The 2020 American Flat Track season finally gets underway this weekend with back-to-back races on Friday and Saturday at the Volusia clay Half-Mile in Florida. The season was supposed to start with the Daytona TT in March, but was postponed with only 24 hours to go. And Volusia is racing with fans, one of the first pro sports in the world to manage to welcome back socially-distanced spectators.
There are a lot of changes for 2020, that are nothing to do with coronavirus. We're going to post AFT stories all week. First the new rules. clearly, in these Covid-19 times, there is likely to be some level playing things by ear and being flexible, especially when it comes to the health or riders and officials, and safety of all concerned, but these are the rules as written before the pandemic.
Volusia will see the dawn of the SuperTwins era, AFT's latest attempt to continue the regrowth of pro flat track and improve the income of the sport for the elite riders. SuperTwins replaces AFT Twins (previously GNC1 and Expert before that) as the premier class. The 'support' classes remain AFT Single and AFT Production Twins. If you haven't been concentrating, SuperTwins see a set grid of 16 regular riders who will make the main at each of the season's scheduled rounds, barring injury on the day of the race. If the entered rider can't race, for health or other reasons, prior to race day their team must fill their spot with a stand-in rider. In March, the figure of full-time riders was set at 14, it has now increased to 16, leaving room for only two wild cards. See tomorrow's post
for the entry list.
The permanent, non-wild card, teams enter the rider, all entries paid at the beginning of the season, and face heavy penalties if they don't field a rider. AFT state, 'If the entry is not filled the team owner may have their license revoked and therefore lose the ability to participate in the series. AFT will work with teams in advance to connect interested wild card teams to available rides. AFT will also work very hard to accommodate extreme circumstances such as a rider being injured very close to the event – as an example, but the responsibility and commitment lies solely on the team owner.'
The wild card riders can enter and compete against the regulars to take the total entry to 18 riders, all of whom make the main unless they are injured on the day.
Another change for 2020 is altering the length of the main event from a number of laps to a timed race. AFT explains how this will work, 'At the start of a Main, the “race time” is started and will count down to zero. Large format clocks will be visible to the riders, pits and fans. When the race time expires the starter will display the traditional two vertical flags to the riders indicating two laps to go. The starter will wave the white flag when one lap is remaining and the checkered when the race is complete.'
The reason for times rather than laps is to transition towards a future of live TV coverage, making the length of a short track race the same, or closer to than of a mile race. Up until the end of 2019 Twins mains were 25 laps whether the track was a mile, half or 3/8ths of a mile, despite the elapsed race time being significantly different. Longer mains get a thumbs up from us. There will be a lot or riders getting lapped at short tracks. That'll make it exciting and add another unknown into the mix: two riders battling for the lead come up on a backmarker, who gets baulked?
Grids will have a maximum of four riders to a row. The idea is to make the first corner safer, but there is a chance riders on the fifth row (two further back than when there were six per row), will be putting Hail Mary blitzes into the first corner to make up for poor qualifying. Time will tell. First corners are pretty safe in pro FT in my experience. I don't remember many, if any, first corner clusterfudges. Each row is 25ft (7.6m) apart.
One element of pro flat track that I've always thought would be a potential problem for live broadcast is the number of red flag occurrences. AFT has tweaked the rules, writing, 'If a red flag occurs before the leader completes two laps, the clock will be reset and there will be a complete restart. If a red flag occurs after the leader completes two laps the clock will be paused during the red flag and resumed on the restart. This process will repeat during subsequent red flags. These additional rules apply: - Should a Heat or Semi be stopped after the leader has taken the White Flag, the race will be deemed complete and will not be restarted. - Should a Main be stopped after the leader completes two laps, the Main may be declared complete by AMA Pro Racing. Should a Main be stopped after time remaining has expired, the Main may be declared complete by AMA Pro Racing. If a Main is restarted, the remaining race distance following the restart will be at least three laps.'
AFT adds, 'Red flags that occur during races may result in a minimum five-minute delay prior to the restart. AMA Pro Racing’s designated Race Director will declare the beginning of this time period when the last active motorcycle is clear of any on-track incident and is proceeding to the cold box holding area. If the circuit is deemed to be race ready prior to five minutes elapsing and all eligible machines are ready to restart, the Race Director may call the machines to the starting line and restart the race immediately.'
SuperTwins riders can use a back-up bike far more freely than before. This for the SuperTwins. 'For semis and mains, the following rules apply: Back-up machines must be staged in the designated area and can be utilized in the event of a red flag. Any rider can change machines during a red flag, limited to one change per race. Restarts will not be delayed waiting for a rider switching to a back-up machine.'
Production Twins and Singles riders can have back-up bikes, but cannot swap bikes after they have entered staging for the race (heat, semi or main). If the bike dies between staging and the grid the Prod Twins or Singles rider is out of that race.
For AFT SuperTwins, a production engine’s displacement may be modified but may not exceed 900cc. This applies to both making a smaller engine bigger or a larger engine (greater than 900cc) smaller to meet the 900cc maximum displacement limit.
AFT Production Twins engines cannot be larger than 800cc.
NEW NUMBER BOARDS
AFT are allowing SuperTwins riders to personalise their number boards, rather than having the uniform number boards of the past. This is to help riders build more of a recognisable character for casual TV fans (think of MotoGP and Rossi's yellow 46 or Marquez's 93).
Prod Twins and Singles must stick to the uniform number boards, white numbers of black and black numbers of yellow, respectively.
REAR WHEEL WEIGHT
One for the nerds. The new Dunlop DT4 is heavier than the previous Dunlop DT3, so rear wheel assembly maximum weight allowance has increased to 43lbs (19.5kg).
HOW TO WATCH
Gates will open for fans at 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday and 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday with the Main Event programs slated to begin shortly after 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT both nights. Live coverage of the entire weekend’s racing activities will be available on any device for less than $1 per event via TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. Live streaming for Friday, July 17 will begin at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. PT) and Saturday, July 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. PT).
The Volusia Half-Mile I and Volusia Half-Mile II presented by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys will air back-to-back on NBCSN on Thursday, July 23, starting at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT. The feature broadcasts will include exclusive features, cutting-edge aerial drone and onboard footage, and the expert commentary of AFT legend Chris Carr.
Foreign viewers can watch the livestream for free with americanflattrack.com