Camoplast's R&D Director - "On The Track to Success"

20 new track profiles each year - 90% make it to market

Jan. 01, 2003 By Matthew Baynard

Have you ever wondered why something is so good (or so bad), or how a product gets perfected to its absolute best? We do, a lot, and especially with products like snowmobile tracks, which have reached a pinnacle of perfection the last few years. Years ago, tracks didn't have the spot light of today, in that a good one could make a sled shine and another make it a nightmare. In the past, track quality was the biggest concern, and Camoplast was the best bet in town. Your track is more essential to the overall performance envelope of your sled than you're aware of. Fuel mileage, acceleration, deceleration, and ride comfort are all directly tied to the track. A simple track change can add miles to your top end or rob them.

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Denis is the man whose not in the public eye, but we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his hours of development and testing. His efforts have improved the sport of snowmobiling as much as any snowmobile manufacturer.
click for larger image

We were curious enough and wanted to learn more about tracks in general. We contacted Camoplast's Mark Delaney and he arranged for a quick one on one with their Director of R&D, Denis Courtemanche.

Denis Courtemanche lives for speed - and snow. His Suzuki Intruder 1500 (Here's Denis with his favorite summertime toy large image, small image) does the job in the summer, but in the winter, this Quebec native virtually has a license to top end the best sleds on the market. He's Camoplast's Director of R & D, and after 40 years working for the world's leading track manufacturer, he's earned the title. We're talking a company that can discuss market share not as what they have, but what they don't have. I believe that number can be counted on one, but not more than two hands.

Courtemanche is especially proud these days, because his department is in the process of releasing more new track models with exciting new features designed to maximize the individual's riding experience. Camoplast has repositioned its track categories to be closely aligned with each manufacturer's terrain specific sleds. Gone are the Predator, Challenger and Adventure brands. To simplify the track selection process, Camoplast is classifying its track models into Racing, Mountain, Cross-Country, Hi-Performance Trail, Touring, and Utility categories. Riders increasingly want specialized tracks, a trend Camoplast follows closely thanks to the leadership of enthusiasts like Denis Courtemanche. I'll admit that I'll miss telling a buddy I have a Predator under me.

"We're a snowmobiling family," he says. "My brother is a snowmobile mechanic. He's a speed nut too. And my son works for Camoplast as well. We're on the test track every weekend." A special track was set up on the family farm in Racine, a short ride from Valcourt, birthplace of the first individual Quebec snowmobile in 1959. Courtemanche and his brother test up to 15 tracks a day - and reach speeds of 120 miles an hour on the four manufacturers' most powerful sleds. All in the name of Research & Development! I'll be pleading my case for a visit during the season and a chance to "test" a track with Denis.

"I always want to push the limits on these sleds, although I've become a bit more prudent lately. One hundred and nineteen miles an hour is my personal top end, which I did last spring. We do a lot of speed tests; the track that goes fastest is usually the most economical to operate." I key point when some of the fastest sleds are distance challenged and a concern for the riders that want to go the distance, but have as much power under the thumb as possible. Increases over 10% are not uncommon with a simple track swap.

The snow covered track is not the only place that Denis tests a new product. In fact, Courtemanche puts his products through a battery of other tests before they even see the snow: staff chemists, engineers, mechanics and technicians first check the key qualities of their raw materials. Once tracks are manufactured, a state-of-the-art lab simulator tests check their characteristics under various conditions, including a 130-mile-per-hour simulation. Field tests check for endurance, fuel consumption, speed, and performance on different terrains and at different times of the day.

"Camoplast is the world leader in tracks because of our consistency under all conditions, their performance at top speed, and their fuel economy," says Courtemanche, who's a little less forthcoming about the reasons why: "That's our secret!" he says. Getting these guys to explain the tags on a track can be a real challenge.

Camoplast also ensures quality control by manufacturing its own custom circular track making equipment.

Courtemanche is intimately familiar with every aspect of the business. And he should be: in 1962 when the company was owned by Bombardier and known as Rockland Enterprises, he began on the presses making tracks. He moved up the ladder over the years, working in parts manufacturing, maintenance, machining, then later becoming production manager, and in 1990 director of Camoplast's R&D center in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

"I've always liked what I do," said the youthful 56 year old. I've done just about every possible job within the company."

Camoplast supplies snowmobile tracks to every manufacturer around the world, with models ranging from the 159-inch Mountain to the 68-inch Mini for kids' sleds. Profiles range from the flat asphalt-racing track to a two-and-a-quarter-inch mountain profile. "It depends on the kind of riding you want to do. From high-marking to ditch banging to racing your buddies across the lake or simply touring with family and friends, we've got a track for every application: 500 different designs and about 90 different profiles. Each year we develop close to 20 new profiles, 90 percent of which make it to market", explains Courtemanche.

"The demand for new profiles just keeps increasing. We want riders to learn about the optimum profiles for their sled, riding style and terrain - to ensure they get the most out of their riding experience. Camoplast is working hard to bring that information to every rider. A new website is under construction, along with better product information. Their track specialists also attend most major snow shows and key race events." If your not sure about the track that's best for you, contact Camoplast or seek a factory rep out at the next show.

"It's a lot like the car tire business: serious drivers know exactly what kind of tire they want for their car. The snowmobile industry is catching up fast. Riders today understand that tracks are a high performance product and great traction always creates lots of smiles."

I asked Denis some of the questions that our readers have emailed or told us. Snowmobile-Online.com talks to the Godfather of Tracks:

Denis Courtemanche, R & D Director for Camoplast Inc.

Snowmobile-Online: What's happening in the world of tracks these days?

Courtemanche: The demand for new profiles is getting a little crazy. We're producing models from flat asphalt drag racing tracks to mountain tracks with 2.25 inch profiles. Camoplast is keeping up with rider demand with over 500 different designs and about 90 different profiles. Each year we develop close to 20 new profiles, 90 percent of which make it to market. There's a whole bunch a neat stuff coming down the pipe too.

Snowmobile-Online: How do you test all these tracks?

Courtemanche: We've got a great R & D center in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Chemists, engineers, designers, technicians, and mechanics all work to develop and test everything from the raw materials - rubber, rods, chords - to track endurance. We run the tracks through a state-of-the-art lab simulator that spins them under load at speeds of up to 130 miles an hour and more. Then we take them out for field tests. Every year we buy each of the manufacturers' most powerful machines, and test our tracks on them under a variety of conditions, ranging from frozen tundra to snow cross tracks to mountain terrain.

Snowmobile-Online: What do you test for?

Courtemanche: Field tests check for endurance, fuel consumption, speed, and performance on different terrains and at different times of the year.

We're on the snow testing tracks all winter. Our factory pilots are spread across North American on different riding terrain providing real time feedback. Our sponsored racers are involved in most disciplines including hill cross, snow cross, cross country, oval, grass, asphalt and drag racing. Our test facility is manned by my brother, son and I where we test up to 13 tracks a day. We're always looking for guys who can handle a sled at high speeds for long periods of time. Are you interested?

Snowmobile-Online: The whole staff would be interested and I'll sign on the dotted line right now. You've been doing this for over 35 years. Do you ever get tired of it?

Courtemanche: I love to push the limit with our tracks on the production sleds. As I said before, one hundred and nineteen miles an hour is my personal top end. The strength of a Camoplast track is in it's consistency under all conditions, performance at top speed, and ability to handle every riding condition. That's why Camoplast is #1 in tracks worldwide.

Snowmobile-Online: Ok, so you take some rubber add cord, cure it then test it. Where's the magic?

Courtemanche: That's the Camoplast secret! (Editor - I was looking for the cook book on tracks to learn the company cookie recipe, but I never found it, just killer tracks.)

For More Information On Camoplast Tracks
(Remember your local dealer is always the best source of information on your snowmobile and track application.)

 

Camoplast Traction Group
2144, rue King Ouest
Bureau 110, Sherbrooke (Québec)
J1J 2E8 Canada
Tel: (819) 823-1777
Fax: (819) 823-8772
[email protected]
www.Camoplast.com

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