"No stock motorcycle is ever going be this much fun on a racetrack," - Neale Bayly.
The dust has settled on this year's AMA Superbike series. Mat Mladin collected his fifth title at VIR in early October, while Miguel Duhamel took himself to a tie at the top of the all-time Superbike win list with Mat. And Jake Zemke ended his season well-placed to make a big show next year. Since the season opener at Daytona back in March we have enjoyed some of the finest motorcycle racing in the world. And, while it has been a fantastic season from a spectator point of view, we can't help wondering what it's like to ride one of these bikes.
Now, MCUSA has some pull, but unfortunately not quite enough to wriggle my happy arse onto a factory Superbike. However, I recently had a chance to ride one of the fastest privateer machines in the AMA. After riding CR Gittere's number 81 Geico
at VIR, I could put the results of my findings in two words: "holy $#!%."
But the boss needs a few more words than that, so let me introduce you to CR first before you hear how the slowest hack at MCUSA shaped up on a fire-breathing 183 rear-wheel-horsepower Superbike.
Thirty year-old CR Gittere hails from Charlotte, North Carolina, and is newly married to his long-term fiance Jennifer. A sales rep for Auto Data Publications, CR started racing a Honda CBR600 in 2000 before moving onto a Suzuki GSX-R750 for the '01 South East regional championship. By 2003 he had earned himself a 3rd place in Super Stock, 2nd place in Formula One and another 2nd place in 750 Superbike.
For '04, CR decided to go Superbike racing and started the season with a bang, taking 12th place in the Daytona 200. He has not attended all the Superbike rounds this year, preferring to hone his skills on the east coast before beginning a full assault in 2005. As rider, tuner, and driver, CR's has been busier than a Baghdad bricklayer this year, but his situation is not unique in the world of privateer racers.
What is unique is his outside sponsorship deal with Geico motorcycle insurance. As die-hard race fans will know, it is not often racers gain support from outside the motorcycle industry, and his relationship with Geico is a very positive move and one that can only benefit the sport.
Wondering if my Geico policy would help out if things went pear-shaped, I sped off a few weeks back to meet with CR to join a Sportbiketracktime.com
event at VIR. CR had filled me in on the bike, which uses a Lee's Performance
-built engine. According to the dyno it makes a solid, reliable 180 rear-wheel horsepower, which was enough to propel CR through the Road America speed trap at 178 mph in fifth gear, a speed that saw him the third fastest bike at the race, bested only by Miguel Duhamel and Jake Zemke on the factory Hondas.
This is the 183HP Suzuki GSX-R1000 built by Lee's Performance.
Engine builder Lee Shierts told me the motor is basically a stock balanced and blueprinted engine that uses Carrillo rods and trick camshafts, with some magic worked on the pistons and the head. While the engine was apart, the counterbalance weights were removed from the crankshaft and a slipper clutch installed. A Dynojet Power Commander and M4 exhaust system were thrown on before it was off to the dyno room for a custom map and some quality time with Lee.
Up front, the stock front forks have been heavily modified with Ohlins internals and are held in place by a fully adjustable Yoshimura triple clamp. The brakes have all been upgraded with Vesrah equipment, and the stock calipers now push SRJL race pads onto the Vesrah rotors. These are 10mm larger than the '04's stockers to gain as much extra stopping power as possible. Up at the lever, a Brembo master cylinder is responsible for sending fluid down to the pistons through braided steel lines; a remote adjuster attached above the clutch lever can be used in case of brake fade during race duties. With the front-end ready for battle, a Penske shock was tailor-made to suit CR's weight and riding style before being installed.
CR then had the stock swingarm extended by one inch, and Vortex sprockets carry the lighter 520 chain. While working on the rear end, CR Swiss cheesed the rear rotor for lightness, although he retained the stock brake pads. He also kept the stock rear sets and clip ons, and converted the gearshift to a GP-style shift pattern.
In race trim the bike weighs in around 380 pounds and wears 16.5-inch Marchesini wheels wrapped with Pirelli race slicks: an SC 2 on the rear and an SC1 on the front.
The day of my ride, VIR was shrouded in thick fog which thankfully worked to my advantage. As I nervously scratched around CR's pit area, noting the VP MRX 01 race fuel, tire warmers and on-board lap timer, I heard an announcement that the instructors would lead some slow sighting laps for the intermediate riders. Quickly donning my leathers, I hopped onto CR's back-up bike. "Why don't I take a few laps on the stocker to learn the track?" "Great idea," said CR, as I headed out onto VIR's Grand course for the first time to see if I could learn something.
A couple of sessions later, after learning the lines from CR, I am in my groove and coming to terms with the track. We get journalist privileges and take off first so we have an empty track to concentrate on the bike. The gearshift has been put back to road setup for me and I feel completely at home on the bike. If there are any areas of complaint, it is in the tight stuff where the bike most certainly requires some muscle turning in. Once over on its side, it is totally stable and CR tells me this setup is deliberate. He can adjust it to turn in quicker, but this sacrifices mid-corner stability and I can't fault his thinking.
CR started racing a Honda CBR600 in 2000 before moving onto a Suzuki GSX-R750 for the '01 South East regional championship.
The Vesrah brakes are extremely strong and will hoist the rear end if caution is not exercised. I certainly wasn't pushing too hard, more wanting to learn the track and get a feel for the bike. After parking it to get ready for the racebike, it certainly left me with a good impression. It all works so well, and this is what CR needs, because if he has a problem with the racebike, he needs a reliable back-up machine to ride or his race weekend would be over.
If my evaluation of the stock bike sounds a little bland, it is because what happened next just eclipsed anything I have ever experienced on a motorcycle. Walking me through the starting procedure, CR warned me not to let the engine idle. There are nearly two pounds of balancer shaft material missing from the crank so the bike doesn't like slow revs. The modified engine immediately revs up sharper and with a more guttural roar through the intake and exhaust system.
For an agonizing 30 seconds we sat waiting on the start line before I was waved onto the track. First out, I thought I better make it look like I knew what I was doing and gave the bike a solid handful of throttle. In the main vein faster than you can say hypodermic needle, the adrenaline rush came on harder than a wasted senior at prom night, the rev counter needle annihilating the number eight.
Ripping the front wheel off the floor, the engine didn't waste any time as it headed toward the rev limiter at 12,800 rpm. Slipping into second gave a repeat performance, the big Gixxer pulling like an animal in the upper revs as I lined up for Turn 1. With a light two-finger pull, I scrubbed off speed and tipped the bike on its side. Holy crap! It went over like a 600cc supersport.
The speed at which the bike devoured the distance was wicked and put me into the first of the turns so much faster than the stocker I had to have a word with myself. "The tires aren't up to full temperature, take it easy." I managed a little self-restraint heading toward the esses and short-shifted up through the box before making my way toward the long back straight. Turn 10 is a blind left-hander at the top end of the course, followed by a downhill plunge that even on partial throttle floated the front end all the way to the bottom. Taking a look behind, the track was empty as I exited the tight big tree turn and went looking for the power again down the back straight.
A couple of sessions later I was having fun here as the top end of second gear saw the front wheel coming up for another visit, staying in this position well into the trip through third. Squeezing myself as low as I could, I took fourth, then fifth, as the approaching blind rise got sucked through the windshield faster than Mladin coming up on a backmarker.
Gittere can't belive Bayly shredded the rear tire but what is really impressive is that he did it with zero air in the tire - Neale's the man!
Screaming toward the blind rise, I bumped the rev limiter in fifth and quickly took sixth without letting off the gas. Forcing my body even lower behind the fairing it was throttle WFO as the big Four got back to putting its 180 horses through the fat rear slick. Beginning the climb, the bike just kept accelerating while my eyes stayed glued on the middle of the track. Critter told me that on the 17/43 gearing I was using, the big Gixxer was somewhere on the wrong side of 180 mph when the front wheel started coming up to meet me. With the blind, downhill right approaching at 264 feet per second, it also looked like a good time to get on the brakes.
Three laps later it was over and I took the bike back to a relieved CR for the last time. I was just totally gobsmacked and fully aware of being ruined for life. No stock motorcycle is ever going be this much fun on a racetrack: Monster acceleration, just the most incredible brake-system, all wrapped in a package that is as easy to ride as a stock motorcycle. The way the slicks stuck to the track, no matter how hard I twisted the throttle, had me exiting turns faster and cornering harder than I have ever experienced. I actually did drum up the courage to make the back end squat a little under really hard acceleration, but at 40 pounds heavier than CR it was more because of my weight than any riding talent.
In the end, I think it was how brutal the engine could be and the way the bike turned in on the 16.5-inch wheels that thrilled me the most. Launching onto the back wheel and shaking its head under power in third gear, the acceleration is totally addicting. Then, flicking into the turns so late and getting back on the gas so early was just pure magic.
A big thanks to CR Gittere for kindly letting me loose on his racebike. If you see him at the races, give him a cheer.
After Sir Neale got his ride on Critter's superbike and hearing that the racer is an all-around good guy, we got to thinking. Privateers are the lifeblood of all national racing series, so we're going to provide you with an inside look at a privateer's ups and downs as CR contests his first full season in AMA Superbike.
If you've ever wondered how a tire brand gets selected, how sponsors are courted, how bikes are sorted out or how a non-factory-sponsored rider gets the job done, Critter's going to bring it to you. He'll be filing reports for MCUSA during the race season, as well as an inside look at what goes on in the off-season and pre-season testing.
Stay tuned to MCUSA for A Critter's Eye View of the 2005 AMA Superbike Championship.
Talk about the Geico Suzuki GSX-R1000 in the MCUSA Forum