The machine that helped Mat Mladin win an unprecedented seventh AMA Superbike Championship: The 2009 Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 Superbike.
Sixty-two pole positions, 82 race wins, and seven AMA Superbike championships. This is the legacy of the most dominant motorcycle road racer America has ever known – Mat Mladin. Records like this don’t materialize without absolute harmony between man, machine and team. And it’s this alliance that allowed Mladin and his Yoshimura team to claim all but four of the his aforementioned race victories aboard Suzuki GSX-R Superbikes.
Upon the conclusion of the 2009 AMA American Superbike Series, which saw the 37-year-old Australian capture an unprecedented seventh title, the Yosh squad offered us the rare opportunity to get exactly 10 laps aboard the No. 1 Suzuki GSX-R1000 at California Speedway. The test would consist of five laps on both the primary and back-up bikes, which were set-up almost identically to the way Mladin had them dialed during his final race outing at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The only variation being the fitment of a more modest-rate fork spring, due to Mladin running an insanely stiff setup to compensate for the enormous loads generated by The Champ during hard braking.
With lighter 10-spoke wheels, larger, more powerful brakes, an abundance of Yoshimura Race Shop (YRS) kit parts, plus enough onboard electronics to guide a missile, Yoshimura’s American Superbikes are plenty trick. Sure, they don’t offer as much performance as the less-restricted AMA Superbikes of yesteryear, but this Yosh GSX-R1000 is still one hardcore road racing machine.
Jumping into the skinny foam seat, Mladin’s bike feels tailor-made for me (one of the benefits of sharing similar body measurements as both of us stand around six-feet tall). The seat is long and offers just enough room to slide my body beneath the windscreen and out of dirty air. Grab the handlebars and you’re angled closer to the machine than a production GSX-R. The positions of the control levers can be described as customary and aren’t unusually high or low, while the Yosh-manufactured foot controls shove my lanky legs right into the aluminum fuel tank with perfection.
In addition to the ignition button, the right handlebar has two buttons which activate the launch control system and the pit-lane speed limiter. The left handlebar houses an up/down toggle switch to navigate through various functions (including data logging) on the MoTeC LCD dash, as well as adjusting the wheel spin setting. It’s flanked above by a red switch which allows the rider to jump between engine maps on the fly. Below is the engine start button.
Although, Mladin’s Superbike is plenty fast, having never piloted a Superbike before we thought it would be even faster. Apparently they were—to the tune of almost 20-30 horsepower quicker before the Daytona Motorsports Group rule change.
A remote adjustment above the button cluster knob allows the rider to move the position of the front brake lever fore or aft to combat brake fade during long races. We had to bring it back a few millimeters closer to the handlebar in order to fit my medium-sized hand. Thumb the starter button and the engine fires up and settles into an elevated idle. Notch the gear shift lever down into first gear (Mladin runs a conventional one down, five up street bike shift pattern due to limited ankle mobility from his infamous ultra-light aircraft accident) and let thy shredding commence.
Pin the throttle and the tweaked 999cc engine picks up revs way faster than stock, which is surprising considering that the series’ rules mandate that everything below the cylinder head gasket remain nearly bone stock. Impeccable fuel-injection and throttle response contribute to a smooth, deceptively effective power delivery. Bottom-end muscle quickly and seamlessly morphs into a modest mid-range hit. Worry not fellow adrenaline junkies! As the engine closes in on redline it shrills to life, emitting an epilepsy-inducing shriek while flinging you forward with voracity akin to Ducati’s Desmosedici D16RR MotoGP-derived street bike; it’s here where you really need to hold on. Let the workout begin.
The 0.5-degree difference in steering rake between Mladin’s A-and-B bikes was highly noticeable. The B-bike turned into the corner much more quickly. So much in fact that it took a few laps just to get acclimated with its quick steering members.
Pavement and time start to blur as you race through the massaged six-speed gearbox. There’s no need to back off the throttle between gear shifts as the engine management system cuts ignition for a fraction of a second allowing it to slide effortlessly into the next cog.
Due to the more modest state of tune, keeping the engine zinging near max revs is crucial. Mladin’s bike employs a sophisticated and ultra-high-dollar Magneti Marelli wheel spin control system to assist the rider in maximizing drive during acceleration. Unfortunately, due to the limited seat time (and courage), we weren’t able to explore the system’s functionality while on the side of the tire. But we can tell you that it has sufficient logic built-in to permit the rider the ability to spin up the rear Dunlop slick with no pause in acceleration as you pick up the bike off the corner and transition from lean to straight up and down.
A production Showa fork with Ohlins internals is clamped by Yoshimura triple clamps that allow for offset adjustment.
An Ohlins steering damper works in conjunction with plastic bumpers mounted on the headstock to limit headshake. Mladin doesn’t run a whole lot of damping, thus the front end dances around during flat-out acceleration. Overall, the chassis is considerably tauter than its street counterpart and responds best when handled with an elevated level of authority. And when I say authority I mean throwing it as hard as you can into the corner and then picking up the throttle as early and hard as your brain will tolerate. This has always been Mat’s trademark style and it shows.
Suspension-wise, the Yosh SBK uses an Ohlins TTX-series gas-charged shock absorber out back working thorough a YRS linkage. At the front, a production Showa Big-Piston Fork with Ohlins internals attaches to the frame via YRS triple clamps that allows for steering head angle adjustment. The B-bike featured reduced fork offset, which aided in the steering while only minimally compromising overall stability. It was definitely our pick of the two machines.
Surprisingly, suspension balance front-to-rear seemed a bit off, the bike transferring weight to the front much faster than anticipated during braking. Conversely, the rear end felt spot-on, with it responding better during rapid maneuvering and strong throttle input. While the bike does change directions quicker than its headlight-equipped brethren, it still requires some serious muscle to get it pointed in the right direction. Hence, it’s not much of a surprise that it steers best with the front brakes trailed on – and hard.
Despite the more production based rules, Mladin’s Superbike makes use of a number of key mods that help it perform better on track. Note the larger radiators, swingarm pivot inserts, and new for 2009 streamlined bodywork.
Fortunately, serious trail braking is what the Brembo braking components are designed to do. Not only does the set-up offer plenty of wheel stopping force, they do so with an immense level of feel, making them easy to modulate. Equally impressive is how adept Dunlop’s spec front race slick is at gripping the asphalt, especially when loaded. The same could be said for the rear rubber, which like the front, had a rigid-feel to it reacting favorably with a firm twist of the right grip.
Simply put, Mladin’s Superbike doesn’t perform right if you’re lollygagging around the racetrack. It requires you to exert every ounce of muscle from corner entry to exit and everywhere in between in order to get the chassis to perform properly. After only 5-laps, I felt like I was about to pass out. Seriously.
Despite the AMA/DMG rules package taking an edge off the Superbikes this past year, make no mistake about it—the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 still serves up race-winning levels of performance. It demands immense focus to keep the engine zinging on the pipe during acceleration and pin-point mental accuracy when it’s time to throw anchor. Not to mention the heavy degree of body English needed to get it turned and the even higher levels needed to keep one from being tossed off at speed on corner exit. It’s a wild and tempestuous ride, injected with much of the same demeanor as the man who piloted it to unprecedented heights in American road racing. There will only be one Mat Mladin. Likewise, one bike will forever be mentioned alongside the champion’s name, the Yoshimura GSX-R1000 AMA Superbike.