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