Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 01 19

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 78 of 79

By CHICANERY HENRY RAY ABRAMS Is It Really Safer? here's a saying in Florida: "There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Speedway." Never was it truer than at last week's annual winter tire tests. The new 2.9S-mile (measured on a car's odometer) Daytona International Speedway layout was christened by a group of riders anxious to feel better about the Speedway. They'd heard the rumors and seen the photos and wanted the simple truth. They were unanimous in their condemnation of the old 3.56-mile layout last spring and were grateful that someone had finally listened. The Speedway was rightfully tired of the bad press garnered by the pair of exploding tires in 2003. The solution was slower motorcycles or a slower track or better tires, or all three. They got all three. The Daytona 200 will be run on Formula Xtreme 600s on a layout with one banking removed. Dunlop introduced a new line of stronger tires that showed no signs of failure on the Superbikes or any other class. Was the track work in exchange for forcing the AMA to change the 200 to Formula Xtreme bikes? Yes and no, depending on who you asked. It's certain that what made it possible was the track being closed for several months while the new turn-one doublewide tunnel was installed. Would they have done the track work otherwise? Maybe, since it wouldn't have greatly impacted the tri-oval. But a closed track made the decision that much easier. First impressions of the track were positive, as were later impressions by some. The unanimous opinion expressed about the former track was gone. This time most everyone agreed it was safer, but... As Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin said, "When the second banking gets taken out over here, I'll be a lot happier." Then he added, "But for now, it's good they got rid of that banking." The most destructive segment of the racetrack is the run from the chicane to turn one. That's where the highest sustained speeds are generated, that's where the tires generate the most heat, that's where most of the tires blow up. Barry Sheene's blew up at the end of the front straight in 1975, as did Dave Sadowski's about 15 years later. That's where Ben Spies was sent hurtling down the racetrack in October of 2003. Anthony Gobert had a tire fail coming onto the T front straight in the 200 I running of the 200. Two and half years later, Jason DiSalvo, another Yamaha rider, suffered the same fate. Gobert didn't fall; DiSalvo did, but was unhurt. More than one rider pointed out the abundance of room inside NASCAR turns three and four for a road course. The banking could be re-joined by the old tunnel and in a low enough gear to extend tire life. Daytona wasn't interested. The drafting battles from the chicane to the start-finish line have defined the Speedway forever. There was little chance they'd jeopardize that tradition. They could rightfully argue the quality of the product would be compromised. An I Ith-hour suggestion was possibly the most tire-destroying idea of all. During a meeting attended by American Honda's Miguel Duhamel and track designer Bob Barnard, the idea was floated to lay pavement inside the apron along the west banking. Riders would exit turn six, but instead of climbing the wall, they'd lean over on the left side of the tire and stay there for about half a mile. If they fell, which they'd do when their tires almost certainly failed, they'd slide into the banking so hard it'd be like hitting a wall. All the Air Fence in the world couldn't protect them. Spending that much time on the side of the tire would be worse than the banking, according to the tire guys. With that idea sunk, the road-course design that had been circulating for months went forward. With very little room to work, Barnard had to think like a contortionist, squeezing a handful of turns inside the existing track. Safety was the priority, the whole point of the exercise. The irony is that the track may not be safer. Removing the banking lowered tire temperatures by 10 degrees Celsius, theoretically extending tire life. But tire wear was worse than normal, at least for Dunlop. Why was that? Part of the blame, or praise, goes to Dunlop. Its new NTech tires allowed riders to keep the throttle pinned all the way around the banking for the life of the tire. Before, they could pin it for a lap, then feather the throttle and hang on for the next 18 laps while the tire sqUirmed like a politician under oath. Not only was there more wear this year, but it was on a wider patch of the tire. The good news was that the N-Tech technology proVided a stronger carcass and far less chance of the kind of catastrophic failures that plagued the 2003 testing season. The combination of one less banking and the new tires means the big blowout is far less likely. The new infield section offers a different set of challenges. Riders are notorious for not looking off the track. They don't want to know what they might hit. American Honda's Jake Zemke didn't take a thorough look at the track until the final day of the test. The day before, Mladin had crashed and slid so far that he hit a barrier few thought would come into play. It did, and his bike flipped over the guardrail. "I rode around today and took a good look at the whole new section and just kind of looking around, and there's stuff to hit in every corner," Zemke said. "Whether it's power poles, concrete wall, Armco, whatever, there's a lot of stuff out there. Hopefully, some of that stuff will be moved before we come back to race in March, because right now, every corner's got issues." Some of the problems can't be changed. Overshoot the right-hander onto the new section and a number of things can happen, most of them not very good. You could tumble to a stop, as Dan Bilansky did, unhurt, on Tuesday. That's a best-case scenario. Or you could hit the protection in front of a power pole, which will be narrowed before the race, or the drainage culvert. Or you could run across the track and get T-boned by a rider exiting the new turn five. Mladin had overshot the turn-four right-hander and crossed the track by turn five a few times. "What they're going to do about that, I don't know," he said. "I'm sure they'll have some kind of defense of saying people shouldn't run off." The corner that bit him came after turn five. Between the pair of first-gear lefts, Mladin spun up his rear and was shot into orbit. When he came down he wasn't in complete control and the barrier was fast approaching. The only choice was to sacrifice the Suzuki. These were all single-bike incidents on a track that rarely had more than a dozen to 15 riders on it at anyone time. Red flags seemed to be needed too often. What happens when the pack of 50 600s hits that turn on the first lap? Or someone tries to move a rider out to the right between the two infield lefts? Is the track safer? Only time will tell. eN CYCLE NEWS • JANUARY 19, 2005 79

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