DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (December 11, 2020) – The 2021 Progressive American Flat Track season “officially unofficially” kicked off on Tuesday with two days on track in Florida, for the Dunlop Tire Test.
A number of the sport’s top stars circulated the half-mile dirt track throughout the day, and concluded the day’s activities under the lights at a chilly Volusia Speedway Park.
The primary purpose of the test is to put a number of newly developed Dunlop compounds through their paces with the stated goal to identify a new “medium” tire that can slot between the two tire options currently in use.
The 14 riders on site first established a baseline with the holdover rubber and then started the process of blind testing the newer compound candidates to assess their performance and durability — a process that continued into Wednesday evening.
While tire testing is the underlying reason the teams, riders, and various officials gathered in Florida this week, it also provided the Progressive AFT’s global fanbase a sneak peek into ‘21.
This week represents the first real opportunity to get a glimpse of several riders changing teams and/or motorcycles, offering up some initial clues on who may be riding what and where.
It’s still very much the silly season, and the vast majority of deals will not be announced until 2021 officially arrives. As a result, there’s a rather wide variety of circumstances surrounding the 14 riders in attendance.
Some have already agreed to new deals with teams but are unable/unwilling to comment until a later date. Others are currently in negotiations but testing together with the expectation they will come to terms. Others still are very much uncertain and using the test as an opportunity to see if a pairing is worth pursuing. And in one case (read: Cory Texter and Wally Brown Racing), are merely working together in a mutually beneficial one-off, this-test-only capacity.
And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that a couple potential team/rider combos are still yet to determine what brand of bike on which they’ll be competing — or even in which class.
That said, if you read between the lines and squint just right at the scoring sheets, you can start to decipher what a decent chunk of the 2021 grid may look like.
Dunlop Tire Test Entry List:
Briar Bauman (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Progressive Insurance FTR750)
Jared Mees (No. 9 Indian FTR750)
Johnny Lewis (No. 10 Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield Twins FT)
Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 JCS Racing/HCRR Indian FTR750)
James Rispoli (No. 43 Latus Motors Racing/Fast Track Racing Harley-Davidson XG750R)
Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Roof Systems/Ben Evans Racing Indian FTR750)
Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Indian FTR750)
Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson XG750R Rev X)
JD Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT)
Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F)
Mikey Rush (No. 14 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F)
Shayna Texter (No. 52 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-FFE)
Cory Texter (No. 65 WBR/Suzuki of America RMZ450)
Kody Kopp (No. 143 Latus Motors Racing/Fast Track Racing Honda CRF450R)
Dunlop and Progressive AFT personnel stressed to teams and riders that this test was not intended to serve as a competition to see who can post the fastest outright time. That said, whenever you throw a group of world-class professional racers on track with timing and scoring equipment logging their pace, lap times will inevitably become an area of intense interest for competitors and fans alike.
DUNLOP TIRE TEST DAY ONE
With that disclaimer out the way, let’s briefly discuss results: As expected, last year’s AFT SuperTwins championship top three continued to be fast, with Briar Bauman, Jared Mees and Sammy Halbert topping the leaderboards to end a session or two throughout the day.
More interestingly, however, was the fact that Jarod Vanderkooi posted the fastest lap of Tuesday (20.267) on a JCS Racing/HCRR Indian FTR750.
Vanderkooi played it coy concerning his 2021 plans. And while nothing has been signed just yet, it seems like a safe bet that he’ll be riding for Jerry Stinchfield in 2021.
Vanderkooi has always been considered a major league talent; he could prove to be a major factor if he continues to mesh this well with the Indian after years of battling aboard a works Harley-Davidson XG750R.
DUNLOP TIRE TEST DAY TWO
The first annual Dunlop Tire Test wrapped up on Wednesday at Volusia Speedway Park following two hugely productive days.
Dunlop came into the test armed with five candidates vying for a single open slot to become the new tire compound made available for use during the 2021 Progressive American Flat Track season.
The great hope was to identify a tire that felt and performed similar to the preexisting DT4 R5 soft tire while showcasing durability more in line with the harder R9.
Dunlop came away extremely satisfied with the feedback they received from riders, along with one specific compound that showed itself capable of filling that “R7” (not an official designation) medium tire role.
“It was everything we hoped it would be,” said, Michael Jackson, Senior Manager of Motorcycle Development & Road Race. “The weather’s been good, the track’s been in great shape for us. Steve Morehead and his crew certainly did a good job keeping the track consistent throughout the day with very little change, which has really helped us.”
“We focused on questioning each rider on how the specs compared to the R5. We had five compounds here and we constantly tried to work back to the R5. We’d asked the riders, ‘How long did it take to come in?’ ‘What’s it like on entry?’ ‘What’s it like on exit.’ ‘Is it consistent?’ ‘Is it safe?’”
Reigning AFT SuperTwins Champion Briar Bauman said, “There was one (compound) that really stood out. So it was cool to have a baseline, and as we tried the other ones, still remember that feeling and be fired up about it. It’s a great direction.”
Of course, Progressive AFT fans were fired up just to have bikes back on track, while getting something of a sneak peek at the 2021 season.
Once the final session had been completed, however, it was AFT SuperTwins king Bauman who boasted the #1 on the timesheets as well as his factory Indian.
Bauman was the only rider to break into the 19s (19.919) over the two days. That lap narrowly eclipsed the best time of JD Beach (20.043), who made serious gains aboard the No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT on Wednesday.
While pleased with his speed, Beach kept things in perspective and understood what his primary job was this week.
“It’s cool to be a part of this,” he said. “It’s really cool that they have the trust in me to give the feedback with the tires. For Dunlop and the series to want to put in the extra work and the time, it shows how much they care about it. I think this has been great.”
Other riders who impressed with their outright pace while focusing on tire development were DAYTONA double winner Brandon Robinson (20.087), the aforementioned Vanderkooi (20.133) and reigning AFT Production Twins champion James Rispoli aboard the Latus Motors Harley-Davidson XG750R (20.155).
Meanwhile, AFT Singles dominator Dallas Daniels showcased AFT SuperTwins-like speed aboard his Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F, ranking fifth best overall at 20.243.
For more information on Progressive American Flat Track visit https://www.americanflattrack.com.
To score the latest gear for the Progressive American Flat Track fan, visit the Official Progressive AFT Merchandise store at https://store.americanflattrack.com.