Motorcyclist Magazine Sportbike Test - Ducati 1098, Honda CBR600RR, Yamaha R1, Kawasaki ZX6R


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Motorcyclist Magazine Class of 07 Sportbike test
Thunderhill Racetrack
April, 2007
- pages -
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Babe Ruth

In baseball, "Making the show" means getting the call to play with the best of the best. To play right along side guys with immortal names like "The Sultan of Swat" (George Herman "Babe" Ruth), "The Splendid Splinter" (Ted Williams), and "The Georgia Peach" (Ty Cobb). You've got to figure, getting called to the show and then walking out on to that electric green grass every night just has to re-define your life.

Fast forward a bit, change sports, and park yourself in the stands of just about any pro race on the planet and you'll soon learn that while the term "Making the Show" may take on a slightly different meaning in our world, it still has all the merit that it ever did. So this past March when I read "GoGo in the Show" as the title of a mail in my box - from a guy who any key player in our industry knows as "Catman" (Brian Catterson - Editor in Chief, Motorcyclist Magazine) I instantly thought to myself "Oh crap I'm either in trouble for something, or I'm on the verge of something.."

Wouldn't you know it, I wasn't in trouble after-all. Turns out the Catman wanted me to run with his crew in the "Motorcyclist Magazine Class of 2007 Sportbike Test." After I thought about it (thirteen seconds) I responded "Yes" and starting the next day my box was regularly filled with chain emails between Aaron Frank (Motorcyclist Magazine, Editor at Large) and anyone who would be playing a part in the upcoming test. Naturally I immediately did what any other competitive person would do - I googled everyone on the list. Most of the names I had never heard before, but some of them I actually had. And those were the names I searched extra hard..

Turns out one of the scary names I was sure I had heard before actually turned out to be a photographer, Brian J. Nelson. He ended up being nice enough to not throw a pillow at Tracy and I when we barged in on him at 1:00am the morning of the test. The next guys on the list all had manufacturer tags in their titles so I figured I was still safe. Then there was the ever familiar name "Jeff Nash" who I'm sure you know if you ride a Ducati. I was OK with him because I figured we had similar backgrounds. But then it happened.. I found the name "Doug Toland" in the list. "Oh crap" I thought, "Here's the hot shoe.." If it was Doug Polen I would have been fine with it, because we've ridden together before. But this Toland guy was an unknown entity. And he's been around the racing block more than a few times by now. He's even won a World Endurance Championship in 1993! So maybe it's the racer in me, maybe I'm just a fool - but I had two marks to hit at that test, and one of them was to stay ahead of Doug.

doug toland

We all woke that morning to rain. Now I'm fine with riding in the rain. Hell I've even raced when snow was falling from the skies (remember, I was brought up at Loudon, home of the "Miracle Mile" - where the biggest miracle you'll ever witness is the sight of the track's Exit sign growing smaller in your rear view mirror). The only problem was, how can you judge a sportbike, fairly, in the pouring rain? So we hung around under the canopy for a few hours. It was actually a cool way to get up to speed with the guys. One of the Motorcyclist Magazine testers was drag racer Gene Thomason. He told stories about racing Harleys with 500hp! There was road racer Matt Samples, who seemed ready to test the bikes in the garages if we had to. And then there was Aaron Frank. I think Aaron slept in his leathers - all pretty, black white and silver. He even had new boots! Aaron was in charge of the test, and I got the feeling this test was his "baby."

aaron frank

By around 9:30am the rain subsided, but it was still wet as a Slip & Slide out on the track so the headmaster Aaron suggested that we take a spin in the rental cars - "To dry the track." All I could do was smile with distant thoughts back to Daytona - and racers - and rental cars.. Then Aaron asked ME to drive! I shook my head as if to ask, "Dude, are you sure about this..?" As we all grabbed one of the four doors on this Pontiac I noticed we were all in our leathers. Just before I ducked my head to get in I looked back at my helmet on the bench and thought, "Maybe I should bring that?"

Let me tell you, cresting Thunderhill's Cyclone on a hot summer day with a 400lb superbike between your legs is one thing - but plowing over it on wet pavement in a 3000lb car with four people inside is whole new dimension. It took me one sighting lap to get used to the weight transfer. And then the next to get used to the traction (or should I say, lack thereof). By the third lap it started to get fun. John Canton of Ducati North America was behind us in another rental car - and I mean he was right behind us.. So I started to push this Pontiac until most of the talking inside went quiet. There are some hard breaking zones at Thunderhill, and quickly I set a personal goal to hit some of my same bike marks - in this car. That's when I noticed Aaron's hand quietly grab for the armrest on the door. We had that car sliding everywhere. Going in, coming out, and all the way around Thunderhill's fastest sweepers. It was anyone's guess as to when the front tires would pull out of their drifts. I'll admit even I was in a panic at times. But then, in typical GoGo fashion, I got a little too comfortable. We crested the rise of the Cyclone just fine, but after the Cyclone the track falls away into a descending, off camber, fast sweeping right hand bend. Naturally we went into that turn in a four wheel slide but this lap, well, let's just say not one of that Pontiac's tires came out of it's slide. We went into the grass just off the track at a pretty decent clip, and we were totally sideways. Just then Aaron mumbled something about a culvert just up ahead. I'm still impressed with how many times he managed to say, "GoGo the culvert. GoGo... the culvert. Don't hit the culvert. Oh god, the culvert. GoGo? GoGo?!"

Honestly I don't know which time I was laughing harder - then, or now. We got that Pontiac out of it's mud riddled slide in just enough time to not only avoid the culvert, but to get back on the track before John made it by us as well!

You know me. Always the racer...

By the time we made it back to the pits our white Pontiac was not white anymore. But suddenly no one seemed concerned because now the track was dry enough to ride - almost....

Jeff Nash