Jason DiSalvo took an improbable victory in a bizarre Daytona 200, the Team Latus Ducati rider having blown an engine mid-race but restarting after a long red flag delay.
Writing about this year’s Daytona 200 is like one of those moments when someone pulls you aside and says what would you like to hear first, the good news or the bad news?
Let’s start with the good news. Although there were many complaints about the change in schedule this year by moving Supercross to the weekend before the 200, at least two guys are happy about it: Dane Westby and Taylor Knapp. The crash that happened on the Tri-Oval in the dash for third-place involving Westby and Knapp would have gone a whole lot differently with triples and whoops in the way of the high-speed crash path. Even DiSalvo in the post race press conference mentioned it after describing the intense battle near the end of the race.
“I‘d just like to take a moment and thank god that everyone got up and walked away from that incident. I saw a replay in here a little while ago and it looked really, really bad. So, I’m just glad that everyone’s ok from that and we’ll all be at the next race. That’s important.”
Now for the bad news, the Daytona 200 was a sad excuse for what that race used to be. Tire issues, a butchered race and the scary crash at the finish made you wonder what on earth was going on. Maybe the good fortune that everyone walked away from the last crash used up the luck quota for the day. I’m not sure, but this year’s Daytona 200 was a weird chain of events that left spectators shaking their heads.
It was odd because everything started well. It was perfect weather for the Daytona 200 race fans. It had the potential to be one of the best 200’s in awhile because most of the riders are either young guns trying to launch their career, or riders with some hard luck trying to resurrect their career. This made for a field of really hungry competitors desperate for that win. The story lines of the top contenders set the stage for the potential race winner to rival NASCAR rookie Trevor Baines’ Daytona 500 win.
Jake Zemke hoped for a successful run at this year’s race to secure further funding of his 2011 campaign. After snagging pole position, the former D200 winner finished a solid third.
Candidate number one, Jake Zemke, who last year won both American SuperBike races at Daytona and then struggled the rest of the season, was jobless until a few weeks before the January tire test. Perry Melneciuc called up Zemke to ride the Project 1 bike in the Daytona 200. Both rider and Team owner needed this race to hopefully get the funding for the rest of the season. When Zemke won pole position, and with it the Rolex watch, there were a lot of smiling faces, because a lot of people knew he could really use that watch. It wasn’t like it was going to someone who was looking for a trinket, the guy needs financial backing for the season. Zemke, not really tongue in cheek, said that he would be pawning the watch to try and fund one more race.
The D200 started off clean. It was a good battle with a decent size pack fighting for the lead. There was also the usual attrition rate. PJ Jacobsen crashed early. Jake Holden had to pit at Lap 15, earlier than scheduled because of a front tire issue (little did we know at the time that this would shape the whole day).
With the attrition and the first wave of pit stops, the lead group started to dwindle. JD Beach lost five seconds in the pits and fell behind Josh Herrin, Zemke and Jason DiSalvo. The three of them came in for their scheduled pit stops and all left at about the same time and went back out for a three-way battle for the lead. Another potential contender, Danny Eslick, crashed in the Tri-Oval and came in a lap down. The next casualty was DiSalvo, whose blew a cylinder on his Ducati. But the Team Latus rider benefited from an incredible bit of luck, as the red flag went out on his breakdown lap.
Pit stops are always a critical element of Daytona 200 strategy. This year a tire change was mandated by race officials via red flag stoppage. The controversial move was instigated by spec tire provider, Dunlop, due to concerns over high tire temperatures after the first round of pit stops.
It all pretty much deteriorated from there. When Rich Chambers reported over the loud speaker that the red flag was due to a mandatory front tire change, there were a lot of puzzled faces. After a long pause, the next piece of news was that race would be restarted around 3:30 p.m. and would be a 15-lap sprint race. When you’re out at a corner on the track or in the stands, this begs a lot of “what’s going on” questions.
In the press conference with Dunlop after the race, they said that their decision to go to the AMA to stop the race and pull the specification tire from competition was based on seeing overheating issues with the tire after the first pit stop and having knowledge that most of the teams pit stop strategy was to use one front tire for the whole race.
Mike Buckley, the Vice President of the Motorcycle Division for Dunlop tire stated: “We certainly didn’t see the overheating that we saw on the front tires in the 200 today prior to the race, and that includes both SuperSport races using the exact same tire albeit on similar equipment. The major difference that we had today was the ambient temperature and the track temperature that was in the 48 degree [Celsius] range as opposed to the high of 35 that we saw yesterday. That change alone is probably the main contributor to what we saw happen.”
The Daytona 147 doesn’t have the same ring does it? The feeling that we were getting cheated out of the 200 race was the general consensus. Reducing the race to essentially two races and the second race being a sprint race was rather disappointing. When the news over the loud speaker relayed the information that there was safety concerns and they were changing all of the tires. It was disappointing, but at that point safety is more important than preserving an historic racing past time.
This delay worked in DiSalvo’s favor. He was out of the race with a blown motor, but with the massive time delay it gave his team the opportunity to change out the motor and get him back in the race. The team asked the AMA if they could restart with the motor from their back up bike and got to work. Even Jason’s teammate, who races the XR1200, Joe Kopp helped out. Jason said that at one point Joe looked over at him and said, “Ok, the bike’s back together, go show them what you’re made of.”
DiSalvo earned the victory thanks to the quick work of the Team Latus squad, including help from former Flat Track champ turned XR1200 racer Joe Kopp
Finally two hours later bikes were back on track and Jason had his chance to do just that. The plan for the restart was a two-lap warm up and then it was grid then go. Then, as the saying goes, if it weren’t for bad luck they wouldn’t have any luck at all, the race gets red flagged. This time the red came out because of a first-turn crash involving Jason Farell and Russ Wikle.
When the race finally got going again, it was worth the wait. Yes, it was not the 200, but it was better racing. The best thing about watching a race at Daytona is the draft, and the unpredictable x-factor it brings to the race. The best thing about watching a Daytona SportBike race is that there’s usually a big pack of guys fighting for the win. Combine the two together and it’s bound to be interesting.
It was 15 laps of being glued to the TV screen, Jumbo Tron, or Tri–Oval depending on your viewpoint. The anticipation was high on that last lap. Cory West led out of the chicane, but Jason DiSalvo drafted past for the win. The fight for third was intense and scene of the final crash, which happened when Josh Herrin clipped Dane Westby’s brake lever and caused Knapp to run into the back of Westby.
This resulted in five bikes in Victory lane waiting for the official decision on who earned the win and podium spots. It was one of the most bizarre races I’ve been to.
The eventual podium of Jake Zemke, Jason DiSalvo and Cory West wasn’t determined until officials sorted out the final racing order after a last lap red flag crash involving Dane Westby, Taylor Knapp and Josh Herrin.
At issue was the red flag. Should the results go back to the previous lap? If that was the case, it would make Josh Herrin the Daytona 200 winner, JD Beach second and Jake Zemke third. But since the red flag came out after the top six crossed the line, they awarded that group their results and everyone afterward received their finishing position from the previous lap. Jason DiSalvo was crowned the Daytona 200 winner, Cory West second and Jake Zemke third.
Said West after the dust had settled: “When Jason came by I made a quick move to get back in his draft and he dove low and it kind of caught me off guard. I think if I could’ve got in his draft a little quicker we might have a shot at winning it. But I’m just glad I rode hard and kept my nose clean and stayed at the front and brought it home for my guys.”
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” said DiSalvo on his D200 victory. “I think it’s going to happen later tonight.” He gave credit to his Team Latus crew, who put the bike back together so quickly. “I still can’t believe they were able to do it,” he said, “but they did.”
After the thrilling finish, it’s a shame that what sticks out most in my mind is the sad deterioration of the United States’ most prestigious motorcycle road race. It just makes me wonder who broke a bunch of mirrors, walked under a ladder and had a litter of black cats cross their path at Daytona.