And what does it mean for AFT SuperTwins?
Going into the penultimate race weekend of the year, a glance at the AFT SuperTwins standings reveals grim reading for Yamaha fans, and worse still for the Estenson team.
Combining the scores for the Yamaha USA-supported riders, JD Beach and Kolby Carlile, sees a total of 118pts: 68 for Beach, 50 for Carlile. That leaves them in 14th and 15th respectively, out of 16 full-time and five occasional/wild card riders. 118pts is fewer than 8th placed FTR750 rider Davis Fisher has scored on his own, and he hasn’t finished better than 5th place all season.
So what’s gone wrong? JD Beach is one of the most talented riders in the US, by all accounts, and has AFT wins and podiums. Wins on TTs it has to be said, and there hasn’t been a TT for the SuperTwins all season. Beach has finished in the podium places on ovals on a private Yam in recent years.
Kolby Carlile, #36, won the ultra-competitive Singles class outright in 2017 and was a Production Twins contender last season, so he’s not slouch either. Plus, the Estenson Yamaha team is dominating the Singles class, so they know how to run a tight ship.
When Sammy Halbert raced for Estenson Yam in 2017, he was a real and regular podium contender. He was fourth overall in the standing, just 6pts behind Brad Baker in third, who was on the Indian factory team. That was the first year of the FTR750. Which points to the FTR750 being of an inevitable upward development curve. The FTR750 wasn’t released in a high state of tune and the Mees and Tolbert partnership will look for every marginal gain, which, in turn, forces the factory Indian team to keep developing when, perhaps, they’d have preferred to have everyone racing stock FTRs, at least until the other manufacturers got too close. As it is, FTR750s are making every other machine look lame.
So? That’s racing, right? The thing is this is not good news for AFT’s SuperTwins concept. If Estenson pull out of the class (and why wouldn’t they?), it leaves two empty seats on the grid and the concept is based on having regular stars filling the 16-18 riders grid every race.
I get the feeling that Harley’s future is precarious too. Under the leadership of new CEO Jochen Zeitz (who is an interesting man, you should read about him) the Milwaukee manufacturer is under-going a self-proclaimed ‘total re-wire’. During this consolidation they are currently closing the factory they have in India and scaling down all operations there. They are also shelving their ‘More Roads’ plan launched in 2018. From a management point of view how does an also-ran, multi-million-dollar niche race team fit into that cost-saving strategy? Especially when the XG platforms days are numbered. Is their history in the sport enough to keep them in the game, or do Harley double-down for the future by supporting privateer dealer teams to run in Production Twins and allow SuperTwins to turn into an FTR750 class? A decent marketing spin could make AFT Production Twin success as much of thing to be proud of for Harley owners as a SuperTwins win, especially to Harley riders who have just a passing interest, or less, in the sport. And dealers, like Black Hills and Latus Motors are already doing a great job in Production Twins.
Where would that leave SuperTwins for 2021? There was a hope KTM would enter with a twin, but we haven’t heard any news on that. And if they did, would they suffer from the same issues as the roadbike-based Yamahas and Harleys do against the Indian? That assumes KTM plan to use a roadbike engine and not go down the Indian route.
Remember, for the majority of the period when Kawasakis were ripping it up 2011-2017, they were racing aged XR750s, right at the end of the development curve and tuned to the nth degree, with the potential engine failures that throws into the mix. And even then, the Kawasaki only won one title against XR750s. When the formidable partnership of Bryan Smith and Ricky Howerton came backwith their Kawasaki in 2019 they were humbled by the Indians they’d just climbed off until the last couple of races of the season.
One of the biggest problems for anything that isn't an FTR750 (or XR750) is its crank size and inertia. Road bike-based twins just can get off the corners like the FTR750, that was made purely for flat track racing. This makes more of a difference on a short track or half-mile, where the top-end speed differential, if there is one, can’t be taken advantage of. If the Harley XG or Yam, with it’s lighter, revvier bottom end, is spinning, and not accelerating, for just 0.1 second longer than an FTR when it’s coming off a corner, it is losing 5s in a 25-lap race. And racing at this level is all fine margins. As stated, trying to make up for deficits in off-the-corner drive with more revs or top-end power is not going to solve the problem on most tracks.
So, do AFT consider a more radical approach (and really annoy the traditionalists), by making the Production Twins class the number one class? Production Twins currently has Harley, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Royal Enfield machinery in it, and could easily welcome KTM, Triumph, Ducati, Indian (Scout-based), or any number of Chinese manufacturers? That is so much closer to AFT’s idea of a premier race class than an Indian-only SuperTwins class, but I believe they must stick to SuperTwins, as another change of direction will not go down well.
If the sport could attract a big money, non-motorcycle industry sponsor (like Camel or Coors, a scale above even the generosity of Roof Systems and Estenson), then it matters less what bikes are contesting the class as long as the riders are characters and the racing is often good. While it’s relying on the patronage of the industry, it probably needs a class that has other manufacturer interest if it wants to keep growing. GI
AFT races at Charlotte Half-Mile TODAY (Friday 9 October)
How to watch
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