Victory Project 156 Takes on Pikes Peak
In the run-up to 2015 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC), Victory Motorcycles stunned the two-wheel community with the entry of its Project 156. The bike was an audacious, beautifully handcrafted oddity; a heavily muscled American naked upright saddled with an all-new liquid-cooled V-twin.
Project 156 garnered Victory a good deal of attention, giving rise to rumors as to what the manufacturer might be up to. As was revealed in the following months, Project 156 had been a clever preview of the new Octane, still a secret at the time, utilizing the new model’s powerplant to motivate the race bike up the mountain.
In a clever stroke of marketing, Victory chose number 156 as homage to the number of corners that comprise the famous Pikes Peak racecourse, which is a tourists road at all other times. The bike impressed in qualifying, especially given that the team was using the time trials in the week leading up to the event as a shakedown.
In the subsequent race, with pilot Don Canet muscling Project 156 toward the summit at a respectable clip, the two-wheel clockwork orange fell prey to a simple vapor lock fuel issue and stopped running. Canet coasted the beast to the side of the road and suffered a DNF, leaving us all to ponder what might have been.
However, the bike had awed, the race effort serving notice that Victory was a company in transition–a progressive-thinking entity with a potentially dramatic shift for the future. The resulting exposure from its 2015 entry proved a marketing coup. “Project 156,” says Nate Secor, Victory’s Marketing Manager, “what it’s done is it shows people what’s possible. It’s had a huge impact outside of our owner base. We’ve reached people through that program that never paid us any mind at all.”
Flash forward one year. The Octane broke ground, entering Victory’s lineup and the company announced another assault on The Mountain—as Pikes Peak is affectionately known. With a bit more testing (though not much) and 2014 Pikes Peak winner Jeremy Toye in the saddle, Victory once again set its sights on getting Project 156 up the hill faster than its competitors. To better appreciate Project 156 and Victory’s endeavor, it’s important to know something about the mountain and its history.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is unique; point-to-point, the 12.42-mile course begins at an elevation of 9,390 feet and ascends to 14,115 ft. The intervening 4,725-foot climb to the summit is made up of 156 corners. Given the elevation, the event has earned the name “Race to the Clouds.”
When Project 156 was first unveiled in 2015, there was a collective salivating of curiosity among the public and press over the pure blood racer, with myriad notions as to what Victory was conjuring. After all, Victory, an American heavy cruiser, the threat to Harley’s crown, was taking on The Mountain. The radical departure from its established mantra could only hint at a possible production bike to follow.
As it turned out, Victory—having developed a water-cooled V-twin that would power their, as of yet unannounced Octane—was looking at a creative way to make waves without diffusing the impact of the new bike’s release; nothing works in motorcycle marketing quite like the element of surprise.
Secor recalls thinking, “Where could we actually take this thing (the engine) and what are the venues to put it to the test?” Pikes Peak was the obvious choice. “A couple of things about Pikes Peak,” Secor continues. “One, it’s America’s race, there’s no other race like it. Being an American OEM we wanted to be there and be competitive. That leads into the other part; it’s America’s race, but you don’t see many American motorcycles on the hill.”
In possession of a solid base powertrain, Victory was in need of a chassis. Roland Sands, of Roland Sands Design (RSD), who already had a working relationship with Victory creating bespoke customs for the brand—as well as an extensive road-racing resume—was called in. The resulting tubular trellis frame is an intricate design employing a left side, single shock in a lateral mount linkage. “We were heavily influenced by the Ducati (Panigale),” Sands offers. “But our design potentially offers better rider feedback as it’s attached to the frame, where on the Panigale it’s mounted directly to the engine.”
Brembo brake components, Öhlins forks and shock, and a set of prototype RSD wheels complement the package. The radiator capacity was expanded and with specs from Victory, Sands crafted an exhaust system that wraps itself around the motor like a metallurgical boa constrictor.
“It was a bit complicated,” Sands says, “because the rear pipe had to be quite a bit longer than the front, so that was a challenge.” The artistically swirling pipe imbues Project 156 with a signature bellow, one that announces the bike’s presence on the course and makes it the only motorcycle to not be drowned out by the camera helicopter flying directly overhead.
Victory is remaining mum about the breadth of modifications to the internals, refusing to release any numbers on horsepower, torque, or weight. Of course the secrecy only adds to the mystique. In terms of the new water-cooled V-twin, Product Manager Brandon Kraemer muses, “We went in knowing we were going to go up Pike’s Peak.”
When asked about the motor sitting in Project 156, Kraemer offers, “It’s built from the same architecture, the same platform as Octane. There are a lot of parts that are literally the same, then there are some parts that are slightly modified, and then there are some parts that are totally, crazily race modified. For example, the crankcase, transmission, bearings, they all fit into the ‘no change’ category. Crankshaft I put into the slightly modified. Heads are heavily modified—and that’s in general where we got to make more power. Pistons and clutch are very different.”
Each time you walk around Project 156 your eyes tend to find something new to ogle. As Brandon affirms, smiling, “It’s a mechanical plethora.”
For the 2016 event, Victory entrusted its machine to Jeremy Toye, an accomplished road racer, veteran of the Isle of Man TT and the Macau Grand Prix, and Pikes Peak winner in 2014. “That power comes on nice and smooth,” Toye relates. “It’s propelling you forward without getting too distracted. It makes good horsepower, it moves itself well. The way that the delivery is, the fangs never come out to bite you in the neck.”
Practice and qualifying are unique. The course is broken down into three sections, with participants devoting one day to each section. Only on race day do they get to run the entire course and weave together what they’ve learned during the week. It’s a test of concentration, memorization, and visualization, further compounded by no warm-up or sighting lap on race day.
Although this is Victory’s second year at The Mountain, actual test time for Project 156 has been limited. Toye considers, “I’d like to pull the data and see actually how much mileage is on this thing, it wouldn’t be anything. It’s a work-in-progress.”
On race day Jeremy Toye was the sixth rider to start. At 8:39 a.m., the Victory’s signature bellow resonated over the mountain. Despite early morning frost on the upper reaches of the course, Toye managed a respectable time of 10:19.777, good enough to win the Exhibition Powersport class.
Victory’s return to Pikes Peak in 2016 has voraciously stirred the rumor mill. After all, is the company going to invest this heavily merely for bragging rights? It’s obvious Victory means business. Yet trying to get answers from Victory about its plans continues to be a coy game of cat and mouse with everyone from top management to engineers responding to inquiries with a ubiquitous Cheshire Cat grin—as if Victory had patented the mischievous expression. Naturally, without a shred of hard evidence and nothing to substantiate it, it’s easy to speculate on a production-based Project 156.
Victory has touched on a highly desirable platform capable of satiating the power-minded, sport-oriented V-twin enthusiast. It’s a smart move that is showing enormous interest, which speaks to the potential sales of such a machine.
For the naysayers, consider that it was less than 10 years ago that BMW—a company that had earned a label of “The Slipper Brigade”—wowed the world with its S1000RR and became a player in World Superbike.
So, could the same transformation be in the cards for Victory? Will the manufacturer emerge with a performance-oriented, muscled V-twin naked upright? All Nate Secor will say is, “As an American brand, we’re exploring.”
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to this entire endeavor is to see Victory, an established manufacturer, aggressively altering its trajectory, taking on a challenge in a very public way. Regardless of where it leads, it’s impressive to see the company’s willingness and ability to evolve. Jeremy Toye sums it all up quite eloquently, “We’re in the dance now.”