'Cause I can get the throttle on the Formula Xtreme champion Attack Suzuki open enough on the straights to experience the kind of speed that makes that sizzling sound, which segues into the smooth rush airplanes get just after they pass through Mach 1--but mostly you feel like if you openthe throttle just one more nth of a degree of rotation, that extra little twist to the stop--you might run into a problem with physics you never knew existed. I have new respect for Chuck Yeager. I mean, I've highsided in a straight line on an XR100 in the mud; surely that can't happen on dry pavement? Listen to me, just put the footage of Jason Pridmore highsiding himself off this bike up the hill at Road Atlanta last season out of mind, and go ahead and roll it to the stop.
I, I can't. I'm afraid....
Attack main man Richard Stanboli knows why: "Yeah, there's about 20 more horsepower between 90 and 100 percent open. The throttle butterflies disrupt the airflow until they're all the way open."
Feels more like 50 more to me. Feels like somebody just attached a huge bungee cord to the nosecone.... then again, why open the throttle all the way when nearly-all-the-way is enough to suck up and blow past surprised Hayabusas on California Speedway's banking (and every other bike at the Fastrackriders day)? Oi, it's fun to ride at the track, and it's even more fun when you blow everybody's doors off--something I've never experienced before. I always thought it was more rider skill than bike. In this case, ain't no gray area; it's the bike. Period. Today, slightly detuned to keep me from injuring myself, Stanboli says we're making 190 horsepower and we weigh 372 pounds. With me on it, that's a horse for every 2.8 pounds--versus about 4 pounds on a stock GSX-R1000, and a stock GSX-R does not loiter. It's an alarming difference.
In fact, Pridmore's Suzuki was usually the second or third-fastest thing through the timing lights at AMA events all season long--often a mph or two slower than Nick Hayden's RC51 Honda, but still banging on the door of 190 at fast tracks like Brainerd.
According to Stanboli--who's been known in the past to weld Yamaha combustion chambers closed in order to move them to a different place entirely--the GSX-R1000 is an easy beast from which to extract 200 reliable horsepower. All that's in there, he says, are 2mm oversize pistons, a nice roadracing head massage, titanium rods, a balanced crank, and the standard charging system. Modified standard throttle bodies control the intake mixture--which Richard says he keeps "docile" to keep the temperature down. What is different is the bike's Motec engine control electronics--$22,000 worth--like the ones used in F1 automobiles--with more input and output channels than the Pet Psychic. As for factory exotica, most teams claim there isn't much of that going around in Formula Xtreme (but we don't believe the Honda guys when they say it). All Attack got all season from Hamamatsu, Stanboli says, was a close-ratio six-speed transmission. Okay, two of them; one for Jason's bike and one for Ben Spies's.
Which really just makes the FX championship that much sweeter.
"Let's put it this way," Stanboli says, "we're the only team competing for the championship without a tractor trailer. Our inhouse personnel is relatively small, our budget is probably a quarter of what they (Erion and EMGO Valvoline and Graves Yamaha, we think he means) have, if even that. We do have a really talented rider and we have a good engineering capability. What we lack in finances or support we make up for in talent.
"Yeah it feels good. We beat two full Honda efforts--Erion and Bruce Transportation are HRC efforts, and a full factory Yamaha effort--full R7 works chassis and parts, works swingarms... I'm very familiar with Yamahas and I know exactly what those guys were using--basically left- over Superbike stuff from the previous year, when Gobert was doing really good on the thing."
Stanboli would know. His R1-engined R7 was outlawed way back during the 2000 season, long before the AMA went ahead and let factory Yamaha use the R7 frame for the first half of 2002 (maybe they thought nobody would notice?).
Formula Xtreme's few-rules format was made for guys like Stanboli: Superbikes are too expensive and corporate, and you can't really do anything to Supersport bikes. In FX, though, if you want to chop up the frame and improve upon what Suzuki built, have at it. The Attack Suzuki's frame seems to have undergone radical surgery in the swingarm pivot area.
What have you done Richard?
"After Fontana we got a chance to view the bike and suspension data, and then again at Sears Point, it was even more prevalent, that there was a problem with the power delivery, and the suspension being able to handle all the torque, so after Sears Point we made the frame change... so we moved the swingarm pivot. I can't tell you where we moved it to, but we moved it so we'd be able to utilize the horsepower of the motorcyle. Now it's adjustable, 6mm up and down, 3mm forward and back... it took us a couple rounds to get it right. We got to Colorado and it was a piece of cake. We won that one. Road America we had some other issues with suspension but dialled that out and won that one too."
At Road America, too, Pridmore got the break he needed when Damon Buckmaster tried to mate his Yamaha with Jake Zemke's Honda in an unnatural fashion -- and both got no points. Before you jump in with the opinion that Pridmore "inherited" the championship, well, don't jump in with that.'Tis a far better thing to live to fight another day,than to throw it down the road in my opinion. And that was in fact the plan of Attack for 2002.
"Right, we had Jason back again," says Stanboli,"uninjured, and we took a whole different approach to the season. We said let's not try to win 'em all like in 2001; let's just go out there and just place, and win when we can without taking any real chances. Jason rode around, I wouldn't say he was riding 110 percent all year. He did what he had to do to win the championship. We had a couple glitches just like the other teams, but I think we made less mistakes than the other teams -- as seen in the last race -- and so wound up winning the championship. And that's what it takes; you gotta be there and win some too."
The swingarm is what Stanboli calls "fabbed," from kit pieces lying round the shop. In fact they look suspiciously like Yamaha parts. Mix and match. Stanboli redid all sorts of pieces and linkage and Bob's your uncle. Then he changed the bike's steering offset and trail with billet triple clamps built by Attack.
And I don't think Stanboli would've spent $22K for the Motec engine management/data-logger system unless he thought it was worth it. What I gathered from the conversation between Hackfu and Richard is that a creative tuner with a Motec system can do a lot of things. One instance Stanboli mentioned is, "What if you don't want the bike to wheelie? All you do is plug the front wheel travel sensor into the computer, and program it so that when the fork enters an area of negative travel, let's retard ignition timing 10 degrees... easy to do." "You can do dynamic trail measurement. You can say, my front travel's, this my rear travel's that, offset's this and my ride height's that--then you can compare all those on the fly, and boom, you know if there's too much squat leaving the corner, or maybe I'm loosing too much trail entering the corner or maybe it's extending the back and shoving the front at the exit..."
Again, this type of thing isn't legal in Superbike or Supersport.
Add all that brainpower up, both human and artificial, and you arrive at a bike that's surprisingly easy to ride -- just like all the cool racebikes I've had the chance to ride over the years. Guys like Pridmore are able to fly on them because the bike needs so little attention you get to pay full attention to the race track; all the bike does is respond to commands. Okay, well -- respond to commands and produce 200 horsepower.
There's Ohlins suspension at either end, including a GP fork in front. "That was stupid," Stanboli says, "we wound up having to completely redo everything in it." Springs are pretty stiff, because Jason's corner speed is high (to go with his high speed everywhere else). The bike works fine at Burns-speed, too -- firm but kind. And even with Dunlop slicks left over from the final round at VIR, it doesn't take long to become Invincible Man on this bike. No matter how good street tires get, there's still nothing like even worn slicks; even when your ear's dragging, Jason's bike just yawns.
The close-ratio trans made a big difference in the season too, allowing Jason to keep the engine above the torque peak -- making it harder to spit out the rear tire and easier to keep the front one grounded. Through Fontana's slowest right, I think I'm using second gear until I start looking at the Motec display and realize I'm in first, which must be good up 'til 80 or so, feels like.
Even in low, the bike accelerates out of that corner with the teeniest opening-the-throttle lurch, and once it's on the meat of the tire you just roll it open (okay not quite all the way open), and get smoooooth acceleration--the front wheel only becoming gently airborne as the revs get up to 8000 or so -- with none of the wheelie-over-backward-instantly smack people talk about.
Brakes are big Brembos with lots of controllable bite, and useful for lining up the little kink just before Fontana's lengthy infield straight; that's a good spot to let the Attack Suzuki eat. Holy mother of pearl. Again, everything's fine until that last little bit of throttle, where it feels like the rear tire's going to break loose even though you're already accelerating hard through 100 mph. Things that were once gradual undulations yards apart are now bumps. I picture Miss Budweiser suddenly going airborne off a lake. Guys on R1s you usually can't keep up with are suddenly obstacles. Richard was right: anytime the gas is on hard, you have to ride this bike on the balls of your feet, weight on the tank, loose grip on the bars but not too loose, and then we're talkin' flying off God's own Big Bertha, par five. Remember there's a powershifter and down is faster -- and you find yourself at top speed, which is a lot, in not much time at all. A Haybusa will go this fast, almost, but it takes it maybe a mile to get there. Stanboli's beast gets there in a couple hundred yards, feels like.
And it's nice, really, once you adjust. Cleansing even, a slightly religious feeling of omnipotence, an out-of-body experience. Hey, these last months haven't been easy on me man... fired from my job (that was tough for like two hours), weaned from the Paxil, cleft from the one I love, taking body blows from Shiite MO subscribers... sigh. Heroin is nice, we hear. Yoga is supposed to be therapeutic -- but a few laps on this thing seems to have realigned all sorts of crooked internal bits in me, like having your neck snapped by a really good chiropractor or being serviced by a really expensive Vegas... scratch that part, we're a FAMILY publication. Thanks for the memories, Richard.