Photography by Larry Lawrence
DAYTONA BEACH, FL, MARCH 13 - AMA Pro Racing announced last month that the 2015 Daytona 200 would switch back to using Superbikes – a format that was last used in 2004 when Mat Mladin won the race on the 3.56-mile track on his Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000. The following year the race switched to 600cc-based motorcycles (Formula Xtreme and now Daytona SportBike) with Miguel Duhamel earning his fifth and final 200 win on the 2.95-mile short course. Since then, every 200 has featured 600s, but that will change next year. Today a group of riders, track personnel, team managers and Dunlop tire personnel were assembled for a press conference at the Speedway to discuss the race going back to Superbikes next year.
The main reason for the change from Superbikes to 600s in 2005 was straightforward: Safety was being compromised. Plain and simple, the tires wouldn’t last the distance between pit stops on the Superbikes. Riders were fittingly spooked and then-lead Dunlop tire technician Jim Allen had many a sleepless night just thinking about it.
So what’s changed to make Dunlop think that they can make tires work for what will likely be a four-pit stop race?
“It is Daytona and the last thing a tire company wants to do is rest,” said Mike Buckley, vice president of Motorcycle Tire Sales for Dunlop, when posed the question. “We're constantly evaluating things here. The repaving obviously changed the situation out of the gate. That settled in a little bit, but the track continues to evolve, the bikes get quicker so we’re continually looking at it. The primary thing that has changed for us is the N-Tec technology. Once we went to that technology set in the bikes that we use here, we saw the heat buildup come down dramatically.
“If you think about today we’re running Superbikes in the sprint format at 15 laps and we’re doing section analysis and all the due diligence the tire companies have to do at the end of the event, particular temperature readings. We’re not seeing anything that concerns us in a 15-lap format at this point so that’s a good point to start from. Now depending on what we do from a rules and regulations point of view, and how many pit stops we end up with, which would ultimately be about a 69-lap affair, if we end up with four pit stops than we are in a window where we are comfortable with where we are today.”
Dunlop also realizes that there’s going to be more work to be done and the 2015 Daytona 200 won’t come before more extensive tire testing at the Speedway.
“That’s something we’re working with the AMA with now,” Buckley said. “We have some things penciled in with the speedway and the factory groups for post-October to do a test there. We certainly get better results there [in October, vs. December when Dunlop used to hold its annual test at Daytona]. We get warmer weather and more representative of what we see in March so we always felt that was a better time. We’ve got some stuff penciled in for October and we’ll certainly be coming in there with a baseline of what we learned here. We will learn something here this weekend, obviously. We’ll come back with that and probably some secondary options and we’ll put these guys through the paces in October and do some endurance stuff and see where we are. We’re definitely going to need to have a test before the race in 2015.”
So what do the riders think? Three-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes was honest in his assessment of the change. There’s still some fear.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was,” Hayes said. “In 2012 I had a front tire issue in a 15-lap race. No one in my generation is easily going to forget the accidents that we saw on Superbikes going around the banking. I don’t think any of us are lighthearted about how fast we go around the banking.
“The race is a long way off and I have some faith. I think they [Dunlop] can put together some safe tires. Now how good is the performance going to be on those tires to be safe? That’s a question I don’t know how to answer. I just don’t have enough information. Right now things seem to be going okay, but we’re going to have a lot of things we’re going to have to deal with. What if we show up and it’s one of those really hot weekends? We’ve seen that happen in the past. This one is a fairly cool weekend and last year was fairly cool weekend. Those are things we’re going to have to tackle in time and see how it goes. As for right now, there are so many things that are unknown… fuel capacity? What’s the fuel capacity? That’s going to determine a lot as to how many laps we can do on the motorcycle anyway. Tire safety, a strategy based on your motorcycle and how long the tire will hold on, and different things like that. It’s a lot of unknown. When you just say, ‘Hey look we’re going to ride the Daytona 200 on Superbikes,” do I have concerns? Yes I have concerns, but there’s a lot of time for us to address a lot of those things before we get gridded up in 2015.”
The other riders present expressed excitement at racing Superbikes again in the Daytona 200. Roger Lee Hayden, who has never raced in the 200, was one of them.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Hayden said. “When I grew up amateur racing, we came to Daytona every year and the big thing was to come here and watch the 200. When I’m done racing, I want to say that I at least raced the Daytona 200. I think it’s great, especially for the fans and stuff who get to come here and watch the premiere riders riding in the premiere class. I think it’s good for everybody.”
Veteran Larry Pegram was another who expressed return. He’s hopeful the risk is worth the reward.
“I think for me it’s the right way to go as far as putting Superbikes back in the 200,” Pegram said. “I’ve heard from Mr. Chitwood and Mr. Gentry that they are all in and it’s going to be a premiere event. If that’s the case, I’m 100 percent confident they are going to do it, but it’s a big risk for us to put Superbikes around this track – even for one lap. Basically for 200 miles it’s a big risk but I think we’re all willing to take that risk if they AMA is willing to do a big production and make this the biggest race like it was back in the day. It’s going to take a lot of effort from them, but we’re willing to take the risk if they’re willing to do it. If we show up here next year and this place is what it should be as far as promotion and everything, I think we’ll all be happy. I think as riders if it’s not, were going to be pretty upset because we’re taking a big leap of faith to go out and do this. It’s a handful to race a 200 horsepower, 200 mph motorcycle around this racetrack, but we’re willing to do it so everybody has to hold up their end of the deal and hopefully we come here and have the biggest race in the world again like we did back in the day.”