Jason DiSalvo grabbed the win in the most prestigious race in the AMA series. The returning AMA racer has championship hopes on his mind for the 2011 season.
In Part I of this feature on the resurgence of Latus Ducati’s Jason DiSalvo we looked at the rather rough ride the New Yorker has had these past 12 months; one that looked like it could end the professional racing career of the 27-year-old. Now, in Part II, we talk to him in detail about his historic win at the 2011 season opener, the first Daytona 200 victory of his career and the maiden win for Ducati on the high-banks, a race some still consider the biggest race in America; a race which was once again marred in controversy…
MOTORCYCLE-USA: Let’s talk about the Daytona 200. On TV your bike definitely looked quick on the banking in comparison to the inline-fours. Did it seem like the bike had a bit of an advantage when it came to top speed?
DiSalvo: I don’t know about top speeds. The run up to top speed it’s definitely strong and for me that’s just coming out of the corners. For me that’s a nice change from, you know, what we talked about with the Triumph last year. It’s just a good feeling to be able to get up next to somebody in a straight line, which is something that I hadn’t done in quite a while. That was a real big plus. You know the top speeds weren’t phenomenal. Looking back at the speed charts we weren’t near the bottom or anything, but we weren’t the top guy. However, there was another, well, actually, two of the Ducatis were, so we know that the performance is definitely there. It may have been gearing a little bit – I think for the race it might have been a little bit tight on gearing.
With the limited amount of time you’ve had with the new bike and team, going into the weekend did you think you had a shot at winning?
From the first session my goal was to be the guy that everyone else is chasing and I knew that the bike and everything was at a point where we could do that. We had a test out in Vegas, between the tire test and the race at Daytona, and at that we figured a lot of stuff out and got the bike a lot more comfortable for me. It finally went from being a new bike to ‘my’ bike. You know, when I climbed on it I was just like ‘oh, this is my bike’ and so I was feeling pretty good about our chances for being on the box.
While DiSalvo captured the Daytona 200 win, the qualifying prize has slipped through his grasp several times.
I know you’ve always had a thing with your dad about giving him the first Rolex you get for pole at Daytona. It had to be tough getting nipped right at the end of qualifying by Jake Zemke? That was, what, about the fifth time you just missed out on that watch?
Yeah it was tough. But, you know, at the same time I’m used to it. It’s just one of those things, you know. It’s always eluded us and, with my luck I’ll probably go and put the bike on the pole position for every other race this year, but surely not that one. But I gotta hand it to Jake (Zemke). That lap that he had was really a strong lap, an incredible lap and he bested us. There was no way around it.
Let’s talk about the race. When you came in with a mechanical and the red flag flew did you think there was any chance your team was going to be able to get you back out?
On first reports, none at all, because I don’t think anybody anticipated the delays that we were gonna have. I mean, there was no hint of that happening when we first pulled in and it wasn’t until 20 minutes had gone by that we heard some rumors up and down the pit lane that something was going on and then we asked one of the AMA officials and they told us straight up, ‘hey, we’ve gotta change every front tire on the grid and we’re gonna be over an hour,’ and everyone looked at each other and said, ‘should we try and rebuild it, throw a motor in it?’ And they were just like ‘yeah, let’s do it.’ So then the guys got to work.
The team changed the engine very quickly, it was impressive.
Yeah, it was pretty wild watching all the parts fly and all the emotions and frustrations when the littlest part wouldn’t fit right, but then, you know, the huge success when they did it. It was definitely a rollercoaster. There was a couple times where I just walked out of the pit area ’cause the tension was so high putting that thing back together.
Timing and luck were on the side of Ducati at Daytona. After losing their engine on the lap the red flag was issued, the team was allowed to change engines.
What do you say to those who complain that you got lucky and that the race was kind of handed to you? What do you say to the naysayers that look down on it?
Well, for one, we did get lucky. The fact that the red flag came out on the same lap that our motor let go, you know, that was just pure luck, but at the same time (the tires were) a definite safety concern. We had been having issues with some front push on the banking.
So you had tire problems before the red flag as well?
Yeah. I actually had felt that type of feeling with the front push – how Danny fell down. I had that happen to me once in practice but it was just a one-time thing so I didn’t think anything of it. I felt maybe I just made a quick movement or adjustment and it upset the bike, but watching his crash after the fact it was definitely the same sort of feeling. So there was definitely an issue that needed to be addressed and when Dunlop did roll out the new tire all those issues were addressed. It was just a matter of it getting so much hotter during the race than it had been for any of the times we had tested.
With the lengthy delay the AMA had to shorten the race. Do you think they made the right decision doing that or do you think they should have still ran the full 200 miles?
It’s tough to say. If they were to run the full 200-mile race they would have had to make another mandatory front tire change for every team ’cause everyone would need to re-fuel. So they would have had to mandate that each team change both tires in their official pit-stop and I think that would have just been too hard to police. With so many guys coming out of the pits in that short window it would have been pretty tough because our original plan was to run the race on one front tire.
While most planned for a rear tire change, the red flag required an additional front tire swap that caught many off-guard.
You guys were one of the teams only planning on running one front?
Yeah. I did the same thing in 2009 (on a Yamaha). We figured that it wouldn’t be an issue because the tire wear actually was in line with what it needed to be to do that, so it was just that wildcard that got thrown in there. So, again, it’s just sort of a thing where if we would have had to do that and make that front tire change, which we weren’t planning on doing, I don’t think we had the ability to do it as fast as we needed to, just because that wasn’t in our plan. So that’s definitely something going into next year if we campaign the 200 again that we’re gonna have to address and find a solution for.
The race looked pretty wild out there towards the end. That last 15-lap shootout there was a pretty big group the entire time. Were there any wild moments for you? At one point you dropped totally to the back of it and you had to work your way through and it didn’t look like anybody was giving an inch?
Yeah, it was. That particular moment dropping back was a little weird because I thought I might have had a tire issue or the beginnings of some sort of mechanical. And you have to remember, I watched that thing be rebuilt from a bare frame to a running motorcycle in like 20 minutes, so I’ve got all this stuff going through my mind like, ‘is there gonna be a piece falling off?’ Not because of my guys or anything, but just because of the huge rush in which everything went back together. And so I felt a little bit of movement and actually, when I was able to go back and watch the replay in HD, you could almost see like I might have hit a piece of debris or something that was laying in the track, going into Turn 1. And I think that’s what it was. I just hit something, a chunk of bodywork or something. I didn’t want to have a bunch of people behind me if I had something going wrong and fall and cause an incident, so I just put my hand up, pulled to the back of the pack, and kind of checked the bike over, just gave it a quick visual inspection, and everything looked fine. I checked the tires and checked to make sure nothing was hanging off and everything looked good, so I put my head back down. I was a little bit afraid that we were going to lose the draft at that point, though.
Herrin (#8) crashed out after colliding with Dane Westby and was later fined / suspended from the next race.
With that crazy last-lap run to the line and the incident of Josh Herrin and Dane Westby getting together, the AMA is now penalizing Herrin and making him sit out the next round. Did you see the replay and do you think the AMA make the right decision?
Yeh, I saw it and that’s a tough question. It’s not really my call to make in the end. I’ve got to respect what the AMA says about it, and you know, that’s just part of it, but I really don’t have an opinion about it. As you said earlier in the interview, the racing was extremely close for the entire 15 laps and it definitely rivaled my Moto2 experience at Indianapolis the year before.
Now that you’ve had a little bit of time for it to sink in, how does it feel to know that you won one of the biggest races in the U.S.?
It’s pretty awesome. But at the same time, I’ve just been so busy with everything else that I haven’t really taken any time to reflect back on it. I think in that respect it’s going to help me just because I’m not thinking about what the past is. I’m just moving forward and every day I’ve got another little thing to do for my new riding school or some training to keep up on, and it’s just kind of got me going in the right direction right now.
With Infineon coming up and a variety of other tracks to follow, how do you think the Ducati will stack up at some of the tighter, twisty places?
I don’t know. I’m interested to see myself. I’ve kind of been thinking a lot about Infineon and there is a couple places where the bikes change direction quite a bit, and it’s definitely going to be interesting to see if we can continue our strong pace. That being said, that was one of the tracks where this bike shined last year. I think (previous rider Steve) Rapp had one of his best rides there. He looked like he was on for a sure win and then didn’t quite make it, but you know, the bike still looked really strong in that race so only time will tell if we’re going to have the pace. But I think it’s definitely something that I’m anxious to see if works as well as Daytona.
With that said and with the team being new, is it your goal to win the Daytona’s SportBike Championship?
It’s definitely to win the championship.
Is the bike and team capable of it?
Oh, for sure. I think that the bike and the crew are definitely capable of winning, so that just leaves me and that’s what I’m trying to work on the most, just putting in the hard work between the races. It’s just one of those things, I don’t want to get too caught up in ‘oh, we’re leading in points’ and this and that. At this point, our goal is simply to win races, and we know that if we do that, that will lead us to the championship.
The competitiveness of that class seems to be getting better year after year. How do you feel about the racing in DSB in 2011?
There are a lot of young up-and-comers right now that are looking really promising with some good bikes under them. So it’s definitely something that I think they’re going to improve as the season goes on and then there’s always the guys that have done well traditionally, in the last two, three years in the class that you’re gonna have to watch out for. So it’s going to be a really good. I think there’s going to be a lot of parity there with the different riders and also the different bikes. Each bike’s going have its strong suit here or there. I’m fortunate enough to have ridden a fair number of the bikes that are currently running up front in either the models that are running now, or a similar model, so I kind of know some of the strengths and weaknesses of them, but we’ll see. I think it’s definitely gonna be a hotly contested championship all year long.
What’s your take on the AMA in general and do you think it’s headed in the right direction now that DMG has had a couple years to sort things out?
I definitely think they’re headed in the right direction. I’ve seen over the last couple of years a big change and a shift in the momentum and the things that the AMA is focusing on, and I really think that at this point, that the top guys that are running things and making decisions are making the right types of decisions as far as the racing and getting fans involved. It’s always a tough thing with the economy the way it is, but they’re producing a great product with the racing. So I think everything being said, the racing’s never been better and, and as things progress, there’s definitely going to be better marketing and promoting of the races, so I think that’s going to really pay off as time goes by, but it’s just a slow process, it’s a rebuilding process. As for right now, it seems like the AMA is laying the right groundwork to make the sport successful.
Thanks Jason, I appreciate your time. We’ll see you at Infineon.