Thursday, March 17, 2011

Heat damage, again

Between the continued parsing of the Daytona 200 fiasco, the start of the MotoGP season, an interesting press release from the Isle of Man, word of a reconciliation between the FIM and TTXGP, and actual news on the 'Backmarker' front, too, I should have lots to write about. But, I'm going to keep this one short.

News from Japan gets worse. Without a way to get tons of water into crippled reactors' spent-fuel ponds, the fuel rods will burn if they're not burning already. And people are starting to talk about criticality in the densely-packed ponds; if they get hot enough to melt into a denser mass at the bottom of the pools, a Chernobyl-scale environmental disaster looms. Japanese officials are coming under some heat for their handling of the crisis. Bear in mind that many U.S. reactors have also 'over' packed cooling ponds with spent-fuel rods because finding something else to do with them is politically radioactive.


The electric-vehicle skeptics who point out that the generation of electrical power is not without environmental costs have so far been silent. Maybe that's because their point's been made.

While most of the motorcycle assembly plants in Japan are intact, almost all of them operate 'just-in-time,' ie. without parts inventories. Component supplies have been disrupted. Honda Racing Corp. is headquartered in Saitama, north of Tokyo; it's not that far from perimeter of the zone that American officials have suggested is unsafe. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few MotoGP teams suffering acute parts shortages soon.

All in all, this really sucks.

AMA Pro relives the '200' fiasco. In an example of transparency that is striking given AMA Pro's history, the sport's governors have released a detailed explanation of the events that caused a very long red flag in the middle of  the race -- a delay that certainly determined the winner.

One thing I learned while racing is that in the heat of the action, you react to situations as they come up. Something happens; you react. Your reaction causes something else to happen, and you react again. That's a statement of the obvious, but until you've actually raced, you may not realize this: You can start out a race in a very good position, and you can make each of those decisions with the best of intentions, using the best information available. At every step of the way you can react in a way that's justifiable and often seems like the only viable option. And. And at the end of that chain of decisions, you can find yourself tumbling to a stop in the gravel trap. In racing, the road to hell is truly often paved with good intentions.

A few laps into the 200, decisions were made in the interests of safety, to avoid front tire failures at very high speed. As it was, the riders caught up in that wide-open-in-top last lap pileup walked away, but we get AMA Pro's point; those crashes are to be avoided at any cost.

But.

AMA Pro and Dunlop both knew that many of the teams in the 200 intended to run one front tire the whole race. Given that some fronts were coming in heat-damaged in less than 60 miles, it's not that the tires weren't lasting. It wasn't even close. What gives? Is there really something about Daytona -- the banking, the new surface, the challenges faced by wildly fluctuating track temperatures -- that makes it that hard to predict how tires will fare in the race?

The long delay turned the 200 into a pair of short sprint races. The first race set the grid for the second one, which wasn't much longer than a typical club race. I think it's great that AMA Pro wrote a forthright press release about the long delay. The next step is to tell what they're going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

There are many in the American championship paddock who would love to see Daytona removed from the calendar. Considering that the 'D' in 'DMG (AMA Pro Racing's parent company) stands for 'Daytona' and that the company is controlled by the France family who own the speedway, that's not on the table.

So what do we do? Write mandatory tire changes into the rules for the event, and let it be up to the teams to change 'em under green? Stop the race at half-distance but rewrite the rules to prevent engine swaps? Or let teams do whatever they want, but structure it like a World Superbike race day, with two entirely separate 100-mile races?..

I think AMA Pro should consider the simplest solution of all: Kill the 200.

The distance was chosen ages ago, when the AMA sanctioned a one-race "200-mile National Championship." It was intended to be a test of endurance for both man and machine, at a time when building a motor that would run hard for 200 miles was a real challenge. (As it still is for Ducati.)

Right now, the 200's neither a sprint race nor an endurance race. It's expensive to set up a bike and field a team that can run right at the front, but teams that take the gamble and go to that expense have only one race to amortize it. The length of the event and the large differences in pit-stop duration between the front-running and backmarking teams increase the likelihood that a rider with no chance of winning will influence the outcome of the event, and that's no more desirable than an outcome determined by mass tire failure.

I think that if we had competing tire suppliers working to provide a range of tires that allowed teams to devise diverse race strategies, I'd be in favor of keeping the 200 around. But since on balance I'm in favor of the spec tire supplier, I'm not going to make that case. If we're all going to race on spec tires, I'd rather see a Daytona SportBike double-header, just like the Superbike class has.

The 200 is long past its sell-by date. If there really are fans who want to see pit stops, Daytona is the one venue where there's time on the schedule to hold a full-on endurance race.

The 200 is dead. Long live the Daytona 1000.

Backmarker will be moving to Motorcycle-USA.com! Although I'll keep this blog active, at least once a month you'll be able to find Backmarker on Motorcycle-USA.com. I'm not sure exactly what day it will come out on yet. This is good news for me for a few reasons, not the least of which being that I'll be paid something to write it. Mainly, it will expose my work to a potentially vast audience -- the site has a monthly unique-visitor tally that dwarfs the circulation of any of my print clients. Besides a monthly Backmarker column, I'll be looking to feed other stories and content into the site, so please feel free to suggest topics. Do you have a great event or new product? A friend with a compelling personal story that you think deserves national exposure?

Hey, nobody's paying anything for this one, so that was the week that was.

11 comments:

  1. I love it! A Daytona 1000 race!! Awesome idea, Mark. The DVD sales will go on for years! Think of all those IOM or ISDE or Baja 1000 DVDs "we" bought and watch over and over, eh?

    More importantly; CONGRATS on the Motorcycle-USA gig! Excellent news. I have bookmarked the site as of today.

    Cheers & TGIF!!
    Steve D.
    Fair Oaks, CA

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