When AMA racers and teams pulled into Road America Wednesday, instead of navigating a few tight turns and threading the narrow Billy Mitchell Bridge with their race haulers, they enjoyed a straight-line shot through a new tunnel under the track and into the newly-expanded paddock. But it wasn’t until the racers started making their first laps of the four-mile-long road course during Thursday’s promoter practice that they fully appreciated the removal of the bridge and its concrete abutment from the run-off area of turn 13. “It’s so different,” said Jordan Suzuki’s Aaron Yates. “You want to carry more speed in there, but you can’t. You can see the corner going in, so you want to rail it off in there, but then you can’t see the exit and the outside of the track kind of falls away.” “It’s weird,” said Yates’ teammate Jake Holden. “Going through it when the bridge was up you would always fixate on the bridge there and kind of use it as a reference point. Now it’s just wide open. I haven’t found a reference point yet, but hopefully I’ll find one. “The first lap it sure looked different not having the bridge over there,” said Josh Hayes. “It looked fast, and I almost went raring right off of there. [laughs] It’s just visual. The track’s the same.” “The bridge being gone is awesome,” said Team Hunter’s Cory West. “I’m so glad that thing is gone. I’ve heard some people say how they don’t have any reference points now, but it feels like I can bury it off in there way harder than I used to. Before, I was always tentative. I didn’t roll out, but I just made sure I didn’t get into any trouble there because it was a bad spot. Now, it’s safer and we don’t have to worry about it being dewy underneath the bridge in the morning and stuff. I like it, and the new tunnel is awesome. This place is awesome, probably one of my favorite tracks on the circuit.” “It’s really nice,” said Hal’s Performance Advantage’s Dan Bilansky, the reigning ASRA Thunderbike Champion who will be racing a Buell XB-RR in Formula Xtreme this weekend at Road America, his home track. “It’s definitely a lot safer. The turn’s the same. They didn’t change anything, but the corner looks totally different. You almost want to take a different line because you’re not staring at a wall. The tunnel is really nice. It looks real professional, and it’s a lot safer. It’s definitely a lot nicer. And the paddock is a lot bigger.” Boulder Motor Sports Ducati’s Marty Craggill said he noticed the area of turn 13 was much brighter with daylight than it was in the past thanks to the bridge removal. Road America also adding new asphalt curbing extensions to the exits of several corners and added a few feet of extra pavement to the exit of turn five. Some racers said the new curbs would serve as a safety margin while others said they were already working on taking advantage of them for a quicker lap time. “They got some new curbs out there,” said Holden. “They’ve got some new pavement on the outside of the corners. So we’ll have to see how that plays. It might be a little quicker.” “It gives you a little more racetrack,” said Hayes. “I’ve been using it already. I think it just gives you some room to work with on the exits. I think it will still be faster to stay on the track, but if you get in hot you don’t have to give up and slow down. You can still maintain a lap by running wide and using the extra pavement, a margin for error.” The aggravating bump in turn one that many racers hoped would be addressed has not been fixed, however, and some grinding work to the surface in some other corners has caught the attention of some. “There’s some new stuff I don’t understand why or what they were thinking,” said Team M4 EMGO Suzuki’s Geoff May. “Like in turn one, they dug all the way across the track and filled it with fresh asphalt. There’s three distinct lines all the way across the track. One of them is a pretty substantial bump that you can lose the front over. I think it’s in the exact same spot as the bump we all had to deal with last year. Then there’s some areas where they ground and maybe sealed [the surface], kind of like turn seven at Road Atlanta, where it’s all shiny and weird looking. That’s in turn three and turn five and also in turn eight, I believe.” Riders only got a few hours to look at the changes to the track Thursday before rain showers hit mid-day. After the rain came only a few riders went out on the wet track, including Fast By Ferracci MV Agusta’s Luca Scassa, who is new to Road America. The Weather Channel’s forecast for this weekend in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin calls for the possibility of thunderstorms each day, ranging from a 30% chance on Friday to a 60% chance on Saturday to a 40% chance on Sunday.
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