By Editor ‘Arris
We recently put Costa into the CBR250R challenge’s media class as Honda were generous enough to make a bike available to any outlet that was interested and would have them race-prepped and ready to go at each round, waiting for the journalist to jump on and giv’er.
Well, the CBR250R Challenge is not the only bike spec series put on by an OEM. Harley-Davidson has been running the XR1200 Cup since last year and also invited Costa to have a go. Although Harley didn’t go so far as to create a media class, man Costa did get a race-prepped bike to ride.
Trouble is, it’s one thing to race prep a bike, it’s completely another to prep it to a specific rider. Costa gives it a go at last weekend’s St-Eustache round.
XR1200 Cup - The Grand Finale
By Costa Mouzouris
In 2010, Deeley Harley-Davidson proposed a spec racing series using the Sportster XR1200, to be run as a support class in the 2011 CSBK Canadian National Superbike Championship. The idea was partly to promote the brand, partly to promote the motorcycle, but mostly to promote racing.
Deeley’s Alex Carroni suggested members of the media take part in actual races to bring proper exposure to the XR1200 Cup by providing a hands-on point of view of the series and not just basic post-race coverage. The Canadian Harley distributor then prepared one motorcycle, carrying company founder Trevor Deeley’s racing number 22, and reserved it just for us hacks.
Journalists from different publications were invited to take part, a different rider racing the bike at each round.
I was the first journalist to race the machine, at the first round of 2011 at Quebec’s ICAR circuit, where I finished eighth after struggling with bike setup and inclement weather. You can read it about here.
The media program continues this year — sort of — so I chose a more familiar racetrack, my home circuit Autodrome St-Eustache, which began hosting the national superbike series again last year after a nine-year hiatus.
My hopes were high; I’d raced and won on both a Harley and a Buell at the circuit, though I had no realistic aspirations of dicing with the likes of Darren James (who finished fourth in the British XR1200 Trophy in 2010), Michael Taylor (who came out of retirement to ride in the series), and series champion Steve Crevier (and who doesn’t know Crevier?).
However, I did hope to place well, and at least match the lap times of journo Bertrand Gahel, who raced the number 22 machine at the same track last season and recorded a very impressive 51.6-second lap time during the race, finishing eighth.
Now, the problem with having different riders on the bike is that the suspension setup will fluctuate wildly from race to race. Additionally, the bike serves as a parts donor/backup bike for Ruthless Racing/Deeley Harley-Davidson riders Darren James and JR MacRae, so setting up the machine can prove to be a big challenge.
It was, but there would be plenty of time to get familiar with the old girl again.
FRIDAY PRACTICE – HELL HATH NO FURY…
Pulling out of the paddock and onto the track during Friday morning practice was a bit like rekindling a romance with a former girlfriend – replete with a familiarity and affection that transcended any differences that may have driven us apart.
But I soon discovered that hell hath no fury like a motorcycle scorned. Maybe it was because I neglected to call back after our last romp the year before at ICAR. Maybe it was that I’d fooled around with other bikes since, but the fury the XR unleashed towards me as I picked up speed during that first session had me dumbfounded.
To put it frankly, this felt like vengeance. Odious, murderous vengeance.
My formerly beloved XR tried to throw me off at every opportunity. She weaved and wobbled; she bucked and bounced. I tried lifting my butt off the seat and putting my weight on the footpegs over bumps but she just continued her violent bobbing beneath my feet. Nothing I could do would calm this beast.
Ending the first session perplexed, I realized that our romance was doomed unless I sought the help of a therapist. That came in the form of Accelerated Technology’s John Sharrard. He’s the guy who’d settled the differences between the XR and I when we hooked up last year.
Surely enough, Sharrard’s suspension therapy along with an increase in rear tire pressure helped calm her somewhat, eliminating most of the mid-turn weaving but not the bump-induced bobbing. We were still far from being race ready.
I did post my fastest lap of the day in the afternoon session, about three seconds off the fastest time of the day, 50.2 seconds posted by Crevier, but I was still two seconds off my target pace.
Sharrard and I discussed my relationship with the testy XR in private and he went over and made some more suspension changes on Friday evening. Question is, would they be enough to reconcile XR and I?
SATURDAY QUALIFYING – IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU
To my chagrin XR responded negatively to the previous evening’s therapy session by trying to spit me off again. We went backwards instead of forward in the suspension adjustment, and this reflected in my lap times, which gained a whole second.
Frustration was the order of the day as we chased our tails trying to figure out which way to go with the suspension setup.
Although the bike handled well enough last year using mostly the same components, no one had the notes from last year’s race at hand so we had no reference point.
The spring rates and sag seemed fine for my weight; it was the damping settings that were throwing us off. During the Saturday morning pre-qualifying practice session XR got so out of shape going through the esses in front of the paddock area that not only did I see God, I had a good conversation with Him about my motorcycling infidelities.
Apparently riding other motorcycles isn’t a sin, which was something I still had to convince XR of.
Qualifying went predictably horribly as I grappled with SWMBT (she-who-must-be-tamed), fighting her just to stay upright, while also dealing with a whole new problem: she began momentarily popping out of fourth gear, feeling like the drive belt was skipping a tooth on the sprockets.
This unfortunately limited my qualifying time to six laps, in which I nailed down the not-so-stellar ninth of ten grid positions. Furthermore, an evening inspection revealed no issues in the gearbox.
RACE DAY: A CRAZY IDEA
Saturday night I’d come to a decision: If XR and I couldn’t come to an agreement and mend our relationship by Sunday morning’s practice session I’d have to call it quits and forfeit the final. In lawyer lingo it would go down as irreconcilable differences.
However, I had an overnight epiphany and decided it was time to take drastic measures. Sharrard and I kept going firmer and firmer with the compression damping in an effort to settle the chassis. Instead, it just seemed to make it all worse. So why not try going as soft as possible?
Sharrard agreed in yet another therapy session on Sunday morning to try it out. If that didn’t work, XR and I would part ways, probably under less than friendly terms, but I would at least have the solace that I had given it my best.
With the high-speed compression damping in the Elka shocks and the compression damping in the fork backed out to the minimum, I rolled onto the track for the morning practice session.
My relationship with XR was on a precipice but she finally felt pity on me. The changes worked and I could finally hold the throttle open over the bumps on the circuit. After a few fine adjustments during the session, things improved even more and I posted my fastest time yet, a 53.2, in my last practice lap.
We ended the session with a suspension setup that would have been a great starting point for Friday’s practice, but still far from ideal. We still had problems exiting the hairpin before the front straight, where the bumps still upset XR as I got on the gas, the only solution being to take an unusually wide line onto the front straight where the track was smoother.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the results, but at least I felt confident that XR wouldn’t throw a tantrum and try to kill me. There was going to be a race after all.
DO OR DIE
Despite being on the last row, I had a decent start and within a lap I was up to eighth place. I tried to keep pace with Nova Scotia’s Blaise Fougere but just couldn’t match his speed, about eight-tenths of a second faster than mine.
I settled into a comfortable pace, and after a couple of riders ahead of me crashed out of the race, I crossed the finish line in a respectable sixth position.
That’s also the best finish the number 22 machine has recorded since the beginning of the media program. I also recorded my fastest lap time of the weekend in the final lap of the race, though I was way off my target pace.
At least I left with notes that will better prepare me should XR and I meet again. Or so I thought.
Alas, this is not to be. The wonderful Alex Carroni, who is mostly responsible for getting XR and I together in the first place, has decided to take a new path in her career and will be leaving Deeley Harley-Davidson in a couple of weeks.
With her departure comes the end of the XR1200 Cup media ride, so it is perhaps fitting that I book-ended the program, being the first journo on the machine when it began and the last to ride when it folded.
Despite our differences I’ll miss XR, but the bigger loss will be Alex, who’ll be missed by all those who have had the privilege of working with her.
Arrivederci e grazie, Alex, and good luck in your new endeavours.
Thanks also go to Deeley Harley-Davidson and Ruthless Racing’s Darren James for letting us hacks pretend we’re factory riders.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.