On Race to Qualify

 In Skate Nerd

Louis Race to Qualify800

Louis Pilloni racing to qualify at Almatrieb. Photo: Max Dubler.

This post written by Zak Maytum.

This season, more and more events are using a “race to qualify” format. Presumably, this comes from a desire to give everyone who pays an entry fee the chance to race several heats and get more runs down the track. While I agree with that goal, I believe it could be implemented in a better way.

This year’s Maryhill Festival of Speed schedule originally called for a combined timed qualifying and race to qualify format. We were to practice Wednesday and Thursday, take individual timed qualifying runs Friday, then race a full 192-man bracket on Saturday to seed Sunday’s 96-man open class race.

The format was modified after top riders expressed the following concerns.

First, to be truly competitive, you need fresh wheels for every race run. Nobody, even riders on big teams—let alone the weekend warriors paying for all their gear at the local shop—has enough wheels for two days of practice, 5 qualifying runs, a race-to-qualify bracket, and the actual race.

Second, that much racing wears out the riders, even when the track isn’t as long or hot as Maryhill.

Third, twice as much racing means the risk of injury is doubled, especially when riders who would not normally qualify for the open bracket are given a chance to compete against top riders.

Fourth, timed qualifying is the only truly fair way to seed a bracket, and with the IDF’s new RFID timing system it doesn’t take all day anymore. We got five runs before lunch at Maryhill. And lest we forget, it’s totally fun to get timed solo runs on the track: you get to go as fast as you can, then see how you stack up against your friends and the pro riders.

To me, the safety concern is the most important. This year, we’re racing on almost exclusively fast and dangerous world cup tracks. (Awesome right!?) But we show up and risk our life and limb on such a regular basis for a reason. Whether it’s prize money, bragging rights, world cup points, or something else, the reward is clearly worth the danger.  This is not the case with race to qualify.  There’s no prize money, no trophy, no big fake check, just a chance you might get crashed out in the first round and miss the race all together. The question, “How many rounds do I have to make it through to just be in the race?” is often on the lips of exhausted and wheel starved top riders.

At Maryhill, John Ozman was very receptive to our concerns and (possibly unwittingly) created a new format that solved almost all of these problems. We did the standard freeriding on the first two days, then took our timed qualifying runs Friday morning. The fastest 48 riders (the top half of the 96-man open class bracket) in qualifying were automatically entered into Sunday’s open class. The remaining riders had race-to-qualify heats on Saturday.

This was an ideal compromise. The top riders, who were more likely to go deep in Sunday’s race, got to conserve wheels, avoid injury, watch the racing on Saturday, then come to the track Sunday morning well-rested and ready to perform. The riders in the race-to-qualify bracket got much more race experience than they otherwise would have, and good riders who were unfortunate enough to crash or encounter rain in their qualifying runs had the opportunity to make it into the open class. It was a better deal for everyone.

I just saw Race to Qualify on the schedule for the IDF world cup race at Kozakov and am deeply concerned. With an extremely fast, tight, technical course, Kozakov is one of the most fearsome tracks on the world cup circuit. The potential for injury is high, and the annihilation of wheels is certain. For all the reasons expressed above, and in the interest of keeping us all safe and stoked, I strongly encourage race organizers planning to use a race to qualify format to change to a format similar to the one used at Maryhill.

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