Duke's Den - My Tour Of Racetracks Around the World: Part 3
Ah, the year 2007 was a momentous one, marking my arrival at Motorcycle.com after years toiling at other publications. I was headhunted from another dot-com to lead the charge at MO, which was newly under the auspices of Verticalscope.
Like pretty much every transitional period ever, there were times of frustration, deliberation and confusion, but there was also much pride as we launched a site redesign and – along with co-conspirators Alfonse “Fonzie” Palaima and Pete Brissette – set forth on a mission to be the best motorcycle publication on the web.
As Editor-in-Cheese, I had responsibilities that stretched beyond simply writing articles. There is perhaps no finer job duty for a motojournalist than deciding how to accept invitations to motorcycle launches. There were times I had to select myself the best journo for the job.
There is no purpose-built circuit quite as epic as Nurburgring’s North Loop, a truly sensational racetrack that twists and turns and meanders over nearly 1000 feet of elevation changes during a wickedly challenging 12.9-mile lap. Located in Western Germany’s Eifel Mountains, the Nordschleife is the former home of motorcycle GPs until safety concerns ended two-wheel racing after 1980.
First constructed in 1927, the Nordschleife has a dizzying layout complicated by blind entries and exits, so I was grateful to be blessed with a two-day training course when I visited as part of BMW Motorrad Race Track Training. Since then, the German company now refers to BMW Motorrad Track Days as its affiliate program. Interestingly, the school’s calendar currently has a pinned spot in June tagged “Still waiting for Nurburgring.”
Losail International Circuit
As a motorcycle rider, visiting the Middle East wasn’t on my radar as places I’d like to ride, but then along came the invite to test Kawasaki’s all-new 2008 ZX-10R in Qatar. Sure! Uh … Wait, where? Qatar turns out to be a diminutive outgrowth on Saudi Arabia’s eastern flank pointing directly northward across the Persian Gulf at Iran. Also not far from the American hotspot of Iraq.
Located in the desert on flat land, Losail lacks pretty much any topographical beauty, but the track layout proves to be entertaining and a technical challenge worthy of inclusion to the MotoGP and WSBK calendars. Still, it’ll never measure up to the world’s best.
Chuckwalla Valley Raceway
Three-quarters of the way to the middle of nowhere California, Chuckwalla is SoCal’s first new roadracing circuit (Auto Club doesn’t fully count) in decades. The brainchild of Mickey Grana from SoCal Trackdays, CVR has an entertaining layout that can be run in both directions, and it features a couple of elevation changes to spice it up, along with a nicely cambered bowl-type corner.
Chuckwalla is a welcome departure from the typical SoCal tracks motojournos have ridden too often. It lacks only a long straightaway, which keeps it off our list whenever we are testing the latest liter/superbikes.
Blackhawk Farms Raceway
Blackhawk Farms Raceway is located near South Beloit, Illinois, not far from the Wisconsin border. The 1.95-mile circuit is part of a 219-acre farm, and its lushly treed backdrop is a world away from SoCal’s desert-based tracks. It seems well suited for 600cc sportbikes, but it was a bit tight for a 1250cc supercharged V-Twin.
Presaging Kawasaki’s relentlessly hyped H2/H2R by at least six years was the Roehr 1250sc, the lower-case nomenclature referring to the Rotrex supercharger mounted to a Harley-Davidson V-Rod motor. Walter Roehrich, the engineer behind this project, claimed his 1250sc pumped out 168 hp and almost 100 lb-ft of torque at its peaks. Unfortunately for Roehrich, his bike was launched just as the global economy was tanking, leaving the pool of people who could afford a $50k toy painfully shallow.
Eastern Creek Raceway
Rewinding six years brings us to the land of Oz and the launch of an all-new superbike from Yamaha, the crossplane-crank R1 that went on to claim multiple championships in WSBK and AMA Superbike. Since 2012 known as Sydney Motorsport Park, the Creek can’t match the majesty of Australia’s fabulous Phillip Island circuit, but it is nevertheless a top-notch track that formerly hosted Grands Prix.
Fast forwarding six years brings us back to Eastern Creek for another R1 launch, this time a new ground-up overhaul that promises to be outstanding. I saved myself the ignominy of repeating a press intro and instead spread the Aussie love to Troy Siahaan, who will be providing a full report this Friday. Stay tuned!
Ascari is unlike most racetracks in that it hosts no organized racing. It’s a privately run facility with indoor parking for 300 cars, a swimming pool and heliport, so members can fly in, buckle up inside their Lambo or McLaren, rip some laps and then take a dip before flying back to a seaside villa in nearby (as the Eurocopter flies) Malaga.
The circuit was obviously designed with care by people who truly care about the joys of traveling at high speeds on high-performance vehicles, with seemingly every kind of cornering challenge presented over 3.4 miles of length – the longest track in Spain. Sadly, unless you’re a motoring journalist or are Ferrari-rich (Magnum P.I. 308s don’t count!), it’s unlikely you’ll get to ride/drive it. Luckily for me, Ducati rented it for its Streetfighter launch in 2009.
This Wisconsin racetrack sees Ascari’s 3.4 miles and ups the ante to a full 4.0! In terms of epicness, Road America comes closest from among the tracks I’ve ridden in America. It has everything a rider could want: a variety of corners, several challenging changes in elevation and not one but two stretch-the-throttle-hard-and-long straightaways.
Road America was the site of perhaps my most momentous track experience when I entered the Moto-GT class in AMA Pro Racing’s national schedule. It turned out to be memorable for several reasons.
First, because I did the unthinkable and blew up an engine in practice. Second, because I drove to Buell’s HQ to fetch a new engine, which then turned out to be the wrong engine. Third, because our race began in the rain and we hadn’t turned even one lap on the Dunlop rain tires. Fourth, because I was asked to sign an autograph for a young race fan. And, fifth, by scoring a fourth-place in the GT2 class, we enjoyed a creditable finish in a national roadrace.
Sugo was best known for hosting Superbike World Championship rounds from 1988 to 2003. It’s fairly short, but it packs many challenges in its 2.3 miles and 230 feet of elevation variance.
Autodromo Internacional Algarve
Commonly referred to as Portimao for the Portuguese town nearest to the track, this rollercoaster of a circuit is easily one of my favorites from among the 40 or so I’ve ridden around the world thus far. Its rollicking layout among non-stop ups and downs leaves a rider nowhere to relax and nowhere to be bored!
My first laps of Portimao, late in 2009, were quite memorable. Not only was the track mind-blowingly entertaining, so was the BMW S1000RR I was riding for the first time! Amazingly, I was back in Portimao less than a year later when Metzeler introduced its Sportec M5. Ironically, as with the coincidental R1 launch going on this week, Metzeler’s Sportec M7 launch is underway this week. Fireball Brasfield will deliver his report from Almeria, Spain, on Wednesday.
TT Circuit Assen
Assen is the yang to Portimao’s elevation yin. The Netherlands is very flat, as is its famous racing circuit that has the distinction of hosting both a MotoGP and WSBK round, as well as a British Superbike event. Assen is known for its legions of two-wheel fans, which led to the track becoming known as the cathedral of motorcycling.
It’s not often Assen is reserved for media events, so I counted myself as fortunate in 2010 when Pirelli introduced its Diablo Rosso Corsa at the Dutch TT circuit. The flatness of the 2.8-mile track limits the entertainment value, but the flow of its layout somehow makes it more fun than expected – like a trip to a Dutch coffee house.
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