VP Racing Fuels responds to Ricky Carmichael's fuel penalty

February 28, 2006 2:22pm | by:

We just spotted this on the Cycle News website, posted by editor Paul Carruthers:

Steve Burns, director of research and development for VP Racing Fuels, today issued the following statement regarding the penalization of Ricky Carmichael for the San Diego Supercross race due to a fuel violation:

VP Racing Fuels is a supplier to Team Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and KTM and has been involved in supplying fuel to professional motocross teams for 25 years. VP develops and manufactures fuels for both motocross and road racing for all these teams. In business since 1975, VP is the Official Racing Fuels of NHRA, the largest racing sanctioning body in the world, as well as a sponsor of more than 30 other racing associations in various capacities. VP produces more blends of racing fuels for unique applications than anyone else in the world. We like to think we have more technology in racing fuels than any other company. This is illustrated by the fact that in racing venues that do not have a spec fuel rule, more championships are won by VP-powered engines than any other fuel company. VP has earned its reputation as a world leader in racing fuels.

It's with great dismay that we learned of the latest incident regarding a points deduction due to a fuel violation at the Supercross race in San Diego. The matter is still being investigated and the jury is still out regarding the source of lead found in Ricky Carmichael's fuel. Unfortunately, this marks the third time in the past three years one of AMA's biggest stars was disqualified due to a situation of the AMA's own making. The failure here is not the fault of the teams nor the fuel producer. The failure stems from a rule written to serve European interests. These disqualifications have also embarrassed three major corporations, essentially accusing them of cheating -- violating a rule that is poorly written, based on a specification of .005 grams per liter set by the FIM for European competition, while the USA EPA limit is set at .013 grams per liter. These lead levels are so low they could not have affected the performance or octane of the fuel, nor could it have any effect on the outcome of the race.

Significantly, VP has never been contacted by the AMA prior to the implementation of any rule pertaining to fuels - which is very surprising given that VP supplies all the factory teams!

The specification that needs immediate attention is the lead level. Based on the European limit, it translates to trace levels -- parts per billion. The low limits set for lead in street fuels is to protect the catalytic converter from becoming coated over long term exposure, thus reducing the function of the converter. It is not a limit set for health reasons. Racing needs a wider tolerance for lead as the fuel is handled more frequently by more parties than pump fuels and in a more hostile environment. While pump gas typically goes from the manufacturer via pipeline or tanker to the gas station, then directly into the customer's tank, racing fuel is typically shipped to the teams in drums, which are then opened for various purposes, e.g. to draw samples, run tests, transfer to smaller containers, dispensed into the vehicle, drained from the vehicle after the race for reuse, etc. The fact is all dirt contains lead in varying degrees and it is entirely possible that fuel could become contaiminated with trace
levels of lead given the windy, dusty and dirty environment encountered at most race tracks. Significantly, none of the levels we are talking about have any affect on the fuel or its performance in the engine. The use of lead in racing fuels is allowed by the EPA Clean Air Act. There are no legal reasons for the elimination of lead from racing fuels.

The other area of concern is the oxygen content of the fuels. As the rule is written, it would render many pump fuels illegal for use in AMA Pro Racing. The current AMA limit is 2.8%, while pump gas can have up to 3.7% in certain parts of the country. According to past conversations with Rob King, former AMA technical director, the current rules originally were written to ensure U.S. pump fuels would be legal for AMA Pro competition. The current rules fail that reasoning on both lead level and oxygen content.

These problems do not need to be confronted again. They require an easy fix -- rewrite the rules, while maintaining their intent. Suggestions were made to the AMA to this effect after the incident with Yamaha in 2004 but it fell on deaf ears. This is the third time the current rules have disqualified a racer that in no way was cheating or possessed an unfair advantage. It has made Yamaha, Kawasaki and now Suzuki look like cheaters, and made VP Racing Fuels appear incompetent. Yet, despite the recent claim by AMA's Steve Whitelock that the problem "was explained away" in the earlier incidents, an analyzation of the facts in both incidents led to total exoneration of VP by the teams affected and all others involved. We anticipate the same will also be true when all the facts in the current case are analyzed.

This whole situation is damaging to the health of AMA racing. It has cost the factories, the AMA, the racers, VP Racing Fuels and the fans wasted money, wasted time and misplaced emotions. It is time for the AMA to revise its fuel rules to reflect reality.