Aprilia US Track Fest

A Day at the Track with 5 of Aprilia's Finest

story by Sean Alexander, Created Mar. 16, 2003
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If you're a subscriber, you've probably already read the Technical Preview of the new 2004 Aprilia Mille R and Mille R Factory, as well as Yossef's excellent Crash Test of them.

We've also covered the last generation Mille R, and everyone's favorite "Hooligan/Streetfighter/Naked/Standard" Tuono. Back in March, we pointed readers of our News section to a sneak peak of Aprilia's Tuono Racing I'm guessing that you are pretty familiar with the players by now, but I'm also guessing that you've never seen nor heard of them all on one track at the same time. I have. I was there, and I loved every minute of it.

Since you are familiar with the technical highlights and background stories, I will dispense with the pleasantries and narrate a fast lap around Pahrump, giving a corner-by-corner description to highlight the relative strengths and weaknesses of these awesome motorcycles.

I enter the front straight at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park (That's "Pahrump" to you and me) from a very very tight 90-degree right, which allows precious little exit speed. Though the straight isn't very long, 109mph flashes up on the digital speedo, before I bend it like Beckham into the 180-degree / 75mph right-hand turn-1. Of the five different Aprilias that I'm riding today, the "old" 2003 Mille R is the most comfortable through this turn, due to its outstanding stability and traditional Italian love for fast sweepers. The new Milles are just as fast through here, but they feel a little more "racy" and a little less planted.

Sleek, Confident, Extremely Fast, and oh yeah, the bike is no slouch either. As I exit Turn-1, it's only a short goose of the throttle to Turn-2. 2 is a 200-degree / 75mph corner, but this time to the left. Harder to see around and with a rougher texture , 2 tends to un-settle the bikes that aren't endowed with an Ohlins suspension. In this less predictable corner, the new Mille Factory R moves to the fore, with it's revised chassis and enhanced responsiveness, it is fastest all the way around, until you come to the exit. Exiting 2, there's a large dip, smack-dab in the middle of the fast line. This dip, causes the standard 04 Mille R to touch the side stand down hard enough to upset the chassis. The Ohlins equipped 04 R Factory seems to sag a little less through this dip and only lightly scrapes the side stand but there is really no excuse for either bike to be touching anything down and without the poorly located side stand, neither one would. At this same spot on the track, the 2003 Mille R and Tuono have no such issues and can exit the corner cleanly, while leaned over and hard on the gas. I think I can actually hear the Tuono laughing, as I merrily spin its tire through the dip and out of the corner.

Once out of turn two, I sweep back to the left side of the track and rocket along a short straight that seems to disappear into the distance, due to the featureless landscape. However, I need to quickly get HARD on the brakes, because there's a 160-degree right turn, and WHOA NELLY Turn-3 is right here, right now, and super tight! The improved brakes on the 2004 bikes stand out in this situation, both versions offer outstanding

Technicolor Dreamspower, but the R Factory's radial mount, radial master cylinder Brembos give superior feel and confidence over the standard Mille R's Brembos which are afflicted with a super-aggressive initial bite. This grabbiness can easily upset both the chassis and the rider. Though they offer outstanding power, the standard Mille R's brakes need a pad-swap for a more progressive feel. The 2003 Tuono and Mille R both offer excellent brakes, but the 2004 bikes definitely have the edge on overall stopping power. Once slowed for Turn-3, a tight line is needed, to keep the tires on decently clean and smooth asphalt. I need to be careful exiting 3 on all of these bikes, because getting on the throttle too early or too hard, has them running out of racetrack, before getting pointed through the right-left esses, which I can almost straight-line on the Milles. I actually can straight-line them on the Tuono, but it requires a little curb hopping and motardish tomfoolery. I think I hear more giggling from Mr. Tuono.

A map of his colon, or the joint for bike testing? You decide.The entire Turn-4 complex at Pahrump is particularly sinuous, starting with those esses, and then leading into a fairly tight double-apex right that dumps you directly into yet another 200+ degree turn to the left. This turn never really ends, it just opens up into a nearly straight section. The racetrack is fairly smooth after the last apex, and every one of these Aprillias lets me roll deeply into the throttle, with the horizon still tilted. This is the tightest section of the racetrack and once again, the Tuono is in its element, allowing me to cut and thrust through, using its high leverage bars to facilitate super rapid direction changes. Right on the heels of the Tuono, the 2004 Milles also make very good time through here, aided by their more responsive handling. The 2003 Mille R struggles a bit when pushed in this section, showing its preference for a more flowing style.

As I unwind through the last nearly straight section of Turn-4, I stay to the left, already getting set-up for Turn-5. Turns 5A and B are an exact copy of the hairpin at Mosport. The entrance into 5 isn't nearly as tricky as Turn-3 was, but since 5A and 5B form a narrow double-apex right-hander exiting onto the 2nd longest straight at Pahrump, it is crucial to get the line right, in one flowing sweeping arc, so you can maximize your drive out of it. The 2004 R Factory really shines in this section, allowing a smooth transition from brakes to double-apex arc.

PAGE 2 Look he's doing another wheelie.... Yawn. Actually, all V60 Aprilia engines are designed to maintain good oil pressure during hard accelleration, extreme cornering and wheelies. They can do this for days on end, with no oil starvation problems.Once out of the Turn-5 complex, both of the new 2004 Milles put their increased power and lighter weight to good use, accelerating down the following straight noticeably harder than the prior generation Mille and Tuono. The rush continues through a WFO kink to the right at about 115mph, before it is time to get back on the brakes and lean down into the 85mph left that is Turn-6. 

Turn-6 is a funky corner that is hard to get through cleanly. It can be taken quite quickly, but the pavement is a little bumpy and doesn't seem very grippy here. The 03 Mille R is nice and confidence inspiring through here. The 04 Milles both touch down that troublesome side stand again and one time while chasing Aprilia Racer Aaron Clark through here, the 04 Mille R that I was riding touched down so hard, that it slid the rear, then fully-tucked the front and tried its best to crash. Fortunately, I caught it on my knee and thanks to the stock steering

Sidestand touch-down in 3-2-1....damper, it only flicked once, when the tires regained traction. By the time I had it gathered back up, I was completely out of track and went straight off into the desert at around 60mph. I think I'm the first journalist to jump a new Mille over a drainage ditch. Once I got it stopped, I turned around and returned to the pits (Does anybody have an extra pair of shorts that I can borrow?) An Aprilia tech rep later showed me where the side stand travel limiter was and assured me that it was a simple matter to grind it down, allowing the stand to tuck all the way up against the swingarm and neatly out of the way. He seemed stumped, when I asked why it wasn't already set-up that way from the factory.

Assuming you make it through Turn-6, you need to immediately scrub-off another 40mph for the tight 90-degree right Turn-7 that dumps you onto the "back" straight. This, the longest and straightest section of track, has both of the 2004 bikes indicating 143 mph, while the 03 Mille R shows 136 and the Tuono only musters 133mph.

Sean was very comfortable on the "Old" 03 Mille R. This is still a fantastic and confidence inspiring canyon carver.At the end of the straight, about 3 seconds of braking and a single downshift, bring me to Turn-8. 8 is the fastest corner on the track, a long right-hander, taken at about 90mph. This high-speed sweeper ends abruptly at the sharp, 90-degree left/90-degree right, Turn-9/10. Since 8 dumps directly into 9 and I can only get through 9 and 10 at about 45mph, I need to scrub off the extra 45mph PDQ, while rapidly transitioning from right to left. Once again, the superb brakes on the new R Factory allow me to do this with the most grace and efficiency, though the ultra stable 2003 Mille R, also does quite well through here. Even with several hours of track time to get used to them, the new Mille R is once-again hurt by its touchy binders and ends up as the least fun bike to ride through this section. As usual, the Tuono is perfectly happy to blast through, but it doesn't have the on-rails feel that is shared by all versions of the Mille. The left-right flick through 9 and 10 dumps you back onto the front straight, completing the lap.

What's it all mean? Who knows, but it sure was fun. The 2004 Mille Factory R was definitely the fastest, when you put the whole lap together, but the Tuono was still quite fast and easily the most fun. The 2003 Mille R is a great bike, with slightly more relaxed ergonomics than the 04s and the most stable personality of all the Aprilias. The standard 2004 Mille R is lighter, faster, stronger, quicker, etc... than last years high-zoot Mille R, needing only a bit of suspension tuning and a change of brake pad material to address it's flaws. If it was my money; for racing and track days, I'd buy the standard 2004 Mille R, remove the side stand and spend $500 on suspension work and brake pads. For the street, there can be no doubt..... Tuono all the way baby.

I'll take two of those frozen strawberry things.Hmmm.... The R Factory was fastest and the Tuono was most fun. I wonder....What if..... What if...... No need to wonder, the 2004 Tuono Racing has the same suspension and brakes as the R Factory, with the ergos and sparkling personality of a Tuono. It also has an un-corked motor and thunderous voice that makes it feel every bit as fast as the new Milles in a straight-line, while being a kick in the ass good time through the twisty bits. Aprilia only had one Tuono Racing on hand at Pahrump, and they strongly advised against crashing it, so the assembled journalists were limited to a few laps each and asked to keep it cool. Let me tell you, "keeping it cool" has never been my forte, and this bike truly brings out the worst (best) in me. Even with my limited time on it, I could tell that the Tuono Racing is the hot ticket on a tight track like Pahrump. If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend that you buy one and a bunch of extra tires.

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