Aprilia MilleR Factory Track Test
Time to sprint out'da pits into the unknown wilderness of a roller coaster named Mugello. A few minutes out and I can't think of much more comforting hypersport mounts to learn such a technically demanding track than this new RSV. On my first laps, while learning the right way round the Tuscan course, the Erre Factory doesn't mind purring his way around at quick touring speeds. The revamped power unit hasn't sacrificed that mid range bulge with peak torque coming in at a measly 7.500, and allows me to pull out of turns paying little attention to which gear am I. With plenty of scary blind turns around, it was also easy to appreciate the relaxed ergos that give even someone with a 6'4" frame the possibility to choose between tucking in nicely with at the long straight to erecting back to gain view field before corners. But above all, that trademark RSV treat of super easy, honest and confidence inspiring handling has been enhanced making the new 1000 a neo-racer friend immediately.
As soon as some real-racer type colleagues with previous track knowledge pass me, I am reminded that I haven't been invited here just to tour around. A good place to start sampling the new RSV's true potential is the long straight of Mugello, a real horsepower test and its there that the "Magnesium" engine struts its stuff. Passing 7.5 K the thing really takes off with a previously unknown before fluidity, peaking just before 10K. At these kind of revs, the old unit would run out of puff while now there is a nice over-rev headroom of another 1K revs with nice pull still. If in the mid range I was hard pressed to tell much difference from the previous mill, its up there at the top that all the new tweaks: ram air, throttle bodies, etc, create a serious upgrade in kick level from the previous R unit, let alone the run-off-the-mill Mille. With very warm tires and some track knowledge under my arm its time to press things in corner's approaches too. Slowing down from some 160 at the end of the straight you need to chop off about half the Mph's to enter the San Donato hairpin. No sweat.
The Radial mounted Brembos calipers actuated by a radial pump are the bollocks. Super feel, super power while the engine vacuum operated anti-lock clutch mechanism kept rear wheel chirping to the minimum even when brutally downshifting. I'm all set for this long slightly hairpin turn and its there that I start to realize that the harder you push the more rewarding the Erre is. It settles down so controlled on its suspenders that you can really dedicate all of your attention to your line and traction situation. Powering on towards the oncoming esses, I have the Erre purring at 6K but it doesn't really mind, it just pulls out vigorously before I chuck it to the left. After the relatively easy to negotiate upper esses the first real test for front-end set up and manhood in general arrives, the scary fast downhill esses of Casanova-Savelli. According to all the bench racing stories I've heard, I was supposed to be feeling here the forks wanting to turn in without control as the front wheel unloads at full lean, yet nothing of that really happens. Planting the Erre on its side at the right fast kink while pointing sharply down fails to faze the RSV. Could it be that extra load on the front doing a really nice job? Rolling the throttle on, off and on again at the difficult transition to the left kink the engine responds with total fluidity. I was definitely having fun now.
Aprilia decided to let us have an extended first session of half an hour in favor of all the Mugello newbies around, which means quite a few laps. Yet, despite the scorching heat I cant fail to notice thatI am quite relaxed by the end of my turn, eager to get out to the track again. Upping the pace towards the end of the session wasn't accompanied by the usual grip'er harder white knuckles but rather by letting the bike in faster to turns, tipping her ever more at the apexes, all very brainy rather than muscular or clenched buttocks stuff. Nice.
With a few shots of espresso in my veins diluted by plenty of mineral water, it's time to appreciate the finer points of the RSV under more pressure. Like for instance, that at a half respectable pace of 2:20's at one point, I haven't even gotten a nary wobble or wave, even while cresting the slight rise and kink at the main straight at 150. A later analysis of my onboard video would reveal that in the whole 20 minutes session, there wasn't even a moment where the Erre did anything that had me rolling the throttle back. It's just that it does everything so smoothly that you forget to notice that you are approaching your personal limits. More about that later. In the meantime I am starting to get really mean in places like the fast Arrabbiata turns, especially the second one which is a 90-Mph with a blind exit after a crest. At a certain point I cant really believe the blind faith I am putting on that front wheel when you are pointing the Erre into a point in the sky while bent all over the bike, hoping there is indeed tarmac beyond the horizon line. A few turns later, at one of the finest esses in racing, the Biondetti, entered at high revs in third and hooking up fourth at its exit, the Erre is superquick in this fast direction change. Well, maybe not 600 quick, but surely quick for a liter tool. If it sounds like I was getting cocky, well yes I was. I kept losing time mainly on the sixth-to-third downshift/braking at the end of the straight, braking way too early, but on corners I was having a real fest, enjoying the neutrality of the steering, the sheer sure footedness. Checkered flag, one last lap to enjoy that sweet handling chassis and that buttery feeling twin, and to try and pass that last journo that's in my sights....Well, I bined it but at least did it like a man. At the apex of Borgo San Lorenzo, I dial in some more lean, maybe a little more throttle, the rear Pirelli SuperCorsa cries enough and I am down on my back, sliding feet forward into the gravel trap. Luckily the spectacular high side occurs after me and the Erre have separated. Two crashing tips. First wear your back protectors kids, preferably with air cushions. When I crossed the step of the curb exiting the track sliding on my back, my vertebras could have received a very serious beating without one. Second, if you do crash, make sure to do it in front of a photographer while having also a vid cam mounted on the tank. You'll get plenty of spectacular visuals to show your grandkids.
As it would turn out, that was also to be our last session. Aprilia's Robert Pandya took it like a man and actually urged me to get back on another bike but a sudden evening storm put an end to our track test. A real shame since for our afternoon sessions we were supposed to get the race kit Titanium exhaust cans on our Erres that supposedly perks up the torque curve in a big way. We actually got out to the track with these beautiful sounding pipes that really sent chills through my spine but were called back in when the rain started. Time for complaints. Sorry not much to whine about, at least not when your main worries are things like traction and lines. Would be nice to have more room for ankles. When putting the balls of your feet on the pegs, they were hitting the pipes somewhat. Not so sure that mirrors are far enough apart for police scared riders either. Maybe a stronger rear brake, with street riding in mind. But that's all really.
So then, at the end of the day, just how true are Aprilia's claims about that potential second less per lap? That little something that could turn the new RSV into the king of Superstock. Being just a fair road rider with a dozen track outings, let's leave my feeble 2:20 aside. During the launch days, real racing journos were getting into the 2:10-2:05 while real racers who were there wearing a journo hat for cover, like Italian SBK contender, Andrea Mazzali (who knows Mugello like the back of his hand), got down to a spicy 2:02. How fast is a 2:02? At the National Italian Superstock round, front runners where getting down to 2:00's with full Superstock tune, "street threaded" slicks and of course, no lights, no nothing. So hard to argue with the facts, this Erre could be on that grid, out of the box, lights and all. But to most people this will matter little. What is important is that after their surprise entry into the big bore arena with the surprising 98' Mille, the ante has been raised and the new kid on the block is right there with the best of 'em. The new RSV feels much more modern, precise, agile, tractable and powerful. It was also great to see that in the current rat race for ultimate performance in the liter class, Aprilia has choose to put brain power to work rather than brute force. That special balance, that was so captivating in the old RSV, is still there, intact and immensely enhanced.
If there's anything that these new RSV left me with a wish for, is to have it soon for a street test. Yes there I could show them some tail pipe!