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Old August 20th, 2014, 02:40 PM   #1
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[sportrider - features] - Kawasaki ZX-6R Racebike Build | Ready or Not

“Racing is supposed to be fun, and if you’re not enjoying yourself, then you’re doing something wrong…”

I can’t count on one hand how many times someone has reminded me of this sentiment, or more importantly, how many times I’ve forgotten it and let the stress of lap times spoil a race weekend. That wasn’t the case as I headed into the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca gates for the closing round of the 2013 AMA Pro Racing season; no matter the team’s result I was dead set on enjoying myself. Sure, everyone involved with Sport Rider’s latest project bike—a 2013 Kawasaki ZX-6R prepped especially for this weekend—had expectations, but the challenging part of the road was mostly behind us. Now it was all about having fun, and I promised to not let that slip my mind as I rolled out onto the track and gridded up for the final race of the 2013 season, ready or not.

If you’ve kept up with Sport Rider’s recent adventures, then you’re almost certainly familiar with the ZX-6R that I’m referring to. If not, I will briefly sum the bike up by saying that it was built by CycleMall Motorsports and with the help of a few very accommodating aftermarket suppliers (“Seeing Green,” Dec. 2013), then developed by the CM Motorsports crew over the course of one very long, stressful month (“Crunch Time,” Jan. 2014). As the rider I’ve had the unique opportunity to see the bike through multiple suspension setups and trackdays and between tests was tasked with recording the team’s progress, no matter how big or small.

Our Concept Five-painted Catalyst Racing Composites bodywork didn’t go on until the week leading up to the races, but, man, was it worth the wait.

Fortunately for the crew there was in fact progress to report on both in regard to the bike’s chassis and electronics, each of which were coming along nicely as of our last test at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. The team notched a second- and third-place finish in the races that weekend and was finally walking (er…riding?) with a bit of confidence. It was a welcomed change in attitude, as we were just one week from our AMA debut and still standing face to face with a number of hurdles.

The tallest of those hurdles came in the form of a diminishing budget, but Kawasaki stepped up here and provided the team with more than enough parts to save our behinds should teammate Chad Lewin or I throw a ZX-6R down the road. Travel expenses were another concern until Neill Herbert, a CycleMall-backed AMA Super- Sport racer who had the weekend off, tossed us the keys to his Baby Appleseed-sponsored rig and allowed us to fill the trailer to the brim with equipment. Two Brothers Racing transported the bikes, but not before the CM Motorsports crew went through them one last time and installed a few last-minute pieces, including the Brembo front radial master cylinder ($333.94) and Ferodo brake pads ($75.95) we’d been saving for the race weekend. Install on these parts was painless, and throughout the weekend I’d note a serious advantage at corner entry both in regard to outright power and feel.

I tried my best to not let my nerves get to me and was for the most part successful. Tige Daane, not shown, was a hugely beneficial crew chief and worked tirelessly to get the bike—and my head—sorted.

Mazda Raceway is a notoriously tricky track to get into and out of, but the team had great luck here and was able to get both rigs into the paddock on Thursday afternoon, leaving us plenty of time to get the pits set up and the bikes through tech inspection. AMA Pro Racing held its rider’s meeting on the same afternoon and paid spe- cial attention to a few specific details, like how the WSBK marshals would only allow a certain number of scooters in the pits and that we’d need a designated sticker (hard to come by) if we didn’t want our pit vehicle getting confiscated (never did, thankfully). Also announced was that due to TV scheduling, AMA Pro Racing would be forced to stick firmly to the on-track schedule or begin cutting sessions. In the sanctioning body’s defense, they managed the situation well, were always forthcoming with information, and worked with the teams to try and accommodate each rider as best as possible.

And then the horns blew…
Friday morning came quicker than I’d expected, but I managed to keep the butterflies in check as I suited up and ran over a track map one last time. The studying helped, though I still had to stand up on the pegs and search for reference markers as I crested turn one and eight for the first time. Things smoothed out with each lap, and I managed to drop almost a second per lap until lap five, at which point I was into the 1:35s and ready to start working on the suspension setup. A quick chat with Tige Daane and CM Motorsports’ James Morse, who’d be working as my crew chief for the weekend, confirmed that we should go with stiffer fork springs.

In went the springs, and off I was…for a lap, at which point I came in and demanded they come out. “These things are way too stiff,” I yelled through my helmet visor. “There’s absolutely no bump absorption, and I can’t feel anything on the brakes.” Morse and Daane decided to take some preload off the springs and assured me there wasn’t that big of a step in rate, yet out on the track it felt like we were using rocks to prop the bike up. I willed the Kawi around for another two laps and then came in demanding the springs go straight to the recycle bin. They were too stiff, plain and simple.

James Morse and my father, Curtis Adams, worked as my crew chief throughout the weekend. I’d put this duo up against any other guys in the paddock.

Or at least that’s what I thought was the case. What had actually happened was an aftermarket spacer (used to compensate for the shorter springs we used) had bound on the K-Tech fork kit spacer during install and cracked it, ultimately wedging the K-Tech piece against the spring. Morse ran through the paddock, located a replacement spacer, and had me back on track with just two minutes left in Practice 1. During that time I bettered my fastest lap time by a full second and put the team in 28th position, 5.5 seconds behind the leader. Would I have been happy with more? Of course, but considering that just 15 laps ago I was up on the footrests and trying to find my way around the track, I was content. Quite content, actually.

The team debriefed back in the RV following the first practice and went over the primary concerns: front-end feel through the faster corners and gearing problems. The bike was lowered in the rear (a direction we’d continue to go throughout the weekend), and new Vortex sprockets were installed.

A stellar start put me in front a lot of quick guys and girls early in the race. After a few mistakes, this group made their way past, but I’d settle down eventually and manage consistent lap times.

Both changes worked out for the better, and by the second half of the first qualifying session I was into the 1:32 lap-time range. A few laps later I’d dip into the 31s, and at this point I was searching for some faster riders who I could get a tow from. That tow never material though I did learn during my two out laps about how seriously these guys take every single lap. In one instance, I pulled out and crept toward turn two, only to have a very, very fast front-runner who shall remain nameless come by and show some…er…signs suggesting that I should pick up the pace. Note taken, and from that point on it was 100 percent effort from the second I rolled onto the track.

Our ZX-6R’s on/off throttle transition would get worse as the bike got warmer and caused some problems through the corkscrew, but Chris Gardell reworked the ignition timing and softened the hit. Here, Jason DiSalvo borrows some line ideas. Okay, maybe not…

Saturday’s riding schedule didn’t put the SportBike class on track until 3:15 p.m., and if it weren’t for the World Superbike guys putting on one hell of a show, I’d probably have eaten off my fingernails. I didn’t, surprisingly, and with a softer rear tire mounted for Qualifying 2, I was able to roll out onto the track after a full day of twiddling my toes and immediately run a string of 1:31 lap times, a sign of continual improvement. The session wasn’t a complete success, mostly because Daane had asked for me to run a race-distance stint to get a better idea of tire longevity. I didn’t, regrettably, and instead came back to the pits to try one more suspension setup. Said setup only worsened front-end feel, and the soft-compound tires were going off quicker than we figured they would, so more than anything our Qualifying 2 session was a lesson in what wouldn’t work. Regardless, we ended the session with a 1:30.92 and in 25th spot, an improvement from the day before.

Over the course of the weekend we’d learned a few other important things in regard to the ZX-6R’s electronics. On the traction control front, we finally had a code that allowed us to cycle the ignition without the TC system reverting to level one. We also figured some things out with the on/off throttle transition and were able to smooth the hit even more by taking extra ignition timing out; in previous sessions and as the bike got hot, the transition would be so abrupt that I couldn’t get through the corkscrew without hiccup. Additionally, the crew was measuring fuel consumption and getting a better idea for bike weight, which we were now less worried about since the AMA had lowered the ZX-6R weight limit from 375 pounds to 365. For reference, we weighed 368 pounds at the end of the race thanks to careful measuring.

The race itself was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done on a motorcycle. I didn’t get that great of a launch off the line, but heading over turn one with my elbows out made room for the ZX-6R. As the group headed into turn two, bikes began to shuffle even more, with one rider going down and causing a bit of a holdup. No such problems for me though as I picked a nearperfect line and made up another two positions. Then heading into turn three I found another opening mid-track, let the brake off, and, yes, used my teammate as a bit of a berm. He and I dragraced into turn four, but I knew if I let him by here, I’d have a problem keeping him in sight, so I got aggressive as ever and leaned on him enough to secure the spot then picked off another two or three riders. It was undoubtedly the best first lap of my life, and while I’m not exactly sure where the aggression came from, I was happy to start lap two in 18th place, a whopping seven spots ahead of where I’d started.

Rear tire grip was pretty limited throughout the weekend, but our TC system ended up being easy to adjust, and I was actually able to go quicker with the system on, a testament to its intervention levels.

I let my nerves get the best of me in the laps that followed and made one mistake after another. I’d run wide here, turn in early there, and in between those mistakes, check my back only to find five or six guys—plus a girl, Elena Myers—breathing down my neck. A few of the riders picked me off with each mishap, but eventually I’d turn the traction control system on, settle in behind Lewin, and start ticking off very consistent laps in the 1:30 range. I never did get back by my teammate but enjoyed watching his battle with a young CJ Weaver, which would go all the way down to the line. I finished 1.8 seconds behind the duo and in 20th place.

Am I happy with the result? Yes and no. Yes because a top-20 finish in our first AMA SportBike race is quite okay in my book. And no because I feel like there was still some performance left in the ZX-6R platform that we hadn’t been able to extract. The stock engine made decent power for example, but without delving into it we weren’t able to get it to spin up quick enough, and that really hurt us at the track. We were still having a lot of problems with front-end feel, and in a few instances I’d lose the front and have to save the ZX-6R on my knee. We’d made great progress throughout the weekend by changing the bike’s static height but simply ran out of adjustment. Same goes for the clutch, which was too tight mechanically and causing a bit of rear-wheel chatter as I’d get into the corner. More time and each of these problems would surely have been lessened.

The majority of Sport Rider’s success is owed to the guys beside me. From left to right: Chris Gardell of Flash-Tune Inc., Tige Daane of CycleMall Motorsports, Curtis Adams, me, and James Morse of CycleMall Motorsports.

There will be should-haves, would-haves, and could-haves no matter the bike though, and for the most part I’m thrilled with how this particular project ended. More importantly, I had an absolute blast running with the top racers in the country. And really, that’s what the team and I showed up to do.

Dunlop D211 GP-A tires
The GoPro Daytona SportBike class runs under a spec tire rule, meaning all bikes on the grid use the same Dunlop Sportmax D211 GP-A tires that the Sport Rider staff has discussed in past comparison tests and race bike features. As a recap, these tires are manufactured in Dunlop’s Buffalo, New York, plant and use the company’s Jointless Band (JLB) and Multi-Tread construction. Tire allotments are tracked via AMA-supplied stickers, and before each on-track session an AMA staff member will check to ensure both tires are properly stickered.

In a recent interview, Mick Jackson, Dunlop’s design manager, pointed out that, “This year we rolled in a bunch of new compounds on the fronts and rears. Instead of having just two offerings, we have three. The products have been through a number of iterations, too. We changed front and rear profiles over the years, and in the background we are always doing development.”

Jackson goes on to say that it’s not easy building a tire for the entire field because what works well for someone like Josh Hayes might not work well for someone who’s unable to push the tire to those same limits. Personally, we found the spec tire for the SportBike class to be moderately balanced, with not a ton of grip but a very consistent feel between each set. “We put a lot of effort in making a consistent tire,” Jackson reaffirms. And after three full days on the latest D211 GP-As, I’d say they’ve definitely accomplished that. Even more, I expect the tires to only get better from here on out as Dunlop continues to work with AMA front-runners on new technology.

The Dunlop Sportmax D211 GP-A tires used in the AMA Sport- Bike class cost $320 per set. dunlop tires

Related articles:
Kawasaki ZX-6R Racebike Build Part I: Seeing Green
Kawasaki ZX-6R Racebike Build Part II: Crunch Time

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