Bad news. At the novice level, the rider is much more important than the bike. Chances are a stock CBR600RR in street trim will be faster than you are for your first race season. Not that your first race bike isn't important. Building a competent machine will go a long way towards getting a novice racer "up to speed" quickly.
But building that machine is a daunting task. First, you have the class rules to contend with. What does it take for your ride to be class legal? Second, unless you've landed major sponsorship before you've even ran your first race, you're on a pretty tight budget. Open a performance catalog and you're overwhelmed like a kid staring at the pages of a Sears catalog the week before Christmas.
Where does a novice racer get the most "bang for the buck" when spending their hard earned and saved racing dollars? We will try and answer these questions in a series of "build" articles that will cover everything; from the minimum you have to do to get your machine on the track to advanced Supersport modifications.
Selecting the Bike
For this series of articles I took a "ride what you brung" attitude and looked no further than my garage to give my trusty old Ducati 748 the Cinderella race-bike treatment. Taking racer Geoff May's advice, I looked up my local go-fast guy and asked for help. Donnie Unger, former racer, bike builder and owner of Duc Pond Motorsports, is not only the closest Ducati dealership to where I live in western Virginia, he's one of the best shops in the mid-Atlantic. I have dealt with Donnie over the years when it came to my street bikes and have come to appreciate his down-to-earth, no BS attitude. He agreed to advise me on the finer points of building a Supersport race bike.
As we discussed in the previous article, you can race just about anything you want to. That doesn't mean you should. If you're currently riding a sportbike on the street, the motorcycle you're riding is probably not the best bike to make your first race bike. Sure you feel confident riding your GSX-R1000 on the commute back and forth to work. But are you ready to unleash its full wheel-spinning, highside-causing, tire-shredding, 180-horsepower potential on the track?
Money is also a consideration. There are plenty of better ways to spend $12,000 than making up the difference in cost between a used SV650 and a new 1198. And remember, you'll still have to make payments on that $9,799 '09 600 model, even after you’ve turned it into a pile of rusting eBay refuse. This brings us to the beginning racer's first rule of bike building: Don't race anything that you're not willing to destroy. "I've seen guys buy a brand new R1 on Thursday and wreck it at the track on Saturday," Unger, who has also spent time as a tech inspector and track official, noted.
The bikes that Unger recommends for beginner race bikes are four-strokes that are considered entry-level: Kawasaki's 250R, 500R or 650R (now "Ninjas"), Suzuki's GS500F and SV650s and the air-cooled Ducati Twins, just to name a few. "Find a couple of year old motorcycle, but not an inline-Four. They're too hard on tires," Unger said. "Find something that's not extremely fast. They're cheap to race and cheap to fix. Spend your money on entry fees and tires."
An added benefit to "entry level" models is that they aren't updated every two years like the top-end race replicas, so the markets for used stock parts and aftermarket performance parts are broader.
Crashed bikes seem like a good place to start (you'll be pulling off a bunch of parts to be replaced anyway), but take caution. Damage to frames, forks and wheels, though invisible to the naked eye, can make salvage bikes not so good of a deal. Be careful and buy from reputable salvage yards that specialize in selling crashed bikes that will get a second lease on life at the race track.
Figuring Out the Rules
Once you decide on what motorcycle you'll be racing and what series you'll be racing in, get a copy of that organization's rulebook and become familiar with it.
In building the Ducati 748 for this article, we attempted to stick to Championship Cup Series (CCS) "Middleweight Supersport" rules. But don't take my word for it. Read the rules yourself. Ask questions. Race officials would rather spend their time explaining the rules to you before the race than arguing over why you were disqualified after the race. Throughout the build process I often consulted with CCS about grey areas in the rulebook and my e-mails were promptly answered by none other than [now “former”] CCS Director of Competition Erik Kelcher himself.
A "Supersport" class is the ideal place for a beginning racer. With allowable machine modifications kept to a minimum, skill, not money, determines Supersport winners. If your motorcycle didn't come from the factory with $6,000 Ohlins forks or $4,000 Marchesini wheels, you can't use them in a Supersport class.
By CCS rules all engine internals must "remain as produced." No discussion here of porting heads, changing compression ratios, titanium connecting rods or lightening reciprocating mass. All of the Supersport modifications we made for this article are well within the means of the average weekend mechanic with a little experience and a handful of quality tools.
When it comes to aftermarket parts and modifications, consult the Internet for info on your particular model. If you can wade through the endless banter of armchair racers, you might actually find out what works and what doesn't. But if you can find a local racer who wrenches on your brand and is willing to talk to you, that will be your best source of information.
While the Internet is filled with dot-com "racing" stores, source your parts from a reputable distributor. At these places, the salesman on the other end of the phone is most likely a racer himself and is recommending parts from personal experience, rather than how much commission he will get from convincing you to buy something. All of the suppliers we used for our build come highly recommended. We either have experience with their parts on the street or they have a sterling reputation in racing circles.
One of our go-to parts suppliers was Lockhart Phillips USA. Almost anyone who has ever put an aftermarket part on their streetbike knows this name. LP is a company founded by racers and staffed by racers, who earned their reputation as "the sport bike connection" by not only selling parts to racers, but sponsoring the series they raced in.
In the course of this project we were lucky enough to have many manufacturers support our racing efforts in the form of parts and equipment donations. Don't be intimidated by the overwhelming amount of bits and pieces we added to our project bike or think that you can't be competitive without having all of these pieces (To let you in on a secret from future articles, I was lapped often by riders on nearly bone-stock bikes that were older, less powerful and technologically inferior.).
As a new rider, your two greatest enemies will be lack of experience and lack of funds. You have to prioritize how to spend your money, applying your greenbacks where they'll give you the biggest performance boost. Will a titanium something-or-other that costs you $300 and weighs two ounces less than the stock aluminum something-or-other that it replaces make you go faster? Probably not. But will that same $300 applied to racing schools and track days help you become a better rider? Yes.
"Don't spend your money on engine work or fancy bodywork. The motorcycles that are on showrooms today are faster than 99% of the people riding them," said Unger, who recommended that a beginner put their money into suspension, tires and high quality brake pads.
After consulting with racers and builders I've tried to put together a list of how to build a Supersport race bike, prioritizing modifications from most to least important. For riders desperate to get on the track and short on funds, here's the minimum:
|What you need to race:|
|1 - Remove all street equipment (see below), tape-off wires and tape over the holes in your fairing.|
|2 - Safety-wire your machine according to the standards of the organization you wish to race with. For most, this means securing your oil drain plug(s), your oil filler cap and your oil filter. Feel free to go above and beyond the minimums stated in the rules when it comes to safety wiring. Be sure to check the tightness of all fasteners on your machine and use Loctite to secure them where it's not practical to drill and wire. Check the fittings and hose clamps on all fuel, drain and coolant lines.|
|3 - Swap your coolant for water.|
|4 - Make sure all of the maintenance items on your motorcycle are in good condition. Check chain, sprockets, brake pads, fuel lines and cables. Change fluids (engine, forks, brakes) if needed.|
|5 - Fit an oil catch pan. Most fully-faired sportbikes have side panels that are open at the bottom. Buy a universal fiberglass belly pan, like those made by Sharkskinz, and attach it to the fairing panels with quick-disconnect fasteners. If you're riding an un-faired bike find a place to attach the pan to the frame. Make sure the crankcase breather is routed into the airbox or into a catch can.|
|6 - Put on the best tires you can afford.|
What to Take Off
Your race-bike build can start with taking the things off your streetbike that you don't need. Depending on the size of your machine, every five to seven pounds you drop can be the performance equivalent of adding one horsepower.
First, remove everything that makes your machine street legal: headlights, brake lights, turn signals, reflectors, horn, mirrors, license plate mounts, center stand and/or side stand, etc. Once you have all of these parts gone you can probably get rid of the left hand control switch on most machines. Everywhere something is unplugged, tape off the wiring harness so you don't have a race-ending electrical short. Don't cut the wiring harness, as it will preclude you (or the next owner) from returning your bike to the street easily. Trace the components back and remove the associated relays and fuses. If you haven't realized it by now, a model-specific service manual is invaluable in the build process.
If the speedometer and odometer housings are separate, remove the speedometer. If it's not convenient to remove, tape over the face. It's a useless distraction the track. Your skill and confidence will determine your speed, not the numbers on your speedometer. If you have a cable-driven speedometer, remove the cable and the gear on the front wheel. When you remove the gear you will have to replace it with some sort of spacer. On the 748 we used a beautifully machined spacer made by Mad Duc, a California Ducati specialist who you're going to hear a lot more about.
Next, work on the parts of your motorcycle that accommodate a passenger, like foot pegs and grab rails. Then you can move to emissions equipment, taking off evaporative emissions canisters and hoses, taking care to plug off where the hoses are routed into carburetors and manifolds, but also making sure that vents are open to the atmosphere.
For liquid-cooled bikes, you can remove the cooling fan from the radiator.
The stripping-down process is a perfect time to visually inspect your machine. Eyeball the frame for cracks, rust or other damage. Check the wiring harness for places that wires are rubbing or being pinched. Look the engine over for leaks. Check the tightness of all bolts with a torque wrench. Even if you're starting with a brand new bike, you'd be surprised at the things a factory will overlook when assembling a bike.
Finally, do a last inspection of the bike, making sure you haven't missed anything that can be removed. "You'd be surprised how many helmet locks I see pass through tech inspections," Unger told me.
What should you do with your take-off parts? If you think there is the smallest chance that you will ever put your motorcycle back on the street, keep them! You'll find that you will never be able to replace the parts for the amount you sold them for. Retaining all of the stock parts will also raise the value of your race bike when you sell it. But if you've committed to this racing thing fully, then sell the parts on eBay and use the cash to build a better race bike.
Once you have you bike stripped down, you’re ready to start building. In the next part of this series we will walk you through the top three priorities when building a Supersport racer.
Road Racing Series - Part 1
Road Racing Series - Part 2
Road Racing Series - Part 3
Road Racing Series - Part 4
Road Racing Series - Part 6
Road Racing Series - Part 7
Road Racing Series - Part 8
Road Racing Series - Part 9
Road Racing Series - Part 10
Road Racing Series - Part 11