DAYTONA BEACH, FL, DEC 20 - The annual Daytona December Dunlop tire test was a fixture on every road racer's calendar for decades, until last winter. With no change to the track or machinery, AMA Pro Racing officials opted not to schedule a test in the winter of 2009. The 2010 American Superbike races - there were two this year - went off without a hitch. But when Daytona International Speedway decided to repave the tri-oval for the first time since the mid-70's, it was essential that Dunlop test at least once, and, preferably, more than once.The first of those tests concluded with surprising results today, a sunny, but chilly afternoon in Daytona Beach. On the freshly repaved tri-oval, the same rear tires run in this past March's Superbike races showed no signs of wear and impressive grip. But that same grip exposed the weakness in the front tire, which was built to a new specification. The four Superbike riders on hand all agreed that a different spec front tire would be necessary when the follow-on test is held here in just under a month's time.Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Tommy Hayden celebrated the recent signing of his contract by not only setting the fastest Superbike time, but by doing it with a lap time that was faster than his fastest race lap from the second race in March.Hayden lapped the 2.90-mile short course in 1:38.714, which was not only under his best race lap of 1:38.783, and not just the only lap in the 1:38s, but faster than his qualifying time by .001 of a second. The time came about midway through the afternoon session as temperatures dropped. The ambient temperature approached 60F and the track temperature was 73.5F.Hayden was looking for a solution to the front tire issue when mentioned to Dunlop road race manager Sabastian Mincone that he could use a rear tire with less grip."That's the first time a rider ever asked me for less grip," Mincone said with a laugh. Said Hayden, "We either have to have a front with more grip or a rear with less grip. The rear, the banking with the g-force and everything, it's just driving the front under. The speed, there's so much traction, the balance is not right. It's like coming in and qualifying with a worn front tire and throwing a qualifier in and going out. That's what it feels like going around there. It just overpowers the front."Hayden added that after the rear tire "goes off a little bit, it's actually a little bit better for me. We made some changes on the bike, a little bit on the settings, got it balanced a little bit better, because it's different around there. The bike's riding a different position around there because it's not bouncing around. So we went away from our normal set-up and actually made it a little less scary and it seemed alright. So we'll see. They seem to think they have some good ideas. I told them I hated to even say that, because they probably never heard that before. A rider's never supposed to ask for less grip."What Dunlop found with the rear was that "where there was more wear in the past, now we've got less wear," Mincone said. "The Superbike tire can do 30 laps no problem [the Superbike race is 15 laps]. The front tire's a bit different. We're going to try to find a bit more grip, a little bit more compromise."The lack of front confidence was especially notable when riders tried to change lines on the banking, something that's essential for the classic chicane to checkered flag run. Hayden didn't try moving around, because, "Honestly, the banking was kinda sketchy for me, especially today. So I tried to stay as calm as possible. It was easy to go wide open, but I didn't want to get up there moving around a whole lot and do too much experimenting up there."The plus side of the repaving was that the banking was, literally, laser smooth. There was unanimity that the glasslike surface made for a much plusher and less physical ride."I think the biggest thing that I've noticed is my chest isn't black and blue today from being beaten around on the gas tank," Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Blake Young said after setting the second fastest time (1:39.218) "I think that makes the track all the much more fun. It wasn't very fun to come rip around and do 80 laps in two days on that old surface. I think that, for the most part,  is making it a lot more fun, for sure."Besides the front tire issue, the common complaint among the Superbike set was a dirty track. The tri-oval was completely repaved, as was about a 100 yard section into Turn 1, just about to the apex."It's dirty and it's just a little bit unpredictable down there," Hayden said. "You can't keep your wheels in line there through a little bit."The chicane, which has been slightly changed, is a work in progress. Track officials and the AMA haven't decided on the curbing through the left-right entry or the exit. As it is, it's possible to run over the curbing in all corners. The exit has also been altered, with some expressing concern that a faster run out could increase tire temperaturesGraves Yamaha's 2010 AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes disagreed, saying "it's going to make it where it's a little less likely. You might get a little straight run up there, but I don't know that it's necessarily faster. We're actually leaning to the left less when we're trying to climb the banking, which is going to be easier on the bikes and the tires. But the way that they did it is going to keep more people from running off of the dirt [on rider's left[. They're going to stay on the track more."This Dunlop test was a prelude to a mid-January AMA Pro Racing test where all riders will be invited."What we're going to do is we're going to build maybe one or two specs for the front and also the same thing for the rear," Mincone said of the upcoming test. Because of the tight time frame, Dunlop has to design, build, and, at a considerable cost to the company, air freight the tires to Daytona. They'll repeat the drill following the January test to build the tires for the March race."We're going to try to find some different solutions," Mincone added.  "What we're trying to do is not just for the January test, we're going to also see what we can carry on to the March race and also what's going to happen for next year."Test Times:

American SuperBike

1. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki) 1:38.714

2. Blake Young (Suzuki) 1:39.218

3. Josh Hayes (Yamaha) 1:39.287

4. Larry Pegram (BMW) 1:39.610Daytona SportBike1. Josh Herrin (Yamaha) 1:43.047

2. P.J. Jacobsen (Ducati) 1:43.187

3. Cory West (Suzuki) 1:43.964

4. Benny Solis (Yamaha) 1:44.108

AMA Pro Racing Headlines

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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