The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series made some big changes in the premier Pro 2 class for 2019. One of those didn’t seem to affect the racing; the other certainly had an impact and will be altered for 2020.
The first big change was a switch to D.O.T.-approved tires from the soft-compound, short-course-off-road-specific “project” tires, which are molded as slicks before the tire manufacturer or team hand-grooves them to suit the course or conditions. The off-road tires could be grooved for more acceleration or braking traction, or more side bite as necessary. The D.O.T. tires, according to the racers, are about a second a lap slower than the project tires.
The idea behind the move was for cost savings and also to attract more tire manufacturers to the series.
“We’ve seen that it has brought in other manufacturers in that class that didn’t want to get in there before because they didn’t want to manufacture a purpose-built racing tire,” says LOORRS Series Director Bill Smith. “Now it allows more manufacturers to get involved that will support more of our teams as we go, and that’s already working.”
Several drivers have voiced support for the idea. But some of that depends on the position of the tire maker they work with. Rob MacCachren has been working with BFGoodrich for almost three decades. The company is involved in off-road racing at every level, including heavy participation with its D.O.T. tires. MacCachren, though, laments the loss of potential experimentation and development that goes along with the project tires, and he also misses the extra traction.
“I’ve been with BFGoodrich since 1991 and, ultimately, the reason why they’re into this series and into off-road racing in general is to promote racing tires and development and use it for that,” says MacCachren. “So when the Lucas Oil Series went to D.O.T. tires, it’s not what BFG’s path is with their business plan. We’re here to go as fast as we can, try to impress the fans, makes these trucks go around the track fast, and ultimately we’ve lost speed because of the D.O.T. tire.”
Other drivers, perhaps also reflecting the desires of the manufacturers they work with, see more positives. That’s especially true of drivers with a recent history in Pro Lite, where the D.O.T. Tires have always been the rule.
“I think the D.O.T. tires were a big help for the whole series,” says freshly crowned 2019 Pro 2 champion Jerett Brooks. “I ran with General on my Pro Lite and really had no problems. It’s pretty crazy how much a sidewall can take. When they put it in Pro 2, I thought it was a pretty good idea, because the tire game with the project tires was so extreme. Whoever had the biggest budget, the best engineers – it was kind of a tire war. Trying to design and engineer a tire (is) no joke; it’s a lot of work. So I think it’s cool. Right off the shelf and anybody can go buy them.”
That whole consumer-can-go-buy-the-tires-we-race-on idea is key for Brian Deegan, who has his own branded tire with Mickey Thompson.
“I like the correlation — ‘What you race is what you buy’,” the former multi-time Pro 2 and Pro Lite champion explains. “That’s important to me making my own tires with the Deegan 38 Mickey Thompsons. I get to race on them and develop them and make them better. It’s good for the industry. The project tires are awesome, but at the end of the day it adds a lot of cost and it would be nice to see that money (go) back to the drivers. It opens the door for a whole lot more manufacturers to come in and play this game now. All you need is an all-terrain or mud terrain tire and you can come race.
“Now, 900hp to a D.O.T. tire is not the best setup, but when everyone’s on it, it’s the same playing field,” Deegan adds.
The other big change was incorporating trucks with the Midwest-spec 410ci engines into the class that has featured 440ci Unlimited engines making around 900hp. The series has said that the 410ci limited-prep engines will be mandatory from 2021, allowing teams to use up their Unlimited engines this season and next.
The way the series incorporated the two different rulesets in 2019 was to implement split standing starts, with the lower-horsepower Midwest-spec trucks starting first. The initial time gap was determined using the difference between the qualifying times for each group’s fast qualifier, and multiply that delta by the number of laps. The time gap that existed before each caution was maintained on the subsequent restart.
While on the face of it it leveled the playing field, there were a couple of issues with that scenario. The first was that it was confusing to fans. The second was that it provided an inherent advantage for the 410s which started out front with a clear track. The Unlimited trucks, to get to the front, had to pass all the 410 backmarkers to even have a chance to race for the lead -– and the number of 410 trucks increased significantly as the season went on. More often than not, the Unlimited trucks won; but Rodrigo Ampudia, running a 410, was in the championship hunt with Brooks until the end. And, when former Pro 2 champ Jeremy McGrath did a one-off weekend at Glen Helen, he came with a 410 and was practically untouchable.
So, for 2020, the series is going to figure out an alternate method to equalize the trucks.
“Next year, we’re going to do a different way of blending the two together so they’re racing heads up,” says Smith. “We’re going to handicap the open motors a little bit so that they’re qualifying and racing together –- same time; no split starts. That was a little bit confusing to some. We’re probably going to raise everyone’s minimum weight a little bit, lower their RPMs a little bit, and maybe use restrictors.”
There are some challenges for the teams switching to the 410s, mainly truck weight. An Unlimited 440 truck has to weigh 4400lbs. compared to 4100lbs. for the Midwest spec. The teams report that taking that much weight out of the truck is nearly impossible without building a new truck from the ground up.
The cost of a 410ci engine is also creeping up, although it’s still far less than an Unlimited engine and seems to be more durable. But whether that remains true as teams gradually switch and engine builders dig deep looking for advantages is an unknown.
2020 LOORRS Schedule
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series will remain in familiar territory for 2020. The big change is a return to the Utah Motorsports Campus, which was undergoing a lawsuit-involved change in ownership last year. That settled, the series can return.
However, the Baja International Short Course race at Estero Beach Resort near Ensenada has fallen off the schedule. That race, while extremely popular with off-road-mad Ensenada fans, was logistically challenging for many of the teams that don’t also race desert and thus don’t travel to Mexico frequently.
The season begins March 14 at Glen Helen Raceway, and concludes Oct. 24 with both the points finale and Lucas Oil Challenge Cup at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
1 – March 14-15: Glen Helen Raceway, San Bernardino, Calif.
2 – April 25-26: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz.
3 – June 27-28: Utah Motorsports Campus, Tooele, Utah
4 – July 25: Wild West Motorsports Park, Sparks, Nev.
5 – Aug. 22-23: Lucas Oil Speedway, Wheatland, Mo.
6 – Oct. 3: Glen Helen Raceway, San Bernardino, Calif.
7 – Oct. 24: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz.