati and was just circulating in to certain retirement when the red flag was thrown. When would he have been deemed 'not actively competing'? If he'd pulled into the pit? Gotten off the bike? In a two-hour red flag delay, could his team have swapped motors and sent a cab to pick him up at the airport ticket counter and rush him back to the track in time for the restart?

Like I said, this isn't a shot at Disalvo or his team, who tried anything to win; that's admirable. It's what makes racing, racing. But I do think that an engine swap changes the character of the Daytona 200. Part of the challenge to winning this race has always been the need to optimize durability and power. That and pit stops are what make it unique in the AMA Superbike calendar.

And I have to say, what's with the long, long mandatory tire swap? Surely we can find or make tires that won't come apart on the banking in less (sometimes a lot less) than 200 miles? And if we can't, should a tire stop in what is still (at least arguably) the blue-riband race in the U.S. series, take more than a few minutes? I could have swapped my own front tire in less time. Why open the door to tactics like engine swaps, which debase the original point of the 200-mile distance? Next year, at the very least, AMA Pro should just give all teams a window (say between 75 and 125 miles) and tell them, change both tires in this window.

Look, in some endurance races, teams run thousands of miles, and they make their own decisions about tire compounds, balancing grip with durability. Incidentally, those guys do change motors from time to time, and I've even seen them do it under green flags. But if they blew a motor in less than 200 miles, there'd be hell to pay for the engine builder.

It's hard for me to believe that decades ago, teams ran the 200 on TZ750s, calling their own stops according to their own strategies, but that now, we can't race 200 miles on production based 600s. If  there's some reason that teams competing in the Daytona 200 can't handle those big-boy tire decisions (or because the banking or the new surface are impossibly hard to compound for) then maybe it's time to forget about the 200. The race is a shadow of its former self anyway, why make it a travesty?

1 comment:

  1. It's been a travesty for years Mark! It's always something.