Peak Performance Racing: A Journey II

AMA Daytona SportBike

Preparing a production motorcycle for road racing in America does not require really great mechanical skill or even a Swiss bank account. After all, most production sportbikes are designed from their inception to compete on the racetrack.

One must simply liberate the beast from within. Chuck the lights and license plate, swap out the glycol-based coolant, drill a few fasteners for safety wire, raise the rear sets, mount a set of sticky tires, slap on a number plate and you’re ready to race in nearly any American club racing organization.

Generally speaking, amateur racers benefit little from the added power of an aftermarket fuel/spark management system, expensive exhaust or components that deliver over-the-top braking capabilities.

In fact, when we interface with new racers operating on a limited budget, we typically steer them toward suspension upgrades. While power upgrades may give a newbie some psychological edge, he/she will rarely be capable of taking full advantage of it.

This is especially true if the street suspension is being asked to perform racetrack duty; and the faster one becomes, the more the suspension presents a problem. Thus, after meeting the minimum technical requirements, most racers should then direct their remaining budget toward improving the front-end and rear shock.

This philosophy is shared by Alan and Patrick McCord; it has been fundamental to Patrick’s successes in club racing. His ability to ride the bike faster than others relies heavily on corner speed and very little on engine performance enhancements.

However, AMA Pro Racing isn’t club racing; and the competition uses the best equipment with racers quite capable of maintaining high corner speeds. Their mounts are veritable rocket ships on the long straights.

Not only will Patrick need the chosen ZX6R platform to corner well -that goes without saying; he will need it to corner well with the additional power we intend to have it deliver. Otherwise, the factory bikes (and perhaps some privateers) will be laughing as they gap him by a second or more per lap, while leaving him unable to respond – a situation that is never good for a racer’s morale.

So with a bone-stock 2011 ZX6R in our possession to enter the AMA Daytona SportBike class, we made a checklist of items that would need to be addressed. The suspension items were few. Patrick loved the big piston forks when he raced this same ZX6R platform in WERA West.

So much so that we installed a set on a 2007 ZX10R that he also raced on a few occasions. People in the pits would ponder the setup and suggest it wouldn’t work, but with the right springs, attitude and swingarm angle, the bike handled quite well…until the frame would start flexing. Interestingly, Kawasaki is now running the BPF setup on the new ZX10R superbikes.

Get the spring rate right, keep everything fresh and yes, you can go fast on the stock forks…onto the next item.

It may seem blasphemous to say, but the stock shock is a very fine component. Patrick raced an entire season on one and won four championships with WERA West; and it wasn’t until the end of the season that the shock indicated a need for a rebuild.

We believe the stock unit could be re-valved and made to work every bit as well as an Ohlins TTX. After Daytona however, Jeff Herzog from KMC-USA shipped us a pair of Racetech shocks that were sitting in the spares bin for JD Beach and Eric Bostrom’s Kawasaki AMA Daytona 200 bikes. We elected to install the shock with the lighter spring, which is only slightly stiffer than the stock setup.

Jeff Herzog was also instrumental in providing us with a plethora of race parts from the Kawasaki Performance Parts catalog. Everything from a race wiring harness to head gaskets. Meanwhile, Tim Calhoun from LeoVince USA shipped us a Factory Corsa full titanium exhaust system.

We had run the LeoVince stainless system on the championship-winning bike and were very pleased with its performance, but the Factory Corsa is visibly larger and delivers better exhaust scavenging.

This is important because we degree-ed the cams to move the torque curve higher in the rpm range, producing a little more overlap and resulting in higher horsepower numbers. With the adjustable cam sprockets, it’s fairly easy to change the lobe centers, though it does require removing the engine from the frame.

After ruminating some with the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, we arrived at target lobe centers for the exhaust and intake cams. We then had Alan (who was getting very proficient at getting the engine in and out of the bike) dial-in the change.

The power delivery on this bike would differ from Patrick’s championship winning bike, which had loads of torque in the mid-range but suffered a bit on the top. This was evidenced on the long straight at Miller the prior year where the competition was able to pull away from his ZX6R.

Since Paddy’s forte is carrying high corner speeds, we felt he would be best served with more available power up top, thereby making his corner passes stick. Guided by the Kawasaki race manual, we performed some clean-up on the heads, checked all the clearances and installed the thinnest head gasket we could get away with.

Next up would be fuel & spark management. After receiving the electronic component from Joey Lombardo, slipped under the table at a Long Beach coffee shop, we procured a few pails of Sunoco 260 GTX (AMA Pro Racing spec fuel) and set about tuning the Kawasaki Race ECU on our Factory Pro eddy current brake dyno.

The spreadsheet calculations would prove to be fruitful, as we were able to realize several more horsepower relative to Patrick’s earlier bike. Time to test it all on the racetrack.

The finished racebike was tested first during a Keigwin’s track day at Infineon on a wet and drying track then subsequently during a Pacific Track Time track day when the track was dry and clean. These two outings would be Patrick’s only introduction to Infineon before the race weekend.

Because the latter date preceded the AFM race weekend, the track was fairly crowded with seasoned club racers familiar with the course. We were very pleased that Paddy was able to tick off lap times faster than all but a couple of liter bikes piloted by the fastest of the AFM racers.

More importantly, Patrick had NO complaints at all. The suspension was working everywhere, the power delivery was phenomenal and the ergonomics were perfect (on stock rear sets -go figure). It’s safe to say that we are ready to go racing.

All told, there was a considerable amount of time spent creating budgets and presentations, making phone calls, writing letters and emails to make this all come together -certainly more time than that required to setup and test the bike. At some point however, the handshaking and cajoling ceased to bear fruit and we had to reach into our own pockets in order to make certain deadlines.

That’s the nature of it. For those who did step up, our undying gratitude goes out.

Kawasaki, Ultimate MotorCycling magazine, LeoVince USA, Woodcraft/Armour Bodies, Neil Freeman Racing, ACT Racing, Arai, Motonation, Pacific Track Time – thank you, see you at the track!

Peak Performance Racing: A Journey Part 1


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