After a great reception last year, despite many teething problems, the El Villicum weekend in 2019 was an eagerly anticipated host venue even after the 2018 edition had just finished. Those who were there could not wait to see the place completely finished
Resurfacing was needed, promised and indeed delivered on most of the track, and all of the corners.
After the poor track conditions that appeared last Friday – some freshly laid asphalt and then a thick and stubborn crust of dust and dirt – there were problems to deal with that were at once expected and unexpected.
Chaz Davies has already spoken about issues with the run up to the event, not hearing back updates in the safety commission meetings and so on. The FIM last visited in June, but were assured all would be OK by the locals.
The FIM homologated the circuit on the eve of track action last weekend, but according to them this is normal. And that homologation is more to do with infrastructure and adequate numbers of marshals posts, big enough run-off and a million other things than the dirt on the track. Maybe that needs to change, too.
What does not appear to be normal is that those responsible for the track – who have admittedly just put in a huge investment via the local government to resurface after last year’s near-debacle – did some of the track surface work too close to the race weekend. Hence the grease coming out on the final section of the track, which was laid most recently, around two weeks ago.
This is not racing in the 1970s, and we all know that doing this is a bad idea.
It should be not allowed.
Resurfacing work needs to be done long enough before a big event for the track to drive off all the chemicals and oils that are an integral part of laying fresh asphalt. The surface also needs to be properly cleaned, and then lots of activity needs to take place on top of it to both bed in the asphalt itself and then ‘rubber-in’ the surface.
Then, if you have done a good job, things should be fine.
The irony of the weekend that almost wasn’t at San Juan – take it from somebody who was there – is that the asphalting job appears to be fine. It is just that some sections were laid too recently and the track has had no chance whatever to bed in via track action, and has collected dust – talcum-powder specs of dust – so numerous that it looked like the track was wearing a see-through beige jumper on Thursday. It was very hard to shift in such a short space of time.
Why people expected to run up to a virtually unused track in the deserts below the foothills of the Andes mountains and expect it to be just fine for FP1 on Friday, especially after a resurfacing job, is another mystery.
Was it fit to race on last Saturday? For some not, for others yes, even if they all new it was very sketchy off line, and not great on line.
So after all the allegations, accusations, claims and denials it looks like whatever any other problem was, the gap between track re-laying, lack of regular use and lack of adequate track cleaning time or equipment meant we arrived to an unacceptable track surface.
And it was unacceptable.
Obviously the track improved ‘on line’ all weekend, and the true nature of the new asphalt shone through eventually, in crazy fast lap times compared to 2018. Riders mostly said it was smooth and grippy, but increasing temperatures had a marked effect, even on-line.
But off line it was still a cross between ice rink and Lawrence of Arabia wide-shot – slippery with dust from the surrounding desert-like conditions.
However we got into this mess – literal and figurative – at Villicum absolutely everybody lost out. And even fell out. Everyone looked bad, and for too many people perception is reality.
So now all the systems of homologation, track and organisers’ agreements, and who needs to do what by when, need to be either overhauled or enforced by unbreakable contract terms.
Or this will all happen again, here or somewhere else. We cannot say we have not been warned.