So you want to be a Superbike racer, do you? You want to stand on top of the podium and spray champagne; you want to wave to the adoring fans; you want to sign autographs and be famous? And you think it’s easy, right? It’s not like you have to be Lance Armstrong – I mean, you just sit on it and twist the throttle.
We were recently given an opportunity to test Neil Hodgson’s Corona Honda American Superbike for a full day at Infineon Raceway during an AMA Pro Racing team test. And not just five laps to see how the bike feels – we’re talking the Full Monty – mechanics, suspension changes, engine mapping and traction control testing. Finally, it
Watch our test rider do his best to steal Neil Hodgson’s Corona Honda ride in the Corona Honda CBR1000RR video.
would appear as if that ninth-place in last year’s Daytona 200 for Corona Honda has paid off. Just like that, I’m a Superbike Superstar. And all it took was a few emails and a couple phone calls. I told you this was easy…
First and foremost, I think many people could easily be under the wrong impression about the new “American Superbike” and just how much of a true “Superbike” it really is. While some of the trick parts – aftermarket fork externals, 16.5-inch wheels, titanium rods – are gone as per DMG’s new rules (I say shame on them), to claim these are more akin to a Superstock bike is a far cry from the truth. There’s no doubt the bloodline for the current machines is still directly from that of the Superbike family, though slightly toned down. As we would learn, though, in some ways this has helped speed up some of the bikes in terms of lap times.
According to the Corona boys and DMG, much of this was done to make building a privateer- or factory-support version more affordable, giving non-factory teams like Corona Honda and Jordan Suzuki more of a fighting chance. And it seems as if this has worked – to an extent…
are just some of subtle touches that set the 2009 Corona Extra CBR1000RR American Superbike apart from other Honda sportbikes.
That said, taking a close look at the Corona Honda CBR1000RR reveals a far more complex and well-engineered machine than the rules or bodywork would suggest. This is a no doubt a Superbike built at American Honda’s in-house shop in Torrance, California, and then sent to the Corona shop for some decals. Actually, for a lot of decals…
Wheel-speed sensors and linear potentiometers give away the data and traction control systems, the use of which we’ll touch on later. A monstrous MD radiator sits behind the fairing, giving clues to the horsepower packed inside the 999cc powerplant. Internally the engine features a host of HRC kit parts, as well as some developed in-house at American Honda (see sidebar on next page for full parts list).
(top) Brembo 4-piston monobloc brakes reign-in the horsepower-packing CBR1000RR. (bottom) The FMF Racing exhaust puts out a seriously brutish bark.
As per the rules, though, a fair amount of the engine must now remain closer to stock. Spec-fuel from Sonoco, a series sponsor, is required as well. But despite it reducing power compared to the previous gas Honda and other teams used, the Sonoco liquid itself has proved to be very volatile. Most teams, including Corona, run an electrical grounding system to their fuel cans as it’s prone to catch fire from static electricity. Several teams have actually set things ablaze this year. Scary…
FMF is a team sponsor and has worked very closely with these guys developing a full racing exhaust for the Honda CBR1000RR. Renowned for their existence in the MX world, FMF is fairly new to the street side of things, but according to the Corona team, have done a great job developing and producing the complex full exhaust for the CBR right in-house.
Although wheels must now be 17-inch front and rear, the use of lighter aftermarket wheels is still allowed. Wrapped in Dunlop slicks, the consensus in the pits is that the new spec tires are about a second slower than last year’s 16.5s. No surprise there, as Dunlop no longer has any competition, while the 17-inch size hurts performance as well. But looking at the times, and taking into consideration the second lost due to the tires, it would appear as if the new Superbikes are no slower than the previous version. In some cases, such as the Honda with Hodgson aboard it, they have actually been faster.
Stock fork externals must now be used, but internals are swapped out for all-new K-Tech pieces which feature larger pistons and much different valving. Hinson’s adjustable triple clamps allow changes in rake/trail and offset depending on the track; yet their base setup is quite close to stock, with a 27.5mm offset. Out back sits the latest Ohlins TTX shock, attached to a host of data equipment. Rules state the swingarm must start as original equipment but additional modification such as bracing can be added. They currently run a stock unit, but an updated version is in the pipeline for Hodgson to test now that he’s healed.
Getting things hauled back down with haste are a serious set of brakes. The latest monobloc Brembos grace the front. These beautifully machined calipers grab full-floating 320mm Brembo rotors. On the rear a HRC kit caliper, though much smaller than stock, is paired with a 190mm HRC rotor for weight savings – Hodgson doesn’t use a lot of rear brake. Sensors both front and rear relay braking pressure as well as braking points to the data unit to let the team see if Neil’s being a sissy or not, though they say he’s pretty late on the binders.
Other basic racing modifications – bodywork, rear-sets, clip-ons, etc – round out the changes to the Superbike, all of which are listed in the sidebar on the next page. One interesting and neat trick is they actually use the stock tach and digital speedo, though the rewired speedo connects to a lap timer and displays to the rider their previous lap time where the speed would normally be. We found this to be a great summary of the way the American Honda and Corona Racing crew do things: Simple, but well-engineered and clever.
Lunch is Over Ladies, it’s Time to Ride
These are the words from American Honda Road Racing Manager Ron Heben to me and their substitute rider, Jake Holden, after lunch, letting us know it’s time to suit up and hit the track. Good thing Heben is a friend, or I might think he’s serious.
‘Oh wait, he is…’
Now I have to admit, I may have slightly misjudged my personal physical conditioning before the Superbike test. Sitting behind a desk and typing, as it turns out, isn’t the best for cardio conditioning. Who knew, right? Riding a soft and squishy 150 hp street bike at a quick pace or racing the occasional 600 event, even the Daytona 200, is one thing. Riding a 200 hp Superbike around Infineon fast enough to not look like a total wanker during an AMA test… well, that I
wasn’t quite ready for. At least not for more than about three laps at a time. But enough about me, let’s talk about the test ride.
‘Man, there sure is something extremely ominous and a tad intimidating about sitting under a canopy with a team full of guys who are used to having Hodgson or Miguel Duhamel ride their machines. How did I get here? …’
But before I could think much of it, Eric Haeselich fired-up the American Honda-built Superbike and looked at me, saying, “Anytime you’re ready.” Haeselich is the Corona suspension/R&D man and would be my main guy for the day. My guess is he must have drawn the short straw that morning at breakfast…
The FMF exhaust barks to life like an angry beast – hissing, spitting and backfiring. It’s raspy and loud, but in an inspiring way. My heart starts pumping fast and it’s simply at idle. I can tell what lies beneath that audacious bodywork is something menacing, mean. I click it into gear, cruise out of the pits and look over my shoulder to make sure I’m not going to mess up Tommy Hayden or Josh Hayes in the middle of a flying lap. Had it been Mat Mladin, I may have accidently floated into the racing line, but it’s clear and I’m off.
‘They’re not kidding when they say this is still a Superbike. Holy sh…’
Twist the right grip, clicking through gears with a tap of my left foot, the CBR accelerates with an extreme sense of urgency. Not wildly, though, or uncontrollable – just lightning fast and razor sharp. Full-throttle up-shifts are effortless as the ignition cut-out is perfectly timed. While not at liberty to divulge an exact number, our seat-of-the-pants dyno would put it in the neighborhood of 200 bhp at the rear Dunlop slick, maybe slightly under. The engine internals may be closer to stock than years prior but it hasn’t slowed them down nearly as much as we expected. In fact, at this test they were experimenting with different fuel injection stacks to reduce top-end power in an attempt to make it more rideable.
Acceleration, on a track as tight as Infineon, literally feels endless. With that much useable power the Superbike is rarely ever straight up and down around the technical and twisting 2.52-mile Infineon track. Though barely getting out of third gear, the Superbike melts straights, shrinking them to what feels like mere blips, long transitions at best.
It’s for this very reason the HRC kit traction control system quickly becomes one’s friend. The track was a bit slick and once the rear tire started to wear I was glad to have the added assistance of TC. But if you think TC is an end-all, slam-the-throttle-wide-open, any-idiot-with-balls-can-do-it type of technology, you’d be sorely mistaken the first time you tried to twist the Superbike’s right grip hastily to the stop at lean. In fact, you’d probably be very sore, very quick.
“Think of traction control as a motocross berm,” explains Hodgson’s data engineer Sander Donkers. “It will stop you to an extent, but go too fast, too quickly, and you’ll blow right over the berm. With how aggressive we have it set-up, the berm is fairly small. It’s really only there as an aid. You can make the berm bigger, but Neil tends to run it pretty small as too much and it will actually cut some of the machine’s power down the straights.”
The nice thing about the system is that when it works, it does so extremely well, something I know the team has worked very hard to perfect the last two seasons. As long as I was smooth on the throttle it would allow the rear end to pivot roughly 10 degrees or so, before running up on the aforementioned virtual-berm and holding the rear tire there – spinning and slightly sideways, but still always driving me forward. This allowed me to steer the motorcycle using the throttle with a bit more aggression than I would have without the safety net.
‘This is awesome! Stand the bike up, twist the throttle, and slide all the way down the hill coming out of Turn 2. Now, if I could only get Honda’s press department to fit one of these on our CBR1000RR…’
Keeping the Honda’s front wheel on the ground around the tight and technical Infineon Raceway took a good deal of effort.
Would it have been cool to try the Corona Superbike somewhere faster, say a Miller Motorsports Park type of facility, where we could have really explored its loads of power? Sure. But on the other hand, the tight and technical Infineon showed just how much potential the CBR chassis really has. For a bike using a stock frame and swingarm and making this kind of horsepower, to be that agile, sharp and light on its feet is impressive.
My previous experience with high-horsepower 1000s typically involved point, shoot and pull the trigger as the quickest approach. And while the CBR1000RR Superbike isn’t as agile as a well-race-prepped 600, it’s much closer than I had expected.
‘She sure turns quickly for a literbike, but it’s about as hard as a rigid-framed chopper…’
Said light-footedness, compliance and confidence at full-lean took a bit of tweaking from where it was when it rolled out of the truck. You could say it was a tad stiff for my smaller frame. Corona Honda’s CBR1000RR Superbike started the day set up for Holden and his added heft and slightly unorthodox riding preferences, most of which simply didn’t match mine, so a few changes were in order.
A couple different shocks, a host of fork adjustments and several engine maps later, things started to really work well for me. Most of the suspension changes were aimed at softening the bike up; I’m nearly 40 pounds less than Holden and accustomed to spongy street bikes.
Changing between pre-set engine mapping and traction control settings is as easy as a flip of a switch on this Honda sportbike.
As for the engine mapping changes, they focused on adjusting the amount of engine braking. Holden likes a good deal of back torque, more than a stock CBR1000RR actually, while Hodgson prefers the bike to freewheel into the corner. I had some issues with the back of the bike coming around and backing-in under braking, a good deal of which was easily remedied by switching to Hodgson’s fuel mapping settings.
‘Compliant, nimble, quick, supple; amazing how much better things work when the suspension actually moves! In fact, it’s downright impressive how well this thing works: Period. Now I just need to drop about three more seconds and get myself a gym membership…’
As for said lap times, we started the day somewhere near the 1:46s or higher, which wasn’t terrible for how far off the bike’s initial set-up was for me, but I wasn’t exactly getting factory offers at that pace. Once we got on the right track with the suspension and I took my skirt off I was easily into the lower 1:42 range by the afternoon, and was quickly shedding off time when a mechanical issue ended my day a bit early. Even so, compared to where we started I was happy. I think with some more time to dial in the set-up and Heben giving me the OK to not worry about crashing it, I could get close to the 1:39s. By comparison Holden was in the 1:37-1:38-range with Ben Bostrom the fastest of the test at a mid-1:36.
For a lot of us who love road racing, being a Superbike or MotoGP racer is a dream. There’s a reason Honda makes a Repsol-replica CBR1000RR or Ducati has a Troy Bayliss-edition 1098R. Ducati even made a 999R Fila-replica of Hodgson’s own 2003 World Superbike Championship-winning machine that they sold in ’04 (we doubt they sold many of those though…). Point is, people buy the bikes and people love the idea of being a Superbike star!
Although we doubt Honda will make a replica of the flamboyant Corona Honda CBR1000RR, underneath that insanely-busy bodywork is one of the quickest and best race bikes I’ve ever ridden, not to mention being supported by the best team I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. And while my day of Superbike life may have been hard work, I loved every last second of it. What’s not to love about flying around Infineon on a well-tuned Superbike, tearing up hundreds of dollars worth of brand-new Dunlop rubber with the likes of Ben Bostrom and Tommy Hayden while trying not to destroy my buddy Neil Hodgson’s factory-built racebike?
Now, if I can only convince them to let me race it…