Aprilia US Track Fest
A Day at the Track with 5 of Aprilia's Finest
Get the Flash Player to see this player.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.
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 outstandingpower, 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. 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.