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The AMA/Carmichael Dilemma

Okay, here is what we think we know after reading all of the press releases issued in the past week by AMA Pro Racing, Suzuki (Ricky Carmichael’s employer) and VP Racing Fuels (fuel supplier to not only Suzuki, but Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and KTM).

  1. The trace levels of lead found in Ricky Carmichael’s Suzuki RM-Z450 following the San Diego round of the AMA Supercross series could not have provided any performance advantage. We know this because the trace level found (a minute amount by everyone’s estimation) simply could not have had a measurable impact on horsepower or torque in Carmichael’s motorcycle.
  2. Suzuki’s violation of the AMA rule, if it occurred at all, was inadvertent or, at worst, a result of negligence, and not the result of a deliberate effort to cheat.
  3. The AMA has never articulated why the standard is so strict, and why it has now penalized three teams in the last two years (Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki) knowing that none of these teams could have gained a performance advantage or would have any motivation whatsoever to deliberately violate the rule by including such a tiny amount of lead in their fuel.
  4. Environmental factors, including dust at the race track, can introduce trace levels of lead into the fuel of racers that might lead to a violation of the AMA’s ridiculous standards (we are taking VP Fuels’ analysis at face value in reaching this conclusion).

Here is the dilemma. The AMA, in order to be consistent, must penalize Carmichael and Team Suzuki, just as they penalized Yamaha and Kawasaki previously. If application of this rule was just as ridiculous when Yamaha and Kawasaki were punished (and knowing what know now, we think it was), “a rule is a rule” and it will be difficult for the AMA to cut Suzuki a break in light of what happened with Yamaha and Kawasaki. One difference might be the fact that the championship outcome was not affected in prior years — Chad Reed won the championship for Yamaha despite the penalty levied against him in 2004. The penalty against Carmichael and Suzuki, on the other hand, certainly will impact the title chase this year, and could effectively rob Carmichael of the Supercross titles at stake in 2006 (including both the AMA title and the World Supercross GP title). If the penalty stands, it will certainly affect Carmichael’s strategy for the remainder of the year.

So, what does the AMA do? First of all, they need to change the rule. If environmental factors can introduce trace levels of lead into racing fuels, in amounts that do not impact the performance of the race machines (keep in mind that some of these 450s are de-tuned by the factories for supercross, because they make too much power to be rideable to begin with), the standard needs to be re-set to permit a higher level of lead (which still does not impact performance of the motorcycle) to prevent inadvertent/environmental circumstances penalizing a team/rider. We don’t think anyone can argue with this point.

A more difficult question the AMA faces is what it should do about the penalty it has already assessed against Ricky Carmichael. We think the penalty should be overturned for the following reasons. First of all, the penalties issued previously did not impact the outcome of any championship, while it certainly could this year, and could result in Carmichael crashing while riding as if he has “nothing to lose” (with a huge points deficit). Second, two wrongs don’t make a right (remember when your mother told you that?). If the penalties assessed against Yamaha and Kawasaki didn’t make sense (and they apparently did not) punishing Suzuki doesn’t make sense either. After all “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.