Testing BMW's S1000RR at the Arctic Circle
A midsummer night's dream
It’s nearly 3AM and I’m tired but I still can’t sleep. Finally after seven hours on the train constantly moving north we approach Trondheim, which is Norway’s third largest city. Elizabeth from Bikeport.no picked me up at the station and we headed to the local BMW dealer to pick up my test bike, a 2011 BMW S1000RR. The bike will travel on a trailer for the seven-hour journey further north in preparation for the upcoming four days of riding on the Arctic Circle Raceway.
For me this event is one big adventure as I’ve never been to the north of Norway apart from in my army days. Since this is just around midsummer, it’s daylight 24/7 up north whilst the south of the country gets 3-4 hours of darkness, hence we have daylight all the way and arrive around 10PM.
Arctic Circle Raceway is situated on an old iron ore mining area, and large parts of the circuit are situated on pure landfill mass from the mining. It was fascinating walking around the circuit where in certain areas you can see how a small valley has been filled with rock. Because of this man-made cliff from the top of the landfill to the bottom of the valley, the circuit goes anti-clockwise whilst it was built as a clockwise circuit. At the end of the very short straight you risked being slung over the barriers and down into this deep valley, whilst now on the other side of the pit straight you’d only hit the side of a mountain…
The circuit was finished in 1995 and it is Norway’s fastest, widest and most modern circuit. I’d call it the world’s wildest and most remote circuit. Whilst we were there elk cows were roosting in the sun trackside with their calves, and the entire circuit is surrounded by forest and snow-topped mountains. Crucially there are no people living near to the circuit, so there’s rarely any need to reduce noise levels. Most importantly is the fact that this circuit is a very exciting place to race motorbikes and the tarmac is very sticky and solid to withstand the frost during the long and cold winters. The circuit is 3,753 metres long and the official lap record is 1:30.993.
Before action at the track began, I had time to ride about 50 kilometres north of the circuit to reach the actual Arctic Circle. Whilst in this area of Norway you have two very large animals you need to look out for on the roads, the elk and the reindeer. The animal I saw most of were the lemmings, as 2011 was a lemming year. They’re not going to hurt you but they’re rather slippery when squashed under the tyres. I rode north over the Salt mountain and stopped just about 2 kilometres from the Arctic Circle to get some holiday snaps of the snow covered mountains. At the Arctic Circle stands a centre with a restaurant and souvenir shop. There are also several World War II monuments here.
The Arctic Circle is the southernmost point where you get midnight sun in midsummer. At the circle point there’s midnight sun for about one month, whilst if you were at the North Pole you’d get six months of 24/7 sunlight.
I fired up the BMW and rode back to the racetrack. I have ridden on circuits all over the world for more than 10 years, but I’ve never considered getting my road racing license, so now was as good a time as any. The classroom theory is more about the rules and regulations than anything else. The difficult part is to go fast on a circuit, and only riding on a circuit can help you achieve that. Our tutor was Geir Steinbakk, and he did a good job as we all passed the test on the following day.
After finishing the first theory class I went back to the paddock to transform my bog standard BMW S1000RR into a racing bike legal for club racing. We expected rain the following day so I left the standard Metzeler Racetec K3 tyres on the bike. Pirelli had promised to send me three sets of tyres to test over the four days but they hadn’t arrived yet, so the standard Metzelers would have to make do the first two days.
It had rained during the night and the circuit was still damp in the morning. We in the road racing license group had more theory in the morning before heading out on the circuit. We followed the instructors to get the lines through the fast corners into our heads. If you’re an aspiring road racer but without any track experience, a course like this is ideal for you because the pace gradually increases until everybody is capable of riding fast on their own.
We ended the day by practicing starts and getting used to the flag rules attached to doing race starts. This is no small task because, for a beginner, the starts are the most dangerous part of racing. The only fatality ever at Arctic Circle Raceway happened just at a start so it’s serious business. Even seasoned racing riders are still nervous at a start, so this is probably the most difficult thing to learn as a racing recruit.
On the wet and damp circuit I decided to use the rain traction control setting for a while. The Metzeler Racetecs are like slicks on the sides, so that limited my lean, and the second issue was the front which I didn’t always trust in these conditions. No traction control can stop a lowside and that was always the main worry on the damp circuit. It eventually dried out and I got some decent laps in before the first day of riding was over. In the evening we were treated to a suspension course by Ole Gunnar Hagen who takes care of the suspension for top Norwegian racing teams. For a small fee Hagen would also help individual riders set up their suspension to an optimal level for this circuit.
The standard settings for the BMW S1000RR suited me fine all four days, and not once even after fitting slicks did I feel tempted to adjust the suspension even though the bike would have benefitted with a slightly harder set up on the racing slicks.
I was pretty much knackered every evening, but we never went to bed without having a few beers and perhaps a little Jagermeister or wine as well. It’s actually quite difficult to go to bed because it never gets dark.
After breakfast on Friday morning we continued training on the circuit and it was pretty dry most of the day apart from one or two sessions in the afternoon. At certain stages I rode all sessions with very little down time, and I could really feel it on my body in the evening. Then my tyres finally arrived but so did the rain again so I gave up on testing any of the new Pirelli tyres until the Saturday. All this held my lap times back a bit and I didn’t feel I had done any proper testing until the sunny Saturday finally arrived.
I got a new set of tires mounted for the Saturday when I’d both do a qualifying session and my first race. I promise you that a race weekend like this where you have to do everything yourself wears you down quickly. I can only thank BMW for having built such a reliable motorcycle because absolutely nothing went wrong with the S1000RR.
Saturday was my busiest day of the whole race camp. Pirelli had sent me a set of Diablo Corsa road tyres, Diablo Superbike Pro slicks and Diablo Superbike SC2 slicks. The Diablo Corsa tyres are okay for trackdays but they are not the best tyres for the BMW unless you like to spin your way around the circuit. The Diablo Superbike Pro slicks are new from Pirelli and they are slicks which promise to last at least two full track days of hard riding without the need for tyre warmers.
I hence set out on the Superbike Pro slicks in sizes 120/70-17 front and 190/50-17 rear without using tyre warmers. I basically treated them as if they were road tyres which meant I did two full laps warming them up before going full throttle everywhere. I quickly found out that these tyres are in a completely different league to the road tyres such as the Metzeler Racetec K3s and Pirelli Diablos. The Superbike Pro tyres are a hard type slicks that Pirelli have treated with some dark magic that makes them warm up quickly without tearing from cold AND they last a whole weekend. I used them for everything on the Saturday which included training laps, instructing, qualifying for the race and for the race itself.
I ended up qualifying 11th with a poor lap time of 1:43 but somehow I knew that I’d be faster in the race and I didn’t want to wear myself out completely. I reckoned I’d be a poor starter anyway and that I’d have to do the job in the race and not during qualifying and was happy with this. I had noticed during my sessions there were some incredibly quick riders that were only three seconds off the 1:30 lap record on their race bikes, so I knew I didn’t stand a chance for the podium. I just wanted to pass somebody and make BMW proud being the best European marque at the event. I’d have settled for not finishing last, and, if that hadn’t worked, at least not to get lapped.
A man wearing a woman’s bra walks in front of us on the grid with a sign saying 1 minute. This takes the edge off a bit. The revs are up and I can see the red light, I’m nervous because I know that the riders that are slower than me are better starters on their own bikes. And then the red lights go out and off we go. I wheelie in first and second gear, one racer has passed me into the first corner but I feel faster. I follow him and quickly get frustrated because I can’t get past and he’s too slow so the group in front edges ahead.
Two whole laps of the 10-lap race gone and I’m still behind. I must get past, as I’m losing too much time. Finally I take him on the brakes and throw the bike into the left hander and then power the S1000RR hard out and the Superbike Pro rear digs in helping me with traction. Now I ride like a madman and soon pass another racer.
After a while I have a clear circuit in front of me and I’m doing 1:40s, which so far is my personal best. I pass somebody else and have lost track of how many laps I’ve done and riders I have passed. Finally I get close to a Suzuki GSX-R1000 and within a lap I’m on striking distance. I have a big rear wheel slide and I think that’s it I’ve lost a second and will need another lap to get him. I still get right up to his rear end on the last left hander before the finish by braking criminally late and I can see the chequered flag. Oh no, I think, please just one more lap and I’ll have him. Suddenly the Suzuki rider makes a mistake by using a gear too high or something and I’m doing traction control wheelies passing him just before the finish line!
I finish 7th in the race with a personal best lap time of 1:40. I’m well pleased with this but if I had been better at the start I’d be higher up I convince myself. The winner of the race did a 1:33 lap which is good enough to be in contention on national level. I’m ecstatic when I enter the pits and all I want to do is to race more.
The BMW S1000RR with race ABS and traction control doesn’t kill off slicks as quickly as 193 horsepower says it should. The electronics helps you as a rider and also saves you a bit of money on tyres and perhaps avoiding crashes, too. Earlier this year I tested tyres with Metzeler at Cartagena in Spain and I got a chance to test the BMW against the Kawasaki ZX-10R on the same rubber. This is also the reason I chose the RR as my test bike for this racing weekend because I felt it was so much better in many areas that I wanted to explore the bike to its fullest. The BMW has a very strong midrange and a very powerful top end from 10K rpm to the limiter whilst the ZX-10R still only boasts about a super strong top end and not so exciting midrange. That BMW midrange edges out the big Kawasaki particularly on corner exits and by the time the Ninja catches up it’s time to brake hard for the next corner and use the midrange again.
The two bikes both have very powerful brakes and perhaps the Kawasaki ZX-10R has better suspension. Kawasaki also has a better and easier way of changing traction control settings, but I don’t think its traction control system is as good as the BMW system. My winner is the BMW S1000RR with its more user-friendly power.
The Saturday has been the best day so far at Arctic Circle Raceway – it’s truly is a midsummer night’s dream and I know this night will be a long one despite the fact that I’m testing the Pirelli Superbike SC2s on Sunday.
After the best shower of my life I join the rest of the gang that are watching live music on the Bikeport stage in the tent. Sausages and roast pork is on the menu and it goes down well. We’re then drinking beer in the paddock by the bikes chatting about the day’s events until one person falls over a rack of tyres and nearly takes out a few bikes. I call it a night, sleep four hours and its Sunday, our last day at the circuit.
In the morning I’m half dead with exhaustion while replacing the super Pirelli Superbike Pros with my final set of tyres, the Pirelli Superbike SC2s in a 120/70-17 front and a massive 200/60-17 rear. I struggle a bit getting the 200-section rear past the chain guard, but once squeezed in it’s a perfect fit. By now I’m working like a zombie and riding without enthusiasm. There’s a strong need for speed and finally towards the end of the day one of the Bjorns and I decide we shall do some fast laps and some more video.
The Superbike SC2s just stick to the tarmac like nothing else I’ve ever tried, they are truly mind blowing. Whilst I liked the Superbike Pros this is yet another big step up. There’s more feedback from the suspension and also a little bit more movement, after all something’s got to give with this sort of grip on tap! I don’t have any energy to fiddle with the suspension though; I just want to race and ride fast. I do 1:40s as it’s the easiest thing in the world and boom suddenly I’ve got the 1:39 that I’ve been longing for. After these four days of hard riding that lap time arriving felt like a long lost girlfriend returning after being kidnapped in the Columbian jungle. All my goals achieved, the bike tested, tyres tested, racing License done, first race done and the lap time I wanted. I feel a little friendlier again.
We have now finished the last session on this fantastic circuit in the north of Norway, and I’m completely spent both physically and mentally. Since I started using the transponder to record lap times on the Saturday I had done 106 laps.
If you want to ride fast, a race camp like this in the middle of the wilderness under the midnight sun is priceless. It’s an experience and an adventure I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world. Racing is addictive and I’m now thinking of ways to race more. I get spoiled so much during the rest of the year with world class circuits, dedicated mechanics and all the best bikes in the world at my disposal so I probably deserved to experience the club racer’s life for these days. All my respect goes to those out there that repeat what I did one week after the other. Its hard work and so much money spent but oh so rewarding.
Nearest airport: Mo I Rana approx 25km away from the circuit
Next year the Race Camp is scheduled: 28.06-01.07