Using a new strategy, Dunlop, Michelin and Pirelli will supply homologated tires for the Australian Superbike Series; Dunlop has been the spec-tire supplier for the past several years.
The Australian Superbike series recently announced that it is moving away from spec tires to a more open arrangement with homologated brands and compounds along with price caps. The ASBK series, like the AMA and most national championship series along with MotoGP and World Superbike, has used control tires over the last few years. In a press release issued by IEG (International Entertainment Group, the official promoter and organizer of ASBK) Managing Director Yarrive Konsky stated that “The move was made to allow riders a wider choice and will bring the cost of racing down, as well as add another exciting element to the tactics and strategy of racing.”
When spec tires were first introduced to the AMA, the benefits were claimed to be fairer competition and reduced costs. And while control tires have given more riders and teams the ability to run at the front of their classes, I’ve been skeptical of the reduced costs part from the beginning. Prices for the AMA spec tires range from $365 per set for DOT tires to $420 for a set of Daytona-specific slicks for the Superbike class. An effort of any seriousness requires a minimum of four sets per double-header weekend per rider—one set for practice, one for qualifying and one for each race—giving a tire budget of more than $1500 per weekend and easily more than $15,000 for the year. To the big teams this is not a huge amount, and for some it may seem like a bargain given the competitiveness it brings. At the other end of the field, the true privateer that previously paid full retail for tires is likely saving money with the cheaper, subsidized spec tire pricing.
However, to me it seems the mid-field riders and teams—and arguably the bulk of the field—lose out with spec tires. These riders and teams have the potential to be sponsored by a tire company to some level, and that opportunity is now gone. In the AMA, everyone pays the same price for tires at the races; there are no deals or sponsorships available. A rider capable of a top-ten finish may have been getting tires for free in the pre-spec-tire era, and may even have been receiving bonus or contingency money, but is now faced with a huge expense that comes right off the bottom line in cash.
We have firsthand experience with this side of the story here at the magazine. In the past we’ve entered AMA races with project bikes, and before spec tires were used we never paid for tires. The various manufacturers are typically more than happy to provide tires in return for exposure in the magazine. But when we raced our Harley-Davidson XR1200 at Infineon Raceway last year, we—like everyone else on the grid—had to pay for tires. This was a major point of discussion in the editorial offices, and the added expense was largely the reason we only attended one race with the bike. (To be fair, Dunlop did provide tires for testing away from the AMA race at no charge, and I have nothing against the company’s involvement as the AMA spec-tire supplier.)
In an open tire market, there are several companies putting money into the series by sponsoring riders, placing banners at trackside, advertising in the event program or on the television coverage, and so on. Can one company bring that much support to the table? In MotoGP, Bridgestone gets enough return on investment from its involvement that it can, while at the same time providing the actual tires at no cost to teams. But step down from there to WSB, Moto2, Moto3 and the various national series, and the ROI is not enough; the difference must come from somewhere, leaving the teams to pay for the tires.
The ASBK solution of homologated tires is, I think, a step in the right direction. Pirelli, Michelin and Dunlop have agreed to supply tires, once again bringing competition to the series, sponsorship opportunities to the racers and potentially more income to the paddock as a whole. A limited number of homologated compounds means there will be no special tires for a select few, and capped prices will keep expenses for the privateer in check. It will be interesting to see how the new approach works for the series and what problems may arise. I know I will be watching closely, and I hope the AMA and other national series will be as well. SR