If you’ve analyzed our recent 2011 Supersport Shootout IX Street and/or 2011 Supersport Shootout IX Track motorcycle comparisons you’d have learned that Yamaha’s YZF-R6 is one of the more racetrack-oriented sportbikes on the market. Therefore if you want to have a go at road racing, it makes sense to do it at the controls of an R6. In this episode of our project bike saga we race with Willow Springs Motorcycle Club (WSMC) to see if all of the performance upgrades we purchased in the 2010 Yamaha YZF-R6 Modified Comparison, 2010 Yamaha YZF-R6 Modified Comparison Part II and 2010 Yamaha YZF-R6 Graves Project Bike 1 features were really worth it.
WSMC holds races exclusively at Southern California’s Willow Springs International Raceway on either the 2.5-mile Big Track or 1.3-mile Streets road courses. Races are held monthly (with the exception of December) so there’s always an opportunity to compete, and if you’ve never raced, WSMC offers a new racers’ school (see sidebar). Considering SoCal’s relatively temperate climate as compared to other parts of the U.S. one would assume that weather conditions would be consistent year round. However since Willow is situated in the high desert, that can’t be further from the truth. Surprisingly, there is only a few weeks of comfortable days during spring and fall seasons—in-between the inferno-like 100-plus degree summers and, at times, freezing cold and wet winters. Considering the season finale is held in late-November, we experienced the latter.
At the time, TrackDayz hosted an open trackday the Friday before a race weekend, but due to typing constraints I wasn’t able to make it out. That meant I’d have to try and get everything dialed-in on Saturday. Based on my experience during the 2010 Modified Supersport Shootout Stage 2 test at the Big Track I wasn’t thrilled with the way the R6 was set-up. What bothered me most was the herky-jerky throttle response, position of the controls, and the twitchiness of the chassis, which made it difficult for me to ride. So I was just a little nervous when I pulled up to the track Saturday morning and it was… raining!
But having grown up riding bikes on water-soaked roads in the Midwest I’ve never been afraid of riding in the wet… In fact, I actually like it. Plus it would give me the chance to get to try Pirelli’s updated rain race tires. So I handed off my wheels to CT Racing for some fresh and heavily treaded Pirelli rubber.
In regards to the setup problems, after consulting with Graves, they recommended I install a WORKS Progressive Throttle Tube ($85) and re-map the fuel injection system with one of their pre-built maps. Voila, the abrupt on/off throttle response issue was eliminated. Even easier than these tweaks was the adjustment of the controls requiring nothing more than an Allen wrench to increase the sweep of the clip-ons and re-position the footpegs down and back to accommodate my six-foot-tall body. Handling-wise there wasn’t much I could do until I got a few laps on track.
Just as I had finished mounting the wheels, the rain stopped and the skies were beginning to clear. This meant I had to strip the wheels off and get a set of Diablo Supercorsas (purchase the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa DOT Race Front Tire and Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa DOT Race Rear Tire at Motorcycle-Superstore) re-mounted as there’s no point in burning up an expensive set of soft rain tires on a drying track. It was already past noon by the time I had the dry tires mounted and on the warmers while still waiting for the track to dry off a bit more.
(Left) Waheed uses Chicken Hawk Racing tire warmers to ensure that the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa race tires will be up to temperature right away. (Right) Removing a few turns of preload off the fork springs put more weight on the front end and reduced headshake.
From the second I hit the track I could tell that something wasn’t right with the chassis. Not only was the bike still twitchy, headshaking on the power all the way up the short uphill chute between Turns 3 and 4, it also had a tendency to run wide mid-corner. It felt strange because it still steered easily and didn’t feel like it was riding “high in the front.” Back in the pits I noticed that I was using about two-thirds of fork travel so I took a little preload out in order to put more weight on the front end. The change didn’t seem to make much of a difference even though I was now using a bit more fork travel. So I reduced preload even further which resulted in a marginal improvement. By now it was already 4 p.m. meaning that I would have a quick practice in the morning to try and get everything sorted before my races – oh boy.
I made small ride height change to the fork before my first and only practice session which helped the bike steer a little faster and reduced its propensity to wiggle the handlebars, but it still ran wide mid-corner, most noticeably through Willow’s sixth gear-pinned Turn 8. But with time running out I had no other choice but cross my fingers and hope for the best.
(Above) Waheed prepares for the start of his WSMC race at Willow Springs. (Center) Our R6 project bike had a tendency to run wide mid-corner making it difficult to ride at the track. (Below) When fresh the grip served up by Pirelli’s latest Diablo Supercorsa race tires is downright phenomenal.
After mounting a fresh set of Supercorsas and topping off the fuel tank with VP Racing Fuel’s excellent U4.4 race gas I was ready for my three races of the day: 650 Superbike, 600 Modified Production and 600 Super Stock.
When the green flag dropped in my first race I got an okay launch, but I was a little tentative going into Turn 1 and was overtaken by another guy. I knew that the slightly softer carcass of the Pirelli’s would help mask the handling woes so I started pushing right away. The bike felt pretty good through Turn 2, a long, sweeping right-hander, and it was quite easy to know what was happening at the business end of the tires – which can be attributed in part to the race-style tail section which allows for a high level of road feel.
The first lap of a sprint race is key so I pinned the throttle off Turn 2 and the rear Pirelli obliged hooking up all 119-plus horses without a hint of wheelspin. During braking for Turn 3 the bike felt stable and was easy to maneuver into the corner. As I accelerated up the hill the bike still wiggled a bit, but it wasn’t quite as bad as before. The bike felt planted through Turn 4 though it required more muscle and body language to keep it from running wide on the downhill exit. Again steering was okay as I maneuvered through Turns 5/6/7, but as I entered Turns 8 and 9 it still wanted to run wide. However, considering the insane levels of tire grip, I physically forced the bike on its side.
While the rear tire worked great for the duration of the six lap sprint race, each time around it seemed to be harder to trust the front tire through the fast stuff. I eventually lost touch with the leaders, finishing fifth out of six dudes with a best lap time of 1’28. After the race I immediately took a look at my tires and while the rear was in perfect shape the front was totally shredded on the right side which proves that something was off in terms of the chassis.
Having not wanted to simply throw another tire (and a few hundred dollars) at the problem just to finish second to last, I decided it was best to call it a day and bring the bike to Race Tech to see if they could give me some insight into the problem, which we’ll address in Part 3…