Recently, I was in a meeting with various people involved in the planned post-COVID return of the CSBK National tour to Atlantic Motorsport Park in Nova Scotia on July 21 thru 24 of this year.
The last time CSBK went to ‘Shubie,’ the two Pro Superbike races featured some of the best battles the series has ever seen: Ben Young’s charge through the field Saturday from dead last to win after an off-track excursion, and then a great rain race Sunday with Jordan Szoke and Young, protagonists from the day before, fighting on a very wet track.
Since then, the organizers at Atlantic Motorsport Park, a group run by a variety of volunteer groups including the motorcycle-focused Society of the Atlantic Racing League, have made improvements to their venue.
Major efforts took place during the off season of 2019-2020, but of course the National teams have not visited the east coast since then.
Famously, the A.M.P. venue was built on a shoestring in 1974, rushed into existence for a Formula Atlantic auto race, and competed with no budget at all.
This means some of the track didn’t have any roadbed, just soil and some gravel beneath the ancient asphalt.
The underpinnings of the race surface are crucial to the durability of the track, and this section has gradually become a patchwork quilt as rocks make their way up through the pavement.
The section of the 11 turn, 2.5 km long A.M.P. layout exiting the Turn 2 hairpin and heading up the hill through Turn 3 is the area in question.
While there have been some patches and updates, some of this pavement is the same surface that Gilles Villeneuve used in his March-Ford formula car to set the existing outright track record almost 50 years ago!
For the motorcycle racer, this part of the track is less an issue than it might be, since you start the run at the hairpin, with very low road speed.
On the flipside, you are accelerating very hard, and although upright, we formerly saw machines get sideways, spinning the tire and weaving, across the rough, rutted, and bumpy surface.
Modern-era electronics with Traction Control have helped with the challenges offered by this part of the track, so sometimes the less powerful bikes put on more of a show.
At the most recent National, almost three years ago, the wet conditions sent the top guns looking for the best line, frequently to the less used edges of the track.
The fact that the track was updated over the winter is a positive, since ideally you would leave a track to sit for a while, post-paving to allow the new surface to cure.
Some of Canada’s best tracks, including Calabogie Motorsports Park, have survived the seasons very well, and most experts think that the winter settling period really helped with their durability.
When the pandemic struck in March of 2020, most track didn’t open for several months.
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, near Oshawa, Ontario, used the time to complete an extensive update, and then the ‘old Mosport’ track had some time to sit prior to the resumption of auto and bike racing activity.
It is important to remember that the primary ingredient in new pavement is oil, and in case you missed it, the price of petroleum has climbed steadily over the years. Track repair and updates get costlier, season-by-season, and paving and repaving are now expensive, big plan programs.
You can easily imagine that when the pavement isn’t right, or doesn’t stand up, there are often consultants – and then lawyers – involved. One cautionary tale is the British Grand Prix of 1998, eventually cancelled due to heavy rains and pooling on the recently repaved, historic airfield venue.
A more recent cautionary story regarding racing surfaces has played out with the brand new Mandalika International Street Circuit in Lombok, Indonesia.
Completed just in time for the final World Superbike round at the end of the 2021 season, the track hosted a MotoGP test over the winter, and it became clear their brand-new surface would require some repairs.
The track was updated right before the second round of the 2022 Grand Prix season, not an ideal situation.
In the opening Moto3 event, the asphalt in Turns 2, 3 and 17 started to delaminate – the agit material (small stones, etc.) was coming out of the mix and getting loose on the surface.
In an effort to protect the deteriorating race surface, the Moto2 race was shortened from 25 laps to 16, and things were getting ugly. Moto2 racers wondered what the MotoGP stars would do in the slippery conditions, with ‘marbles’ littering some turns.
The recent, very warm conditions in Indonesia meant that the new track surfaces had not yet fully cured and were vulnerable to the best efforts of the spec Michelin and Dunlop slicks. Michelin, expecting the worst in the hot conditions, brought the hardest selection of slick offered since 2018.
Then, finally, a stroke of luck – it started to rain. The Indonesian Feature was shortened to 20 laps, down from 27. As the rain increased, organizers opted to delay the start by 75 minutes, guaranteeing a very wet track that would help preserve the surface.
In the race, most of the track provided great traction, as the remarkable video coverage of big lean angles confirmed.
However, the riders admitted that there was a lot of debris flying around, and when they got off the bike there were stones and bits packed in the nooks and crannies of their machines, as well as in their leathers.
Next up for MotoGP is Argentina this weekend, and then on to Circuit of the Americas in Texas right after, April 9-11.
Last year, both the Formula One car guys and the bike racers complained about the COTA surface, and repaving has since taken place. However, the NASCAR series and their very heavy four-wheelers raced on the new Austin pavement last weekend, so maybe there will be more track surface discussions in the near future?
- Colin Fraser