Matt Bond, 20/02/08 – 22/02/08
Having not ridden since the final round of 2008 I was looking forward to getting back on a bike, on a course which is, quite frankly, awesome!
The first half of the day we opted to use the K7 test bike, that hadn’t even been started since the Almeria test in 2008, and now it had different suspension compared to what I had used throughout the 2008 season! The bike’s Andreani fitted front forks actually felt quite good, even if I was only going round at a moderate pace.
Initially it was just good to be back on a bike, but after a few laps I was back into the swing of things and began to search for better lines and ideas for set-up. The track was so much different to when we had ridden back in October, it actually had grip, but was a lot bumpier. I got a few good laps in towards the end of the final morning session and found a fairly good set-up on the bike.
For the afternoon we decided to switch to the new bike, just to get a good idea for the comparison of the two machines, and within three laps it was obvious as to just how good the new bike is! The chassis is a lot firmer and handles better, the brakes are amazingly powerful, the motor has fantastic pull right through the rev range and even the standard suspension is up to par with some of the race set-up’s I have used before! Even as a completely standard road bike I have to say that this is one seriously fast bike, not just as a road bike, but as a race bike too! It was so good in fact, that I didn’t even ride the K7 for the rest of the test!
We made a few more small adjustments to the suspension to help the bike hold the line and settle on the exit of the turns, but even so it still kept pace with some ex-British Superbikes on the straights and I was even to out-brake them entering turn one! I doubt I could have got even close with the old bike! The only area which was below par, for the track, was the rear shock, which although gave great feedback, wasn’t really designed for really hard laps around the Portuguese track, and thus became looser and looser as it got hotter and hotter, but you’d expect this from any standard shock. Overall first impressions were that the bike is a serious weapon!
It was good to start the second day on the new bike with a fairly good base setting, which again we made a few tweaks too, with more preload, compression and rebound on the rear of the bike, while we just tweaked the rebound on the front end. It was all designed to keep the bike more settled and balanced through the exit of the turns, which is where I felt we needed to make improvements.
I was actually surprised at how fast in a straight line the bike was, and just how late and hard I could brake. It was like being back on a 600 when entering turns; you could nearly hold the brakes fully on right to the apex! The only problem was that I couldn’t stop the bike form backing in everywhere where I needed to brake hard or off the centre of the tyre. It may have looked good, but it was making it hard to turn in quickly and stay stable.
We made a few more adjustments front and rear to combat this, and it worked a treat, reducing the backing in, but also allowing for me to push the front into turns a lot harder. It felt fantastic!
For the qualifying we put in a new set of tyres as the ones we had on had done a lot of work and were fairly well shot! It made a big difference, especially allowing me to have some extra edge grip and feel. It helped combat the wiggling at the back from the rear shock, which although was not uncomfortable, was affecting the drive out of slower corners, even if it was really good fun! I didn’t want to get off the bike, it was just so enjoyable to ride, but Mike reminded me that I still had a race in the afternoon and that I was getting anymore tyres. I thought it best to park the bike and try and keep some grip for the 14 lapper that afternoon.
Starting from seventh on the grid was a good confidence boost as the only bikes in front of me were either full World Superbike in the form of Lorenzo Lanzi’s ex factory Ducati 999, World Supersport R6’s or European Superstock with Barry Burrell on board, specification machines! I had some ex-British Superbikes behind me, it was all a bit surreal that my fully standard, four day old K9 road bike was beating most of the guys out there, and I still had my wing mirrors on!
The only downside was that everyone I could see had brand new tyres on! How stupid did I feel? It just made me want to enjoy it even more!
Off the start I got a bit of a push wide, but slotted in behind an R1, which I managed to slide pass by the end of the first lap, and then I set about catching Loic Napoloene on the Celani Suzuki Italia bike (that Chris Seaton rode to the podium at the same track we were on in 2008). I managed to pull in to within a second of his rear wheel before the red flags came out.
I made a bit of a mess of the restart and ended up a bit further back than the opening start, and could feel the tyres getting well past their best, but I was enjoying it so much I didn’t mind the rear spinning and sliding everywhere I opened the throttle. I got into a great battle with Barry Chapman on the ex-Karl Harris BSB R1 from last season and Peter Baker on a BSB spec GSXR1000, which was an absolute rocket on the straights!
We were swapping positions and having a great time throughout the 8 lap race, with Barry unfortunately having a slow speed off at one of the hairpins. I just managed to nab Peter on the final lap, when I saw God before I hit the brakes at turn one! It was the only way I could get past him. I made it stick and was happy to take sixth place at the finish.
It began to really highlight just how very, very good the bike is. It felt so good to be competitive on a bike that is effectively 15kg heavier and 15bhp down on what the fully prepared version will be. The fact that I could keep pace with Napoloene on the Celani bike filled me with confidence.
After a great previous day we were going to use the final day just to do the final small adjustments to try and figure out what will and won’t work on the bike. I felt smooth and fast but it was becoming obvious that the rubber brake lines and factory filled brake fluid was being pushed far beyond its limits, and was making stopping a big problem. On the positive side it enabled me to just keep a track on what the bike was doing in the corners.
I got a really good feeling for the front end, which was planted so well on the entry and mid-turn. I could feel exactly what the tyres were doing at every point, and even with the rear sliding a lot, I could get the gas on early and feel the bike actually sit and twist for grip. The chassis was working brilliantly! It gave so much confidence to push into turns, and it just handles so much better than the old bike. Whatever Suzuki has done, they have done very well! I just can’t wait to ride a fully spec’d up version, watch-out for this bike, I think its going to surprise a lot of people!