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.
As the F 800 crew were waiting for their bike to enter the pit lane for the first stop of the race, something wasn't right. The crew was ready, the pit sign was out, but the bike was missing. One of the MOTO-ST officials came over to Crew Chief Hunter and said that his bike had run out of fuel and had coasted to a stop. Fortunately, it stopped next to an access gate and the crew ran in the direction of the parked bike. Taking along the `quick fill' gas bottle, they refuelled the bike and got it back on the track without losing a position.
Once back in the pit area, the crew realized that the bike's fuel consumption had changed more than expected so Pete adjusted the pit stop interval to account for this change. Each pit stop was an excellently choreographed operation due to the countless hours of practice that Chris put his crews through, ensuring that the SJBMW bikes got out of the pits very quickly.
The fuel bottles were kept full and new tires were mounted on the still hot wheels that had come off during their previous stops. Everyone's fingers were crossed as day turned into night and the track lights came on, as did the lights on the racing bikes. The F 800 climbed through the field from 14th to 12th and then to 10th. The R 1200 S was running at the front, swapping the lead with the SV1000 Suzuki. The Aprilia team that had been fast all year was out of contention with one bike wrecked and the other suffering from a bad pit stop, putting them a lap down.
With only 30 minutes left in the Eight Hour race, the F 800 was up to seventh place and no one could have guessed how it would end. All of a sudden, the track announcer said: "a Ducati coming out of the pits has t-boned the SJBMW Bike, sending the rider tumbling down the track..."
Just then the F 800 came screaming by so we all knew it was the R 1200 S that had been hit. Its rider Richard Cooper went down very hard but got up and ran towards the bike. Amazingly, this diminutive 119 lb. rider picked the bike up, got it started and rode it back to the pits. The damage was extensive. The crash wasn't SJBMW's fault, but the officials were pointing out that all the problems they saw on the bike could disqualify the defending champions. Chris argued that as the R 1200 S was not leaking any fluids and the lights were still working, then there was no reason to Red Flag (disqualify) the BMW. Fortunately, the officials let them continue.
Just as the F 800 screamed past the pits again with Steve Atlas on board, making gestures as to whether or not the R 1200 S was out of the race, Brian Parriott jumped on the R 1200 S (knowing the damage that he had seen for himself) and tore out of the pits before the leader came back around. They went from a position of being just two seconds behind the Suzuki before the accident, to one-and-a-half minutes behind when they left the pits - but they didn't get lapped!
Brian rode like his hair was on fire and he was soon doing 150 mph on the Daytona banking and catching the Suzuki a little bit each lap. In fact, he got to within 25 seconds of the Suzuki when the chequered flag dropped and the race ended.
The R 1200 S team had finished in second place - an unbelievable result considering everything that had happened. Then all eyes looked toward turn 4 as the F 800 came across the line in 7th place - a great finish for an unproven race bike that had been wrecked the day before! To say the least, there was a party atmosphere in the San Jose BMW pits!
When all was said and done, the F 800 only used two rear tires and the original front for the whole Eight Hour race. As it turned out, the fuel consumption problem was not the bike's fault - it was the `quick-fill' bottle that had a defective vent cap! When crewmember Ben Mellen pointed out that the bottle wasn't `chugging' as hard as the other bike's bottle during refuelling, fuel man Tim Johnson used his pocket-knife to widen the vent hole in the cap. During the next stop the F 800 took almost an extra gallon of fuel! With racing, anything can happen - just ask the guys from San Jose BMW - but one thing is for sure, BMW builds great motorcycles!