Oh boy, things are really hotting up in American Flat Track.
In addition to the rule changes we picked up on 1 November, more have been announced that have upset Indian so much they've made an official press release. This is it in full.. Read it then see our take at the bottom...
American Flat Track recently communicated a series of rule changes for 2019, designed to increase the competitive balance in the sport. Two of the three rule changes single out Indian Motorcycle and the FTR750, and one of the three unfairly handicaps Indian Motorcycle’s ability to compete.
Indian Motorcycle developed a superior purpose-built race bike that conforms to AFT’s rules and regulations. While our efforts over the past two years produced unparalleled success on the track, the result has also been a competitive imbalance that ultimately does not benefit the sport. For this reason, we are fully supportive of efforts by AFT to restore competitive balance. However, we believe the changes for 2019 do not create the competitive balance we all desire and instead put Indian Motorcycle Racing at a competitive disadvantage.
First is the change from Sunoco Supreme fuel to Sunoco GTX-260 fuel, a lower octane, lead-free fuel that will force reductions in compression ratios and, ultimately, reduced power output. This is something that affects all teams equally, and Indian Motorcycle is aligned with this change.
Second is the allowance of street-legal production engines up to 900cc. The change to allow smaller displacement engines to increase bore and stroke past 750cc to 900cc will produce broader torque curves and higher peak power where desired, which is a significant advantage. “Production” engines are also allowed to change out all internal components including crankshafts, cams, pistons, connecting rods, and valves. Although this change puts Indian Motorcycle at a disadvantage, we support this as part of AFT’s effort to create competitive balance.
We take serious issue with the third rule change – allowing production engines to increase from 38mm throttle bodies to 40mm. This rule excludes Indian Motorcycle Racing, because the Scout FTR750 is not a street legal production motorcycle. Not only does the rule singularly handicap Indian Motorcycle, it represents a significant impairment of our ability to compete on an equal level with every other team in the paddock, specifically on mile tracks.
We have done extensive testing in this area, and our results have shown that 40mm throttle bodies produce 20% to 22% more air flow than the 38mm throttle body. In previous years, larger throttle bodies have been allowed, but limited specifically to larger production motors. This will be the first time that smaller, lighter production motors, similar in dimension and weight to the FTR750, will be able to increase throttle body sizes, creating a significant advantage over larger, heavier motors, let alone over the FTR750, for which this allowance does not apply. This is extremely significant on mile tracks where the increased air intake is maximized over the longer straights. Considering that the mile tracks are the predominant racing format in the series, this puts us at a drastic disadvantage and is detrimental to our ability to fairly compete at mile tracks.
It is critical to us that American Flat Track fans understand how these changes exclusively impair Indian Motorcycle Racing. Despite these changes, we will attack 2019 with the same competitive focus and determination that resulted in back-to-back championships over the past two years.
Firstly, I was shocked to find the series has been not just allowing, but forcing the use of leaded fuel as late as 2018. MotoGP switched to unleaded in 1998, in the era of two-strokes!
Moving on, we were told by a race team owner that they understood that the FTR750 would be allowed into the series for two years, on the understanding that Indian would have a production ROAD bike engine based machine ready for their third year - that is for the 2019 season. How that would work when they built 50 race bikes to sell is not clear, but if that was the agreement, it's now been quietly dropped. It seems like this rule change might be a reaction to the changing of the boundaries, if there were any in the first place.
One machine dominating the series is nothing new in flat track, but it's not good for a series. It could be argued that Jared Mees' dominance is more damaging, but he deserves all his wins (tyre doping excepted).
On the engine capacity change. Up to the end of 2018 production motors under 750 could be bored, but not exceed 750. Now they can got as big as 900. That includes the Kawasaki 650s, Yamaha FZ-07 and Harley-Davidson, the latter being regarded as 750s, but actually 749.9cc. We communicated with a team running Kawasakis and the biggest oversize their engine can be bored to is 3mm over and that only takes it to around 750cc, so the new 900cc limit is irrelevant to Kawasaki teams. It will benefit Yamaha 750s, Harley 750s, Ducatis and KTM - who have an 800 twin. The Austrians have already said they're joining AFT Twins in the future. I wonder if this announcement will make them join the series in 2019, or at least part way through it ready for 2020.
The throttle body issue is more complicated. In the pre-AFT days, it seemed a regular occurrence for teams to be handed restrictors just as they proved to be competitive. We remember it happening to Lloyd Brothers Ducati after Joe Kopp won on it in 2010.
The increase in throttle body size must feel like a bonus to Bryan Smith and the reformed Howerton Kawasaki team who will be able to unleash more power from their engine, if Indian's power increase figures are to be believed (and I don't know enough to confirm or deny, so I'll take it on face value). However, more power means more stress and the potential for more breakages.
The Indian statement feels a little like a manufacturer getting their excuses in early and I don't fully understand why it's been made so public, but I enjoy the drama of it. Indian played by the rules to develop their FTR engine and any other manufacturer could have made the same investment to match them, but haven't, so I can fully understand their disgruntlement.
I cannot wait for AFT 2019!
Photo: American Flat Track