The logistics of going racing are considerable, especially in a country such as the United States, where racetracks may be thousands of miles apart. An even greater challenge, however, was the decision by San Jose BMW to race an unproven F 800 S in one of the most prestigious races of the year. SJBMW's Tim Johnson was there to document the action.
If it was easy, everyone would do it and this year's 8hrs of Daytona truly tested the San Jose BMW Team! As defending champions of the MOTO-ST 8hr Race, SJBMW was organized and prepared for battle. This year they would be entering two motorcycles: an R 1200 S (#46) that would race in the Super Sport Twins (SST) class with riders Brian Parriott, Nate Kern and Richard Cooper. Their second bike was the new F 800 S (#4) that would race in the Grand Sport Twins (GST) class with riders Tom Montano, Steve Atlas and Chuck Sorensen. It takes a lot of organization and logistics to move an entire race team from California to Florida and the packing started early. The truck and trailer had three bikes and a scooter with spare parts, tools, tires, wheels, uniforms, fuelling equipment and an extra engine. Then they had to fly out 10 crewmembers and six riders.
On the Friday of the race weekend all bikes were allowed on the track to practice at race speed. The team would use this time to check everything from handling and brakes to gear ratios and tires. At the same time, the pit crews practiced their pit stops, refuelling and taking every opportunity to check out the competition.
The R 1200 S ran flawlessly as expected and little needed to be changed. The F 800 S on the other hand, needed to be `dialled in' for Daytona. It had never been raced in competition before (anywhere) and the high speeds and steep banking of the Daytona circuit create all sorts of unique problems. Changing the rear sprocket size slowed the engine RPM down and allowed for an increase in top speed. They also replaced the front fork oil with a heavier grade to stiffen the forks. These simple changes resulted in the F 800 turning in some fantastic lap times - at least right up until one of the riders crashed and the bike flipped over end-to-end. It looked pretty much destroyed, but - thank goodness - the rider was OK.
Chris Hodgson, owner of San Jose BMW, is a veteran of more than 35 years of racing and last year he gave BMW Motorrad its first international race victory at Daytona in over 30 years! Chris takes racing very seriously and he'd come to Daytona to race two bikes - and he was determined to race both of them... crashed or not! Without comment, his crew went to work stripping the F 800 down to the frame and they were pleasantly surprised to see that the main structure of the bike was undamaged. The body was in pieces, the handlebars were broken and the front and rear sub-frames were seriously bent, but the frame, forks, swing arm and engine were OK. Without a doubt, BMW had definitely built a tough motorcycle! So, out came the hammers, pry bars, safety wire, duct tape and any other repair method they could use to get the bike race worthy by 1pm on the Saturday for the start of the Eight Hour race.
The SJBMW crew, led by the dealership's Service Manager, Pete Hunter, finished the repairs with 20 minutes to spare and the #4 bike rolled proudly onto the grid. The other crewmembers - Ben Mellen, Dan Fosgett and Tim Johnson - were quite pleased with their accomplishment until Pete reminded them that the race hadn't even started yet.
When the green flag dropped and the race got underway, the R 1200 S immediately started to challenge for the lead with the Road Racing World Suzukis and Aprilia USA's Tuonos. The F 800's performance was no less impressive, slightly further back in the field. Rider Chuck Sorensen was slugging it out with the likes of Jay "Springer" Springsteen and ex-world champion Doug Polen. The lap times for both bikes fell as the race progressed.