Superpole: Two Tires Enter, One Rider Wins

Mathew Scholtz fits a nice yellow traction maker to the rear of his Yamaha. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

Along with two Motul Superbike races that are featured on MotoAmerica race weekends, another Superbike contest takes place, which is not a race per se (although it is somewhat of a race against time) but is equally as exciting.

Superpole is the final qualifying session for the Superbike class on race weekends, and only a set number of riders – usually 12 – who recorded the fastest laptimes in either of the two preceding Qualifying Practice Sessions are invited to participate in the special 15-minute session. The front portion of the starting grid is set by Superpole, and it’s a breathtaking display of rider prowess, tire technology, teamwork, and talent.

Each of the riders who are eligible for Superpole are allotted two super-soft, ultra-sticky Dunlop Superpole qualifying tires. The sidewalls on those tires are marked with a bright-yellow band. When those “Q” tires go onto a Superbike, the fastest lap times are usually imminent.

And, just as Robert Frost wrote in his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” in MotoAmerica Superpole, nothing yellow can stay, either. The Dunlop “Q” tires are at their maximum grip for about one lap, which means that the rider comes into their pitbox, the crew swaps in a Q, the rider returns to the track on his out lap, rockets across the start-finish line, and it is on like Donkey Kong. One flying lap, and the Q tire is past its prime. Each team generally puts in both of the two Q tires they are allotted, with one used early in the session and the second Q used towards the very end of the session.

A lot of strategy comes into play as the riders jockey for track position, with some of them on their “Q lap” and others on regular race tires, just beginning their Q lap, or just ending their Q lap.

The bike goes through a quick and sudden transformation, too. With normal front and rear race tires on a motorcycle, the handling of the bike is a lot different than it is when the Q tire is installed. Since only the rear tire is changed to the super-soft, ultra-sticky Q, the instantaneously increased rear grip dramatically alters the front-end feel of the bike. Suddenly, the front tire doesn’t feel the same as it did, and that change in feel is an important variable that the rider must, quite literally, come to grips with… and fast.

If everything goes according to plan for the rider, the team, the two Q tires, and the timing for when the two Q tires are used during the Superpole session, the reward to the rider (and team) is the privilege and advantage of beginning both of the weekend’s Superbike races from the first position on the starting grid.

Superpole is a spectacular event, so keep an eye on those yellow-banded tires, and remember: two tires enter, but one rider wins.