In the last episode of our long-term Yamaha YZF-R6 project bike we competed in the now defunct Willow Springs Motorcycle Club (shutdown in February after 21 years of competition due to lack of participation). An unknown problem with the front suspension made the bike dangerous to ride at race pace. So we returned it to Race Tech’s Southern California shop to see if they could provide some insight.
If you recall from the 2010 Yamaha YZF-R6 Modified Comparison Part II feature, Race Tech fitted its recently developed G2-R 25mm cartridge kit inside the Soqi fork and swapped out the OEM shock for its G3-S Custom Series piece. So they began by removing the fork to verify it was in spec. During disassembly it was discovered that the right fork tube was bent attributing to the awkward handling during the previous race test (see the 2010 Yamaha YZF-R6 Graves Project Bike 2 feature). It’s unclear how the chrome slider was tweaked as the motorcycle was never crashed.
With the repairs made we decided to have another go at racing this time with the newly formed CVMA road race series. The club runs exclusively at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway’s 2.68-mile, 17-turn road course (an hour east of Palm Springs, California) and offers a friendlier more accommodating program designed by racers for racers.
There is an optional open practice day the Friday before every race (see Trackdaz sidebar). So we used the afternoon to get re-acclimated to the R6 having not ridden it for quite sometime. As soon as we hit the track it was apparent that the handling was restored. As usual, it turned on a dime and was exceptionally maneuverable from side-to-side. It no longer ran wide and steered with laser-like precision and predicability. Final drive gearing (15/45) was spot-on too, which came as a unexpected surprise since it was originally geared for the big track at Willow.
(Top) The Graves Motorsports-tuned engine allowed me to keep pace with smaller, lighter riders. It’s even faster with VP’s U4.4 race fuel. (Center) With the help of Graves Motorsports our long-term R6 became a turn key race bike. Just add fuel and tires and you’re ready to race. (Below) Chuckwalla’s 17-turn road course can be run in clockwise and counter-clockwise configuration. The surface offers a high-level of grip and doesn’t wear tires too quickly.
Even on a relatively smooth circuit, given the stiffer track-oriented suspension spring rates, head shake is an issue during acceleration at certain points. This made the bike more challenging to ride requiring the rider to use considerable muscle to keep the handlebars from oscillating under full throttle acceleration. It just so happened that GPR Stabilizer’s front man, Loren Black, races and provides trackside support for GPR customers. Based on our excellent experience with its damper in the 2008 Yamaha YZF-R1 Project Bike Part 2 article we didn’t hesitate to fork over cash for its latest GPR V4 Road Stabilizer.
The greatest feature of the stabilizer is how simple it is to install and use. The anodized unit bolts to the upper triple clamp (with an included, vehicle-specific bracket) and can be fitted in less than five minutes. Damping can be increased or decreased by turning the adjustment knob (see GPR sidebar for more details). We preferred running it on setting six (of 20) as it quelled head shake without increasing steering effort. Another plus is how tiny it is, making it less susceptible to damage in a crash. It’s also modular meaning you can use it on another motorcycle (may require a different mounting bracket).
One of the many elements that separate CVMA from other motorcycle race clubs is its timed qualifying. The hour-long session is split into groups (by class) and the each rider’s fastest time is recorded thereby setting the grid for each race. It occurs only on Saturday following morning practice. Not only is this more logical than the conventional grid by order of registration, it makes things more exciting and adds an element of strategy; as we all know how important it is to start from up front.
Having wanted to go the budget route and save my fresh tires for the races, I elected to run the same rubber I ran Friday. But I’m not going to say that the well-worn rubber was the reason I didn’t give er’ maximum hell during qualifying. There’s a humongous difference between test riding and racing. And since I rarely compete, it takes some time for my brain to switch between ‘test’ and ‘race’ modes. I ended up recording a best lap time of 1’57.9 (counter-clockwise configuration) which put me toward the back of the grid. I wasn’t too pumped on the time but considering I was riding in full-caution yellow light mode I figured I could bump it up come race time.
I signed-up for two races on Saturday and one on Sunday. (First class is $100 [includes practice] and each additional class is $50. Additionally, there is a $30 transponder/timing device fee). Immediately following qualifying I handed off my wheels to the friendly folks at CT Racing and it mounted a fresh set of Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa race tires (120/70-17 front, 180/55-17 rear, SC1 compound). After re-installing the wheels I wrapped each with a Chicken Hawk Pole Position Tire Warmer.
(Left) Chicken Hawk Racing’s Pole Position tire warmers offer three different heat settings and allow the tires to reach optimum temperature/grip before heading out on track. (Center) Zero Gravity’s Double Bubble Windscreen dramatically decreases wind buffeting for taller riders. (Right) CT Racing is Pirelli’s tire vendor and provides tire service at all major race events on the west coast.
The best thing about Chicken Hawk brand is that they’re simple to put on and heat the tires uniformly. They’re also assembled in America and are more reliable than other brands we’ve tried. Compared to the standard model, the Pole Position warmers offer three heat settings (Low [130°F], Medium [155°F] and High [175°F]) allowing for properly pre-heating for all types of race rubber.
Graves Motorsports can build you a personalized race bike based on the race series you compete in.
Waheed was too preoccupied with adjusting his clutch at the start allowing the field to zoom ahead.
Even with stiffer suspension settings, you’ll be hard pressed to ride a more maneuverable sportbike than Yamaha’s R6.
The Sharkskinz one-piece tail and Graves Motorsports seat foam increase shock and rear tire feel tremendously over the stock set-up.
GPR’s rotary-style steering damper completely eliminated head shake without compromising steering effort.
There’s nothing like a race to get your stomach fluttering and blood pumping. And as I arrived at my fourth row grid position after the warm-up lap I was so preoccupied with getting the clutch play just right I wasn’t quite ready when the green flag dropped allowing the entire field to get a jump on me, d’oh.
The start straight at Chuckwalla is short and you only grab one upshift before funneling into the lefthand Turn 1/2 (track was run in the counter-clockwise configuration for this event). Since each race is only six laps things are pretty intense at the start with everyone battling for position as the sooner you get to front the better.
Generally the pavement at Chuckwalla offers a lot of grip and since the Pirelli tires heat up so quickly you can push at 100% immediately. Right away I was lapping a faster pace than I would be by myself. Everything felt good though and I was comfortable with what was happening. I really appreciated how much feel the chassis delivered – not to mention the direct shock/tire feel courtesy of the Sharkskinz race tail section paired with Graves-proprietary seat foam.
Overall the bike still handled well but the shock felt like it was held down in the stroke and packing through the fourth-gear lefthand bowl turn. This made the motorcycle feel like it was oscillating from side-to-side as you exited on the gas with your knee on pavement.
Size-wise I’m one of the larger guys in my class, but the Graves-tuned engine has such a wide and robust spectrum of power that it made it easy to keep pace with other jockey sized pilots. Mid-range is considerably punchier than stock, and with VP U4.4 race fuel in the tank top-end is wildly strong for a 600cc engine. Even better is over-rev which allows you to ping the engine off the rev-limiter as you hold a gear through certain sections of the track (Turns 5 and 7). Another plus is the increased aero effect courtesy of the Zero Gravity Double Bubble Windscreen. It also made things more comfortable as you’re not blasted with wind and debris kicked up from the guy ahead. After finishing sixth out of 12 riders in my first race I rode my motorcycle over to Randy Acevedo of InHouse Suspension to try and sort out that shock problem I was experiencing.
For only $40 InHouse will help you get a baseline suspension set-up for your motorcycle. He can also help diagnose specific problems you’re having with the motorcycle. Turns out the rebound circuit on the shock was stuck at closed. And with a little elbow grease he was able to free it and put it back into its proper operating range.
With my nerves subsiding I got a much better start in Race 2/3. As we entered the bowl turn the rear end packing issue was eliminated and the bike was much more complaint. The pace in these races was even faster than before, with my group lapping in the 1’52-53 range. The increased speed exposed a new handling issue in Turns 11/12 with the bike transferring weight aggressively onto the front end if I didn’t stay hard on the gas, mid-corner. The front tire took the abuse and you could literally feel it digging into the pavement even though the chassis was fighting a bit. To compensate I just tried to be smoother at the controls and keep the throttle cracked on a little harder. Not a big deal as the back tire has so much grip that it is impossible to get it to spin even with 120 horsepower. In my two final races I recorded fifth place finishes out of grid of 12 and set a new personal best lap time of 1’52.9 in each race.
In the end the R6 was a true turn-key race bike. Simply add a fresh set of Pirelli Supercorsa race rubber, top off the tank with VP U4.4 race gas, toss on some Chickenhawk tire warmers and you’re ready to bang bars with the best of ‘em. The harder we rode it the better it performed and considering the range of adjustment it can be tailored for most any rider or racetrack.