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The Roadracing Privateer: Bike Selection and Set-Up

Many of our readers already ride on roadrace tracks, or race. Other readers are interested in getting involved in roadracing.

Jeff Whitmer is a local rider who works near MD’s headquarters in Temecula, California. He took up roadracing this year. This is the story of the nuts and bolts of how he got into the sport, how he chose a bike, and how he set up that bike for racing.

If you live in Southern California and want to roadrace a motorcycle, your track choices are limited to Willow Springs and . . . er, uh . . . Willow Springs. Willow Springs and Willow Springs Motorcycle Club are located in Rosamond, California, just outside Lancaster, California. Willow Springs is known as the “Fastest Road in the West”, and its nine-turn layout is extremely fast. An AMA National is run there each year, with the Superbikes averaging 106 miles per hour.

Jeff has been riding for 24 years. Although he has only been on sport bikes since 1998, he picked up the sport quickly, and enjoyed attending track days at Willow Springs. The track days are organized and run by Fastrack Riders. Fastrack places riders in their own skill category — so no one feels too slow or too fast for the group they are riding with. Fastrack also offers an orientation school for street riders who are just beginning their track experience. Fastrack has Willow Springs open for riding at least once a month.

Jeff had been riding a Yamaha R1 on the street, and using that bike for track days at Willow Springs. Jeff had the opportunity to ride a 600, however, and was convinced that he wanted to race a 600. Yamaha’s R6 was a logical choice, and it was the bike Jeff ultimately chose to race. The 600 supersport class is the logical class for most privateers at most local or regional racing organizations. Open class is another option, as is the 250 two-stroke class. The cheapest way to get involved in racing is to use a bike that can double as your street bike with a simple change of body work and lighting parts.

If you are going to ride a sport bike, and you cannot afford to have a dedicated racer, the 600cc class is probably the way to go. Getting involved in the Spring of 2000, the Yamaha R6 was the logical bike for Jeff to choose — it is the most popular privateer supersport mount at the moment, and is considered the most track-focused 600cc machine (along with Suzuki’s GSX-R600).

Jeff works for a Yamaha dealer, as well. His employer is Temecula Motorsports, and Temecula Motorsports offered some sponsorship for Jeff’s racing. Jeff’s racing activities, and practicing activities at Willow Springs provides some valuable advertising for Temecula Motorsports through stickers on Jeff’s bike, and Jeff’s use of a dealership box van appropriately stickered to advertise the business of Temecula Motorsports. Not all privateers work for a motorcycle shop, of course, but privateer sponsorship by a local motorcycle shop is more readily available than most people believe. Discounts on bikes and parts can be obtained by many racers, regardless of their skill level. Of course, the faster and more prominent riders will obtain greater sponsorship (scaling right up to the factory riders who receive everything free on top of a generous salary — but they aren’t privateers, are they?).

Having chosen the Yamaha R6 (a 2000 model), Jeff proceeded to set the bike up for racing. Here are the steps he followed.

First of all, racing in California requires the privateer to make sure that he has a stock bike which has full power. “California bikes” are often several horsepower down on “49 state bikes”. In the case of the Yamaha R6, making sure that you have cams and ignition for a 49 state bike is crucial, and means several horsepower in your stock set-up. The 49 state cams are also excellent cams for racing, whereas the California cams are not. Therefore, Jeff made sure he had a 49 state R6, rather than a California R6, before making further modifications for racing.

Most, if not all, 600 supersport racing classes permit an after market exhaust, air filter and jetting changes. This is an important, and indeed necessary step in making a 600 competitive. As with anything else, when you purchase an after market exhaust, make sure you are dealing with an experienced, reputable company. Jeff chose to install a Yoshimura exhaust system, as well as the higher-flowing air filter distributed by Yoshimura, known as a BMC race filter.

Yoshimura makes a high quality exhaust system for the Yamaha R6 which fits correctly, bolts on easily, and most importantly, provides a significant boost in horsepower and torque. Yoshimura is one of the exhaust manufacturers that is careful about the design and location of their “cross-over” pipes in the header system, for example. After installing the pipe, the bike needs to be re-jetted to compensate for the higher flow of air and fuel, i.e. “better breathing” created by the new air filter and exhaust system. Jetting is one of the trickiest, and potentially most frustrating, aspects of installing a new exhaust system and air filter.

Jetting is influenced not only by the type of exhaust system and air filter chosen, but the atmospheric conditions (air temperature, air density and humidity) prevalent at your race track. Here’s the best way to get a starting point (baseline) jetting set-up for your bike’s carburetors. Find several riders who ride the same machine you do at your track. Preferably, talk to the faster riders who clearly know how to set up their bikes.

In Jeff’s instance, several riders suggested a jet kit for the Yamaha R6 provided by Graves Motorsports. Chuck Graves, the owner of Graves Motorsports, is not only one of the fastest riders at Willow Springs, his performance products company focuses largely on Yamaha’s R6 and R1. With the Graves’ jet kit installed in Jeff’s R6, it was time to dyno tune the bike.

Jeff contacted North County Hyper Sports in Oceanside, California (760-722-TUNE). Hyper Sports has a Dyno Jet model 200 dyno on the premises, and also sponsors its own race team and races at Willow Springs. This is a picture of Jeff’s R6 hooked up to the Hyper Sports dyno. During the run, an exhaust “sniffer” was inserted in the muffler. By monitoring the exhaust, Hyper Sports was able to advise Jeff on minor tweaks needed to bring his jetting close to perfect. The Hyper Sports dyno run revealed a substantial increase in horsepower and torque over a stock, 49-state R6 (approximately a six horsepower increase in peak horsepower, with a broad, smooth torque line significantly higher than the stock torque).

Jeff also had to install new body work. After removing the lights and stock body work, Jeff obtained an R6 racing body work kit from Airtech Streamlining in Vista, California. Although several companies manufacture racing body work for Yamaha’s popular R6, Jeff chose to work with Airtech, and Airtech’s kit fit well (after some minor drilling), and saved substantial weight over the stock body work. This also allowed Jeff to leave the stock body work in pristine condition for later use on the street, or resale of the bike.

Most racing body work is not pre-painted, and Jeff had a pre-existing relationship with Mark McClellan and his company Streight Edje Helmet Art in Corona, California (909-371-6768). Anyone who knows about Mark’s talents will tell you that he’s a magician with paint and design. He has provided custom helmet paint jobs for several top factory riders, both roadrace and motocross. The Bostrom brothers come to mind first.

Mark also paints motorcycle body work, and he painted the Airtech body work on Jeff’s R6 (see photo). Having learned to be a perfectionist in the helmet art field, Mark’s paint on the R6 body work was flawless.

Now, Jeff had a great bike for supersport roadracing. He needed to dial in his suspension, however. While most stock suspension is more than adequate for street riding, aggressive roadracers are almost never satisfied with stock suspension. Jeff is a big guy (six feet two inches, 220 pounds). He chose to work with Stig Pettersson at Pettersson Pro Suspension. Stig is also located in Southern California. Stig is a former factory mechanic. Stig is very familiar with roadracing suspension, and works closely with Yamaha’s AMA factory roadracers and other professional roadracers on suspension tuning and set-up. Stig also distributes Ohlin suspension products — the favorite components of privateers who can afford to replace their stock suspension.

You should always try to work with a suspension specialist that is familiar with your track. Stig is very familiar with Willow Springs and the set-up necessary to go fast there. Jeff acquired an Ohlin rear shock from Stig and had it valved and sprung for his weight and speed. Stig also re-valved and re-sprung the stock R6 forks. The Pettersson Pro Suspension set-up allowed Jeff to go much quicker at Willow, in greater control, and gave him the ability to continually lower his lap times. The stock set-up was extremely limiting at a fast track like Willow.

The stock R6 has outstanding brakes. After subtracting the weight saved by the Airtech body work and the Yoshimura exhaust system, Jeff had a very light bike with outstanding stock brakes. There was room for improvement, however, in the brake pad area.

Lyndall Racing Brakes provides excellent racing brake pads. Jeff thought the stock brakes were good — they were, but with Lyndall pads installed, they are significantly improved, with outstanding initial bite and controllable modulation.

This sums up Jeff’s preparation of his R6 for supersport racing. Stay tuned for an article on racing tips for the privateer.