UPDATE: Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th December. Closed. Unfortunately torrential rain has now made the tracks too wet.

The 108% Rule

Restricting slow riders

maddix park mx

http://motocrossactionmag.com

Way back in 1996 Formula 1 began to worry about the danger of slower cars on the racetrack, so, under the sporting regulations, they imposed a 107% rule. During qualifying, any F1 driver who fails to set a lap within 107 percent of the time of the fastest qualifier will not be allowed to start the race (although the race stewards may make exceptions). A team like Marussian (pictured above) could be eliminated from the GP if they failed to make the time cut.

After the MXGP debacles in Mexico and Brazil over the past few years, where very slow local riders were allowed, nee’ encouraged, to start the race in hopes of getting more than 20 riders on the track, it was decided by Youthstream and the FIM that they needed a F1-style rule of their own. So, they came up with the 108% rule. Not only is it less restrictive than the F1 rule by 1%, but it is based on the average time of the top ten qualifiers, not the fastest qualifier.

HERE IS HOW IT WORKS

The typical Grand Prix track takes around 2 minutes to circulate (120 seconds) and 108% of 120 seconds in 129.6 seconds. Thus, any rider who qualifies slower than 129.6 will not be allowed to race. Every weekend a handful of riders are eliminated. Sometimes they are just slow riders (with money to burn), but normally they are true professional racers who don’t make the 108% cut because they are injured and just attempting to ride through the pain. Most famously, in Qatar the 108% rule got Livia Lancelot, who was reportedly being paid start money. The 108% rule also eliminated all of the Arab and Thai riders from their home GPs.

THE PROBLEMS AHEAD

This 450 start from Qatar may look good at this angle, but the right side of the starting gate was empty.

Photo: Ray Archer

It’s no secret that Youthstream's oppressive entry fees and lack of any rewards for the riders in terms of purse, start or travel money (save for Livia Lancelot–who was being used a political pawn by the local promoters) has killed their start list. American motocross accepts as many as 109 riders per class and then pairs that down to 40 for the main events. Youthstream doesn’t have to do any trimming of the fat—they can’t get 40 riders. They rarely get 30 riders. They have even raced with half full gates, which is the reason that Luongo wants to switch to the "Super Final" format (because then he can make poor rider turnouts in two classes look like a good turnout in the combined final moto). It’s a band-aid.

There are concerns that at the pure sand races the Dutch and Belgian sand specialists could push the 108% rule out of reach of more than just the typical two or three riders. Last year at Lierop, Jeffrey Herlings’ time would have eliminated one-quarter of the field. That is why the 108% rule isn’t based on the fastest qualifier, but the average time of the top ten qualifiers. There was no 108% rule last year.

The 108% rule is a good rule. It is there for the safety of the other riders, but when you can’t scrape up enough riders to have a full gate it just makes matters worse. The solution isn’t to relax the 108% rule or offer more exceptions, but to lower the entry fees and reinstate purse money to encourage more entries of qualified racers. With 40 (or maybe even 109) riders trying to make the GP cut, there would be more than enough riders able to beat the 108% rule and fill the starting lines.

But, what is the incentive? MXA’s Dennis Stapleton was in Qatar, and having won the Arab GP qualifier the week before was eligible to enter the Grand Prix of Qatar. He turned the entry down and instead raced the Arab National Championship round that was held as a support race. Why? Because if he paid the $1400 entry fee and raced his heart out, he would go home $1400 in the hole (not counting expenses). Instead he won the Arab National race and received $2500 in purse and contingency money—making him the rider who made the most money at the Qatar Grand Prix.

If there had been a reasonable entry fee and purse, Dennis would have raced the GP. There wasn’t and he didn’t. He saw no reason to race for free...or even worse to race just to go in the hole financially. Which explains why so many capable European riders are staying at home to race their Nationals series and skipping the GPs.

 
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