Several riders refused to participate in the Saturday Superbike World Championship race in Argentina, arguing that the newly-laid track surface—already notorious for being slick with dust and dirt–was coming apart and was unsafe.
About one-third of the riders on the grid refused to ride, although some of those who did not race argued that it was only an immense amount of last-minute pressure that resulted in more than a handful of riders on the grid at all.
“We shouldn’t be in this situation in 2019. Full stop. It’s a bit of a crap situation,” said Aruba.it Racing – Ducati’s Chaz Davies, one of the riders who refused to race on Saturday.
Racers found a dusty and dirty track on Friday that left practice times several seconds slower than expected, with some riders complaining that the surface was so slick that they could not even lean over enough to get a knee down.
But the real problems surfaced on Saturday. An indication that not all was well came at the end of qualifying, when riders put on Pirelli qualifying slicks for their time attacks and were unable to go any faster than on race tires.
As ambient temperatures increased, oil and tar oozed out of the surface of the track. Riders met with organizers and asked for both races to be run on Sunday, when temperatures were expected to be much cooler.
“The temperature’s gone up and up and up today. The circuit is just not in a stable condition at the moment,” Davies said. “80 to 90% of the riders agreed before the race that it was incredibly risky to do it. Unfortunately, there’s always pressure to go out there and race.”
There was disagreement between the riders as to what to do, with Davies, Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK), Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK), Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team), Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) and Eugene Laverty (Team Goeleven) ultimately not starting.
“I would like to thank the Moriwaki Althea Honda team for supporting my decision,” Camier posted on Twitter.
While on the grid prior to the race, Kawasaki Racing Team’s Leon Haslam said he thought the circuit was too dangerous, but that he was going to race anyway. “You’ve got a contract and you’ve agreed to race. I probably agree that it’s too dangerous and we shouldn’t race. It’s a shame that they (organizers) didn’t listen to the rider majority,” Haslam said. “But we’re here to race and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
In the race, Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista won with a best lap time of 1:40.919, compared to Jonathan Rea’s best race lap time of 2018 of 1:39.175. To underscore how bad the track surface was on Saturday, in the Tissot Superpole race on Sunday, Bautista was a full three seconds quicker than he was on Saturday, and Rea turned a 1:37.462 to set a new overall lap record.
FIM officials issued a statement saying that riders were happy with the circuit after the extended practice session on Saturday morning, and that was when the decision to continue with the day’s activity was made.
“The FIM wishes to remind that the safety of all riders is its priority and wish to emphasize that neither the scorching conditions nor the condition of the track surface at that precise moment justified the cancellation of the race,” the statement said. The statement did not include who ultimately made the decision to run the race over rider objections, nor how they came to that decision.