Despite a 1.6mm longer stroke, the '08 Superbike revved about 1000 rpm higher than the '09
Regardless of how "un-super" the American Superbikes are, the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 is still an impressive machine, and I was plenty nervous about riding it. After all, it produces nearly one horsepower for every two pounds of its 370-lb. weight. Did I mention that I'd never turned a lap at the Fontana facility?
Ackland finishes unrolling the tire warmers and nods. I climb aboard and discover that the sky-high seat and low clip-ons force me into an ultra-aggressive stance. The cockpit is complex but organized, and completely unrecognizable from stock. A Yoshimura gull-wing top triple clamp resides behind a large Motec dash that registers everything from fork travel to lambda sensor readings. On the right clip-on is the kill switch, the pit-lane speed-limiter and the launch-control button, used to curb wheelies and wheelspin at the start. On the left handlebar is a repurposed ignition switch that allows a choice of two ignition maps, and below that a set of arrows for toggling between traction-control settings. "Mat pretty much always ran with it set to zero; he was faster that way," Ackland points out. I set it to three of five and ride cautiously onto the track.
The GSX-R's "stinkbug" stance is the result of abundant rear ride height, added to make the bike steer quicker and help keep the front wheel on the ground. There's also an extra inch of foam stacked on the seat, an ergonomic tweak to accommodate Mladin's 6-foot frame. Shifting follows the normal street pattern to accommodate the limited flexibility in Mat's left ankle, the result of an airplane crash nearly 15 years ago.
Factory teams that had previously seen themselves as partners in AMA Superbike racing now
Tipping the bike into the first chicane, I nearly run off the inside of the track as it snaps over alarmingly fast. Steep steering geometry, lightweight magnesium Magtan wheels and pointy Dunlop rubber make the bike turn much quicker than stock. It's unnerving at first, but within half a lap the rapid turn-in feels divine, and lets me go from straight up to cranked over in a split second.
As with most racebikes the suspension is firm, but not as stiff as when Mladin rode it. The fork's 1.1-kg/mm springs have been swapped for 1.0s, which are better suited to the lower g-forces generated by a mere mortal. Although they felt rock-hard when I bounced up and down on the bike in the paddock, the Showa fork and Ohlins TTX shock feel wonderful on the track, especially when leaned over gliding toward an apex. The bike's precise handling, heart-squeezing acceleration and freakishly strong Brembo brakes let me do things I had no intention of doing, like skating the rear tire into turns and wheelying from corner exit to braking zone.
The power is astounding. There are no steps or dips, just potent midrange that morphs into arm-stretching top-end rip. Wheel-ies occur frequently and unexpectedly. It's an absolute rush to ride, but I can't imagine the skill and nerve it would take to race it.
So, where will AMA Superbike racing go from here? Mladin's domination has finally come to an end, the Australian retiring at the end of the season. After more than a decade of racing in the States, that decision was bound to come sooner or later. But Mat is quick to point out that the DMG's Byzantine rules helped make it sooner. Honda and Kawasaki are out, too, leaving only Suzuki, Yamaha and the various privateer efforts.
"Right now, there's no returning champion and no dominant rider," Doan observes thoughtfully. "It's going to be a hell of a battle." So the DMG's rules changes were successful? "I wouldn't say that. With Mat and Ben gone, it's just a natural changing of the guard."
My time aboard Mladin's Superbike melds into a nirvanic blur of acceleration, braking and slanted views of the horizon. Blazing down the pit straight, I see a small figure beside the banking. As the GSX-R inhales the yardage between us, the figure grows into the familiar shape of Sport Rider's associate editor, Troy Siahaan, waving frantically and pointing at the pit. While I'd been scheduled to take just five laps, I'd somehow lost track of time and turned nine. Blame it on the GSX-R's ability to warp the space/time continuum.