Kenny Roberts On The KR211V

America's Grand Prix Patriarch Takes The Bike That Bears His Name For A Spin

Even in the esoteric atmosphere of MotoGP racing it was a rare moment-rarer even than the machines this pair of aces was riding. Brief as it was, the moment seemed at once to reflect generations of Grand Prix racing gone by and to herald a bright and shining future. Kenny Roberts Senior and Kenny Roberts Junior, father and son, both world champions, fired up their bikes-KR211Vs of their own construction-exited the Team KR garage and made for the track. Everyone present rushed to the pit wall to watch.

If there was any sort of warm-up, it wasn't evident-the two looked to be going full tilt from the moment they left pit lane. KR Sr. would later say he was riding at about 80 percent, but it still came across as awfully fast. This father-and-son sortie came on the Monday following the last GP of the 2006 season at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia, Spain. Having just competed in the GP the day before, KR Jr. certainly knew his way around the circuit. Good thing, as KR Sr., despite a deep and illustrious rsum and intimate knowledge of many circuits, had never seen this particular track-at least not from the seat of a 250-horsepower MotoGP machine.

It was a compelling moment, and only these two could have created it. There are no other father-and-son GP world champions, no other world champions who have designed, manufactured and developed their own MotoGP racing motorcycles. These tasks have fallen mostly to the father, and he has applied himself to this all-too-often-crushing challenge for 10 long seasons now, trying to do what many deem impossible: to build a machine capable of beating the "real" factory bikes. The son was there in the beginning with the early three-cylinder, two-stroke, 500cc Modenas, went on to a successful career with Suzuki and a 500cc world title in 2000, and was back this season with his father's team helping to perfect the V-five Honda-powered KR211V.

All this accumulated racing history-dialogs and collaborations between father and son, 10 years of racing experimentation in the form of complete bikes in his personal museum at the ranch back in California-all these thoughts streamed into Roberts Sr.'s consciousness as he circulated alongside his son at what many would consider warp speed. The '06 season had, at long last, been a rewarding one for Team KR. Roberts was filled with pride as he rode his own racebike. And justifiably so.

Kenny Jr. came in after five laps or so. But not before he had done the most stupendous wheelie imaginable, nearly the full length of the half-mile-long front straight, as his dad continued on in serious fashion, both wheels on the ground.

Your kids are always your kids, no matter what their age, and it's the rare one who won't seize the op-portunity to upstage you, even-or perhaps, especially-in public. Kenny Sr. stayed out a few laps longer, and probably would have stayed out longer yet had team manager Chuck Aksland not observed that he was systematically whittling down his lap times and decided it was time for him to come in. It's all great fun until someone wads up his racebike. Or worse yet, himself.

It was great fun, all right. Nevertheless, Roberts was still on something of a fact-finding mission. So, what did he think of his own handiwork? After all, this wasn't the first time he had ridden one of his own racers, but it was the first time he'd ridden one of the 990cc four-strokes brought on by an FIM rule change in '02 that almost instantly rendered his beloved 500cc two-strokes obsolete.

In most respects his KR211V performed much as Roberts expected it to. "From watching the bike all year at very close range and listening to Kenny's comments, I had some expectations of what was going to happen," he said. "But the 990 didn't seem blisteringly fast like the 500s. You got off those bikes and said, 'Fuck, these things are fast!' It's not like that. It's extremely fast, of course, and it gets you to the end of the straightaway going really fast, but it's not blinding-fast like the 500s.".

What did impress Roberts was the amount of grip available. "I knew there was going to be an extreme amount of grip that I had not experienced before. That's what makes it easier on the rider's body-it never wants to jump out from underneath you. It only moves when you turn the throttle, and it moves accordingly, like four-strokes do. I found myself thinking, 'Gee, why didn't I turn it on back there?'

"I wasn't out there long enough to come to grips, literally, with that. I would have needed three or four more stints-I didn't think I was going to learn much out in the gravel traps! But what was apparent was the amount of throttle you could give the thing on its side. It's very progressive; at no point do you feel it wants to throw you down, so it doesn't scare you like the 500s. When you brought the power on aboard one of those things, they could jump out from under you fairly quickly. You had to pay really careful attention to the throttle. Of course, the tires are much better than we had on the 500s. The suspensions are better, obviously. And the chassis are better. You know, the whole package was very nice to ride."

All in all, Roberts learned a bit more than he knew about his MotoGP bike from his few laps at Valencia. In his view, the experience has added to the collective information and knowledge that have kept the current Team KR project moving forward. Asked if he would care to ride the KR 211V again, Roberts responded instantly and unequivocally: "Absolutely!" One suspects this isn't just a matter of thrill-seeking on his part, so much as an opportunity to discover ways to make his MotoGP bike even better.

Will Roberts and son have the opportunity to repeat this season's experience next year on the new 800s? As it has been at the end of so many seasons for Team KR, it's difficult to say. Sponsorship remains a determinant and, at this writing, isn't a given. Despite that, the team has already begun work on next year's racebike. Roberts finds himself in an unusual and interesting position these days, working with his old nemesis, Honda. Initiating the relationship wasn't easy: Roberts found himself circling the Honda bus at Daytona several times before he could muster whatever it was he needed to muster to knock on the door. There was certainly the sense of knocking at the door of the enemy camp-well, more competitor than enemy, but still

That threshold crossed, however, Roberts states that at no time during the season did he ever feel he was in the wrong place. To the contrary, the collaboration has yielded the most fruitful season ever for Team KR. Morale, enthusiasm and dedication have been restored and are in excellent shape for attacking next year's MotoGP project. The collaboration has been positive for Honda, as well. Company brass clearly have a very high regard for Roberts as an individual and for Team KR as a team. They find the approach, scale and structure of Roberts' engineering and racing concern interesting, and a means for expanding the experiment that MotoGP racing represents. This isn't merely an intellectual or philosophical position-Honda wishes for Roberts to remain in the game. The fact that HRC has offered one of its own 800cc MotoGP bikes for Team KR to test pre-season in Malaysia is testament to that.

Likewise, Roberts is impressed with Honda. He characterizes the company, particularly HRC, as one where the word "no" has no place in either their vocabulary or their thinking-the difference between merely competent technicians and real enthusiasts. Everything is worthy of consideration. Attention to detail is unrelenting. Information is highly prized-ideas, passion and imagination even more so.

Naturally, there is also that indomitable will to win at Honda. Roberts is struck from the very same mold. It's hard to imagine a more appropriate partnership. Let's hope the partnership is enough to bring Kenny Roberts Sr. and Kenny Roberts Jr. to the starting grid in '07 with a KR212V. There's every reason to believe they'll pull off the impossible and win a GP with their own bike. Wouldn't that be a ride?