Compared to the Suzuki the KTM LC8 950 was much taller and wider. The bike also proved the most powerful of the bunch, giving way to the nickname of the ‘Austrian Assassin.’
Joining Cose on the Waters Auto Body Racing squad is rider Jeremy Higgins, though the team has diversified equipment and are running a framer with KTM’s LC8R engine – the 950cc Twin traditionally found in the Austrian’s adventure machines. Waters Racing have run this set-up the past two seasons and are the sole team in the GNC paddock to do so, thus development has once again fully fallen in their laps.
Just sitting on the KTM one can feel its size, with a tall seat height, wide tank and bars – one of the physically biggest bikes of the bunch. Turn it over, drop it in gear and twist the right grip. But be careful. This ain’t no SV, son. It’s big in size and even bigger in power. After riding all six of the manufacturer machines on the grid that day, I can now attest that there’s no question whatsoever who the horsepower king is – that strange liquid-cooled Austrian thing.
Getting the KTM’s throttle to the stop required loads of courage as well as a healthy dose of blind faith. The line between hooked up and power-wheelieing forward, as opposed to sideways and spit out of the seat was like walking a tightrope between two 20-story buildings with no safety net. I was either going to be massively impressive and utterly heroic or a complete disaster. There’s no middle ground with the KTM, and for Higgins to ride it into multiple GNC mains this year is as much an act of amazement as it is respect. The kid either has more talent in his pinky finger than half of the grid or he needs a mental health check. After meeting him and talking about the bike he rode, I’m hedging my bets on the former, though to be a good racer usually requires a slight combination of both, so you never know…
Part of this aforementioned respect and amazement is also the result of the chassis’ setup. As team owner Dave Waters put it pre-ride: “We’re still working on the set-up, so it might big a bit unstable unless you are really on it, but we tried something new for today so it might be better.” Exactly what a Twins newbie wants to hear as they are throwing a leg over.
Much like its LC8 engine’s massive power delivery, the way it is translated through the custom-fabricated frame is an act in courage all on its own. Image your personal bike, be it a GSX-R, Goldwing or CRF450R. Now contemplate it only working when pitched sideways at least 10 to 15 degrees. In a straight line it bucks, shakes and wants to pull the bars from your arms, both on and off the throttle. But get on it hard enough and with enough gumption, step it out 15 degrees in a powerslide and suddenly things start working. Now do the same backing it into the fast approaching corner at over 100 mph in a dirt oval that’s normally a horseracing stadium, walls mere feet away on either side, and this is how the KTM works. Slow and safe? No. Ragged edge, hard on the gas and kicked sideways? Yes. Say hello to what I quickly nicknamed the Austrian Assassin, my personal Flat Track birth by fire. And I loved every minute of it – once I was done and safely off the bike, that is.