Pro Motorcycle Racer for a Day

Riding Attack Kawasaki’s ZX-6R AMA Racebike

By Ari Henning, Photography by, Erich Stiegler

He fuelled the bike before I went out and then measured the unused fuel when I came in so he could dole out just the right amount for the races. As my sessions approached he warmed up the bike, filling the garage with the sickly-sweet smell of race gas. The shrill bark of the exhaust and the urgency with which the engine revved got my adrenaline pumping even before I headed out on the track.

My first race on Sunday was Production 250, followed immediately by Formula 1—a catch-all class for modified 600s, 750s and large-displacement twins. I was gridded on the left side of row six—a long way from the front but well positioned for a run up the inside going into Turn 1. When the green flag dropped I shot past a half-dozen riders by skirting the pit wall and taking a tight line through Turn 1, then went wide through Turn 2 to ride around a cluster of bikes vying for the inside. Over the next few laps I reeled in numerous riders on the brakes and on the gas between turns, but I was losing ground at the corner exits due to a lack of rear grip. We had switched from an SC1 (soft) tire in practice to an SC2 (medium) for the races due to tearing issues related to track temperature, but neglected to adjust the tire pressure to account for the different compound. Several big slides in the opening laps eroded my confidence, and I only passed one more rider during the second half of the race to finish eighth.

We got the tire pressure set properly for the 750cc Superbike race, where I started even further back on the grid in the middle of row seven. I put the added grip to good use and made rapid progress in the opening laps, running as high as eighth place again. With the tire hooking up properly the bike fired out of turns, and I had to pull myself up behind the bubble to keep the front wheel at a manageable height exiting tighter turns. The bike was dialed—all I had to do was man up and ride it right! Unfortunately, I began to fatigue by the halfway mark. I hadn’t pedaled my bicycle in a couple weeks, and it was all too evident. As my legs and core weakened my lap times lagged, and two riders slid by me. I finished 10th, impressed by the way the bike performed but disappointed that I wasn’t up to riding it.

I was spent, but there wasn’t any time to rest because I was also in the next race on the 250. Jorge caught the ZX-6R as I jumped off it and ran to the little Ninja, held at the ready by one of the FLIP employees. When I came in off of the 250 I had 20 minutes to recover, and then it was back on the ZX-6R for the 600cc Superbike race. Switching between the 600 and 250 took a lot of mental energy. The two machines required totally different techniques. If I rolled the 250’s throttle open as delicately as I did the 600’s, I would barely get moving. And if I twisted the 600’s grip as quickly as the 250’s, I’d most certainly crash!

The 600cc Superbike class is one of the most hotly contested in the AFM, and it’s where most of the fast guys focus their attention. Once again I got a solid start and successfully forced my way through the lap-one melee, but then found myself in the void between the back of the pack and the front-runners. The toll of running five races and pulling double duty on two disparate bikes was too much, and I didn’t have the strength or focus to ride the ZX-6R as hard as needed to move up any further. By that time the Pirellis had about 20 race-pace laps on them and were starting to fade, and after a few near-high-sides I decided to throttle back and cruise. Stanboli had told me the ZX-6R would be put up for sale as soon as I brought it back, and I wanted to bring it back in one piece! The fact that I finished more than halfway through the 40-plus-bike pack is simply a testament to the ZX-6R’s obscene horsepower, stupid-strong brakes and easy handling.

It would be wonderful to write that my lap times and results improved over the course of the day, but sadly the opposite was true. Even so, it was quite an experience to ride such a finely tuned machine and to have the support and assistance of a trained professional. At the end of the day I was exhausted, but I would have been in much worse shape if Jorge hadn’t been there to help! The weekend’s activities gave me a peak inside the workings of the Attack Performance race team as viewed from the seat of one of their own machines. Considering what the ZX-6R racebike felt like compared to a stock 1000, I can only imagine how ferocious JD’s ZX-10R racer must be!

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