Watching the AMA Superbike races at Barber Motorsports Park over the weekend brings up the question of how best to fill the starting grid. There were 34 bikes at the start of Saturday’s race and just a few less on Sunday, so it didn’t take a great deal of predictive skill to know there would be a lot of lapped traffic showing up fairly quickly. The difference in performance, both rider and bike, is often quite large between those at the front of the grid and those towards the rear. The riders at the back can be as dedicated and passionate about motorcycle racing as anyone else on the track but the lap time differential means it won’t be long before they’re overtaken by many of the leaders. Once that begins, the outcome of the race can be affected by how well the faster bikes get through the “traffic” instead of how well they compete against similar bikes, riders and teams. Beyond affecting outcomes, it can also be a safety issue as the slower riders hesitate when moving over to allow the faster riders by or when they do so in an unpredictable manner. Is this necessary or is there a better way?
The last race of this season will be at Mid Ohio and they’ll be running a series of sprint races to qualify for the feature race. Top finishers in the individual heats will fill the 20 spots in the grid for the main event. The shorter sprint races can have a wide variety of racers but the sprint distances will make lapping unlikely. Once you sort through the field and group the faster riders together for the final race, you’ll get less of the traffic you see in most races through the season.
Whether this shootout format is an experiment by the AMA to deal with this issue or just something to add a little variety, I just don’t know, but it might be a good plan for all of the races if they’re going to have this many racers showing up. Thoughts?