BLACK & WHITE: IS TIMED QUALIFYING REALLY THE BEST WE CAN COME UP WITH?
The AMA Nationals should qualify riders for the races by racing, but they don’t.
In 2006 the AMA switched from heat race qualifying for the AMA National and Supercross Championships to timed qualifying (where instead of racing your way into the 40-man fields, a rider got there based on his lap times in timed practice). Make no mistake about it, the old AMA heat race system had some serious flaws, which is why most people were willing to give the then-AMA head honcho Steve Whitelock’s European-based timed qualifying system a chance. Paradoxically, the Europeans moved completely away from timed qualifying for 2009 and went to the old AMA heat race setup.
We copied them and they copied us, but who was right…and which time? There is no doubt that the actual races take precedent over the procedures used to make up the 40-man field, but what’s better, timed qualifying or heat race qualifying?you be the judge.
FOUR REASONS: The AMA wanted to give timed qualifying a chance for three fairly obvious reasons:
(1) It was easier for them to do than heat races. The AMA didn’t have to do any scoring or officiating with timed qualifying. The transponders do all the work.
(2) Since Steve Whitelock, who was in charge of AMA Pro Racing at the time of the rule change, had spent 30 years in Europe in variety of positions with Team Honda and the FIM (especially in road racing), he thought that the Euro method was the way to go. It was what he was familiar with and he was in charge.
(3) Timed qualifying is very elitist. It favors the factory riders, which is also who the AMA and promoters favor. Timed qualifying made the big buck teams happy because their riders never had to see a privateer until the actual races.
(4) Timed qualifying takes less time and, given the current one-day National program, speed is very important.
THE SYSTEM: Under the current situation, the riders are divided by class into two divisions. The factory riders, as delineated by their position in the points standing are in one timed session and the privateers are in another. Each group gets two sessions and the 37 fastest times (in each class) go to the starting line for the first moto. Additionally, starting in the 2012 AMA Nationals, there will be two Last Chance heat races that move the final three riders into the 40-man fields (this system was used before).
ALTERNATES: It is important that a National always have 40 riders on the line for the first moto. Timed qualifying makes it possible to fill holes caused by injuries by slotting the 4th finisher in the LCQ into the empty spot.
FAIRNESS: Assuming every rider had the same shot at the track, conditions, groupings and weather, timed qualifying would be extremely fair. But, the track changes, the weather changes and the speed of the riders around on on your first lap change. And sometimes the powers-that-be actually change the track or work on the track after the first group of privateers have already set their times?making it even easier for the higher-ranked qualifying session to go even faster. In fact, at the St Louis Supercross, the track was smoothed out for factory rider’s timed practice?after the privateers had ridden on a rough track. Why doesn’t the AMA just stick rags in the privateers air boxes instead?it would achieve the same thing.
Supercross choses the 40 riders for the night program with timed qualifying also. Photo: Hoppenworld
FOUR REASONS: Timed qualifying is not a very good system for four fairly obvious reasons:
(1) The worst reason to go to a qualifying system is because it is easier for the AMA to do. Heat races are exciting and timed qualifying is boring. Don’t the fans count?
(2) The AMA’s have or have-not division of the timed qualifying sessions means that the fast guys qualify with other fast guys and the slow guys qualify with other slow guys. It is hard to set a fast time if the guys in front of your aren’t jumping the doubles. Riders should be put into qualifying session randomly?but the factory teams don’t want that (and the factory teams always get what they want).
(3) Time qualifying does not promote line choice. Since the goal is to set the fastest possible time, riders are reluctant to get off the good line. After timed qualifying, instead of the track being littered with lots of lines, it is a one-line track.
(4) Timed qualifying is unfair…and blatantly so. It is rife with blind-eye management by the AMA, DMG, Feld and MX Sports. They are the masters of a system that is rigged. They know it, the team managers know it, the factory riders know it?and everyone of them likes to be given an unfair advantage. isn’t that sad?
THE SYSTEM: If common sense prevailed, timed qualifying would be dropped. Today would be soon enough, but yesterday would be better. All the AMA, and by AMA we mean whoever is in charge, has to do is take the same 40 riders that they are lining up to send out for their “timed sessions,” and turn them into 40-man, five-lap, heat races. If you took the top 15 riders from two heat races, you still have room for 10 riders from the Last Chance (or five from two Last Chance races). All of this should fit into the same time frame as the multiple timed qualifier sessions. One thing for sure, if the AMA Nationals returned to heat races, the factory riders wouldn’t want to be a heat races with other factory riders, they would clamor to be in with the privateers?the same ones that they refuse to ride with in timed qualifying.
FAIRNESS: The best way to qualify motocross racers for a motocross race is to have them race their way in. If the track is rough, rains pours down or slow guys are in the filed, it’s the same for everyone. Not true of timed qualifying. If they can’t see the value of heat races, then at least straighten up the crooked mess that timed qualifying has become.