Tom Sykes brought World Superbike glory back to Kawasaki at last weekend’s final round at Jerez. The last time that had been done was 20 years ago in Mexico City, Mexico, when the Screamin’ Chief himself Scott Russell was able to clinch it over series rival Carl Fogarty.
Did it come down to some epic battle between the pair for Fogarty to upset the Georgian on the Muzzy Kawasaki? Nope.
The event was a complete disaster from the get go and ultimately cancelled. Read about it below…
By Henny Ray Abrams
MEXICO CITY, MEX, NOV 7 – It wasn’t exactly the ending that he’d hoped for, but Muzzy Kawasaki’s Scott Russell claimed the World Superbike title in his first year of trying when the FIM cancelled the final race after a successful riders’ boycott due to unsafe track conditions on the Autodromo International Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.
Trouble had been building all weekend: problems with the track, with customs, and with getting the machinery and equipment into the country cast a darkness on the event. The final straw came on Saturday afternoon after a number of riders, including Russell and Roche Ducati’s Carl Fogarty, Russell’s only title competition, inspected the track and found it woefully lacking.
“Me and Scott went out in the car and halfway down the straight we looked at each other and said, ‘No way,”‘ Britain’s Fogarty said. “It’s up to me isn’t it? But the stuff you don’t notice on a bike, you notice in a car. It means I lose the world championship. I had hopes of winning, now there’s no f-ing hope.”
“We’re not racing,”Russell said, after the boycott meant that he had won the title. “There’s just no track control. How can they hold a race? There are little kids in the field down there; there are three baseball games on the edge of the track; there are soccer games; there are kids walking in the run-off areas. It’s over. We’ve been up and down too many times.”
After Saturday morning’s untimed practice, when Russell’s teammate Aaron Slight nearly hit a stray dog on the circuit, and Russell almost hit a car that was about to pull out on the track, all of the riders signed a letter stating they believed the track was unsafe. Changes were promised for the afternoon practice, but, according to various riders who inspected the track, none were made and the majority of the riders chose not to take part in timed practice late in the afternoon. Eight riders went out for the 50-minute session, two more than are needed for a World Superbike race to be held. But the FIM decided at a jury meeting on Saturday night that it would be cancelled as a World Superbike race.
“Basically, it said we wouldn’t ride unless the conditions improved,” Russell said. “We’re not at the Isle of Man.”
That the boycott facilitated the title was something that didn’t bother the Georgian.
“I was going to win it anyway,” said Russell, who needed only a fifth place finish in either of the two races had Fogarty won both. “I wanted to win it here. I was fastest in practice.”
The final point count for the 13 race series has Russell with 378.5 and Fogarty with 349.5. New Zealander Aaron Slight, Russell’s Muzzy Kawasaki teammate, ends the season third with 316.
Though the circuit has hosted international motorcycle races in the past, this was the first time a World Superbike race had been held here and the circuit and the organizers failed miserably in meeting world championship standards. Customs problems caused delays in machine and tire delivery and also prevented the Fast by Ferracci team from entering the country. After being stuck at the border, along with a Dunlop truck and a Muzzy Kawasaki truck, Ferracci’s crew headed back home, leaving Doug Polen and Pascal Picotte without bikes.
Had their bikes arrived, they would have faced numerous perils once on the
2.49-mile track which is built in the middle of a municipal recreation area. Soccer balls flying errantly onto the track, stray dogs, joggers, unsupervised traffic, and baseball games all conspired to make this the worst World Superbike race ever attempted. In the end, all those forces also brought about its demise.
Roger Edmondson, who heads the AMA’s road race program, served as the FIM Jury President here for the first time. He agreed with Russell that the riders’ safety could not be assured.
“With a facility this size, there is no guarantee something can’t happen,” he said. “It’s a difficult situation and I can appreciate the riders apprehension and concern.”
“I can’t speak for the FIM because this is the first time I’ m the president, but the riders have to make up their own minds. When riders conspire together, that’s another matter.”
The problems began well before the race started. The Muzzy, Dunlop, and Ferracci trucks arrived on Monday, November 2, to cross the border at Laredo, Texas . They had been assured by the organizers that they would get a police escort for the long trip to Mexico City. Dennis Smith, who was driving the Dunlop truck from their West Coast headquarters in Torrance, California, met with a customs broker on Monday and was told to wait. The customs agent allegedly told Smith that he would be bringing a letter from Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari which would guarantee their entry.
On Friday, the Ferracci truck left, leaving Polen, who was already in Mexico, without a ride.
“I don’t understand why,” Polen told the English language newspaper “The News” after being asked why his truck was turned away. “Madonna (who is giving a concert in an area on the inside of the circuit on Friday, November 12) uses half of my trailer for her equipment, and all her other trailers have been allowed to enter the country.” Several teams were told that American trucks over three tons are not allowed in the country. The Muzzy team was told they could use their tractor, but would need to transfer their cargo into a Mexican trailer.
Soon after Ferracci’s truck left, the Muzzy truck departed, leaving Smith alone. Though he was guaranteed a police escort, Smith was skeptical and didn’t want to make the trip alone. He drove to the San Antonio Airport and put tires on two flights, one to Mexico City, and one to Dallas for forwarding to Mexico City.
Back in Buffalo, Dunlop’s Jim Allen was apprised of the situation and made arrangements to check 17 tires as luggage, a number sufficient to supply the Muzzy Kawasaki team. As soon as he landed in Mexico City, the tires were impounded in customs, along with the better than 300 tires that had arrived by air. They were cleared out of customs on Friday at 8:00p.m. and Dunlop took possession of them at 6:30 on Saturday morning.
Jean Herise, Michelin’s man on the world superbike trail, had fewer problems, though at a cost.
“We started a long time ago and we sent the tires by plane from France a week before the race,” Herise said about his supply of 500 tires. “Our agency sent someone here. We brought the tires here Monday. Even to import them temporarily, you have to pay taxes. We were supposed to get a box of clothes that we never got. The problem here is you have to pay. This country does not accept ATA carnets.” In addition to paying the taxes, all the tires have to be accounted for and taken back out of the country.
The delivery of the motorcycles wasn’t any easier. They arrived by plane and were to be released on Tuesday night. Then it became Thursday night, and they finally cleared customs at 4:00 a.m. on Friday morning. The organizers were forced to cancel the morning practice session and ran one in the after noon. Because of the delay in getting tires, Russell went out in Friday’s untimed practice on hand-cut slicks, setting the fastest time despite some serious reservations about the track.
“The guys complained that the track was slippery and dangerous,” Muzzy’s team manager Peter Doyle said. “Scott nearly hit a truck and Aaron just missed two dogs. We understood that the circuit was supposed to do some work. They were going to take down a building on the back side. Nothing has been touched.”
The track is set in a large urban recreational area where various sports, including soccer, baseball, basketball, and field hockey, are practiced. The fence surrounding the track, both on the outside and inside, has numerous breeches through which pedestrian, animal, and auto traffic flowed freely. The day after Russell nearly hit a truck that was pulling out onto the track, the gate was still open and unguarded. According to a local journalist, the lack of control over the track was one of the main reasons that the Formula One circuit abandoned this race a few years ago.
The area off the racing line was dirty, and getting dirtier, and blue lines painted in some corners were slippery. Coming onto the front straight there was very little run-off, and very little margin for error. A medical helicopter was parked on the outside of tum three, which, though well off the track, was too close for comfort, according to Russell
A free practice was held on Saturday morning and the riders returned with tales of terror. The first timed practice was to be held at noon, but the riders had signed a letter informing the organizers of their concerns and the session was postponed. Finally, at about 3:25 p.m., two cars filled with riders, team managers, and the clerk of the course, went to inspect the track.
On their return, Aaron Slight said, “They stopped a couple of games, but there’ s still thousands of people. Right on the entrance to the first comer there’s a baseball game. It’s better, but what we wanted done, wasn’t done. And the people watching have dogs.”
Claudio Marati, the Flammini representative for the U.S. and Mexico, told one journalist that he was asked to pay $100,000 to someone who claimed he could cause all sporting activities to cease. Marati also said the new management of the track was spending $750,000 on circuit improvements, and another $2 million over two years to seal off the track completely.
About 10 minutes after Slight returned, Russell and Fogarty went out with Albert Fantini, the clerk of the course, and an employee of the Flammini Group, the World Superbike series organizers.
“The first thing we saw was a dog,” Russell said when he got back. “If they want to have a race, they have to get their shit together. If we raced in conditions like this we’d be bringing ourselves down to a level that we don’t need to be at. Everyone’s spent a lot of money to be here and went through a lot of headaches. I wanted to race bad. My shit was working good. Now I’ve got to wait until Daytona to race again.”
“I think everybody’s pissed off-really,” Fogarty said. “Nobody’s making any decisions.”
At approximately 4:11, an announcement was made that all games had been stopped and that in 10 minutes a 50-minute timed practice would start. “We’ve been around the track and the track is ready,” the official announced over the public address system. “The FIM has decided you can go out and take this practice, a 50-minute timed practice.”
At the appointed hour, two Mexican riders and an American, Tray Batey, riding a Honda RC-30 owned by a Mexican businessman, took to the track, soon to be joined by a third Mexican. But six riders are needed for a grid, according to world superbike rules, and race organizers went through the paddock trying to drum up support. Frenchman Dominique Sarron then went out, as well as Italians Mauro Moroni and Aldeo Presciutti, though they were heckled the whole time they were preparing to practice by fellow Italians Giancarlo Falappa and Fabrizio Pirovano. Falappa made an obscene gesture to Presciutti as he pulled out of the pits.
The session ended and the qualifying results went to the FIM who would hold their usual jury meeting at 7:00 p.m. to decide the fate of the race. At about the same time, one of the organizers approached Roche and told him that if the riders didn’t ride, they might
have some trouble getting their machinery out of the country. It was suggested they put on a 10-lap exhibition race.
But the bikes had been crated up, the riders had left, and Russell, for one, had some serious celebrating to do.
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