The Balance of Power
RIDE TO WORK by Steve Lita, Editor
…this was not a protest or boycott
announcement of any sort
Much to the delight of many a motorcycle racing fan, the American Flat Track (AFT) series has been on fire. In the past few years, we’ve seen steady growth in popularity, attendance, and viewership. Isn’t it great to have a uniquely American motorcycle sport to follow once again? Also, unless you’ve been residing under a rock somewhere, you probably know that Indian’s motorcycles have dominated the last two years of AFT competition in AFT Twins class.
Reigning champ Jared Mees has topped the class aboard an Indian Scout FTR750 two years in a row. And while he may not have won every race in the series, an FTR750 has won more often than not. With a Kawasaki Ninja 650 taking one win in 2018 and three in 2017, and Harley-Davidson winning one event in 2017, the win/loss ratio is quite lopsided in Indian’s favor. Many fans have been asking what AFT will do to balance the scales (without putting a finger on the scale). Everyone loves a winner, just as much as we love rooting for an underdog. But, c’mon, one brand winning all but five races in two years? It leads to an anti-climactic visit to the racetrack if you’re a cash-paying fan.
AFT decided to change a few rules in the offseason, and in doing so drew the ire of Indian corporate headquarters. In November of 2018 we received an official communication from Indian regarding the rule changes. Take note: this was not a protest or boycott announcement of any sort. It was simply a statement regarding how the company thought the rule changes would affect its team’s performance in 2019. Some changes were welcome, or rather the company “supported” or were “aligned” with, but one was a sticking point.
There are essentially three changes: 1. A switch from Sunoco Supreme leaded fuel to Sunoco GTX-260 unleaded (welcome by Indian). 2. Allowing street-legal production engines up to 900cc (not-so-welcome change to Indian, as its FTR engine is race-specific, not production based). 3. Allowing production engines to gain a throttle body size increase from 38mm to 40mm (Again, the Indian 750cc FTR is excluded. This issue drew the most concern for Indian). So, I got on the phone with Michael Lock, CEO of AFT, to ask for his response to Indian’s response. Michael was familiar with the Indian memo and eager to answer my questions. Right off the bat he said AFT and Indian have a great relationship and close communication. He added: “It’s a free country, and Indian spends a lot of money on its racing effort. They are more than free to speak.”
We covered each topic in detail, but the highlights go like this. The change to an unleaded control fuel has been under consideration for three years, and an official announcement was made one year ago to allow teams to test and develop their engine packages with the new unleaded fuel. With many active Harley XR750s in the past requiring leaded fuel, the change could not have been made. But numbers of XR750s have dwindled.
The change in production engine size limit is the result of a long-term effort to tighten the vast range of engine sizes on track. In the past, there were rules in place to allow everything from 550-1250cc. And the new 900cc limit will actually force some competitors to come down in displacement. Michael noted that this change mostly affects brands other than Harley and Indian. Purpose-built race engines will remain at 750cc max.
And finally, as for the throttle body size, it was noted that most competitors are already utilizing aftermarket guillotine-slide throttle bodies to take advantage of maximum airflow, without any restrictions in the airstream. Production based engines, with larger displacement, will naturally need a larger throttle body to get sufficient air into the chambers.
Overall, when I asked about what he thought the result of the rules changes would produce, Michael added, “Far less severe than some people expect.” Professional race teams of all disciplines must burn some midnight oil to build, tune, and develop engines that produce more power. Indian certainly did so to bring the FTR to its current championship-winning form. Will we see a changing of the guard in 2019? With the start of the AFT season in a little over a month, let the midnight oil burning begin.