Twin-Cylinder Endurance Racing?

What were they thinking?

I've done a lot of twins racing over the years, and a lot of endurance racing. But never have I ridden a twin in an endurance race. I know better: Back in the '80s and '90s, when the Battle of the Twins (later renamed Pro Twins) class was part of the AMA national program, sprint races were enough of a test of reliability! These days, however, motorcycles are much more sophisticated and reliable.

That's what I was telling myself, anyway, as I followed a Buell rider down Road America's pit road to begin the two-hour Moto-ST practice session on Saturday afternoon. And ironically, his bike didn't even make it to Turn 1 before it blew up!

Hmmm...maybe bikes haven't come as far as I thought?

I had just three laps to ponder that question before I crested a rise to find the entire start-finish straight enveloped in smoke! I rolled out of the throttle, hugged the left edge of the pavement and prayed...and was eventually relieved to see Chris Ulrich pulling off the other side of the racetrack on the belching Roadracing World Suzuki. Uh-huh.

I wish I could say that was the end of the excitement, but for us that was just the beginning. And looking back, our effort was doomed before it even began.

It all started last year, when I rode the Lloyd Brothers Aprilia dirt-tracker at the Springfield Mile ("Mile High," Motorcyclist, December 2006). Co-owner (and former racer) David Lloyd was responsible for setting up that story, and when the team decided to add the fledgling Moto-ST roadrace series to its program this year, he offered me a ride. The original plan called for the two of us to team up on the factory-built Tuono that won the inaugural Daytona 8-Hour last fall, but it didn't turn out that way.

First, David threw out his back. And between that and underestimating how badly his championship-leading, two-bike team needed him in the pits-to say nothing of fielding a third bike for us-he pronounced himself unable to ride. He left it to me to find a teammate, and I originally chose Greg White of SPEED-TV. Greg and I raced the BMW Boxer Cup together at Daytona in '03 and were not only fairly evenly matched, but about the same size, which helps with setup. The prospect of some TV coverage for the team and the series didn't hurt either. Unfortunately, Greg crashed during practice for the WERA 6-Hour at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah a few weeks before our race date, breaking a rib and puncturing a lung. That meant shopping for yet another teammate, and I drafted in John-Mark Arechiga, a Willow Springs fast guy and former West Coast Aprilia rep who used to campaign a Mille.

The drama didn't end there, however, as when we arrived at the track on Saturday morning we learned that lead rider Ty Howard had missed a downshift and crashed in Turn 1 during a CCS practice session, doing comprehensive damage to the #6 racebike. That meant he and teammate Troy Green would be riding the Daytona winner, while John-Mark and I would have to ride a stocker that Henry Wiles had been using for practice at track days. In fact, this whole Aprilia Moto-ST effort was sparked in part by Wiles' desire to go roadracing, because there's not enough money in dirt-track. At Road America, Wiles teamed with Jon Francis on the #5 bike.

As for John-Mark and me, our bike worked pretty well in practice, but the suspension was too soft for our 200-plus pounds. We installed a stiffer shock spring before Sunday morning's brief CCS practice session, and between practice and the race we had Ed Kwaterski from Trackside Engineering install Penske cartridges in the forks. Call it an educated gamble

I started the race, and was anxious to see how the redone suspension would work. But right away, I knew we had a different problem: Even circulating slowly behind the pace car, the bike clearly wasn't running right, backfiring and popping and sputtering-all signs of a lean mixture. I suspected fuel starvation, maybe vapor lock from the dry break used for quick refills, and when I pushed down on the spring-loaded cap a stream of gas shot high in the air. Fixed? Maybe-there was no way to know until the green flag waved, at which point I was left for dead. Harley PR guy Paul James motored by me on his Buell on the back straight and shot me a look as if to say, "Aren't you supposed to have 20 more horsepower than me?" Yes, I am. One lap later, Aaron blew past me exiting Canada Corner on his Buell and didn't even have time to shoot me a look. I continued to circulate, hoping the problem would clear up, but when a few laps later I looked back and saw Angie closing in on me on her humble 75-horse Kawasaki, I knew it was a lost cause. I waved her past, pointing and giving my bike the thumbs-down as she rode by, and the next time around brought it into the pits. It wasn't until I stood up that I realized how badly my right foot hurt! Lean bikes run hot, and the sole of my foot had been literally baked by the head pipe.

Multiple biopsies were performed to try to ascertain the problem-with the bike, not my foot-but everything seemed to check out fine. In desperation, we plopped a stock gas tank on the bike and sent John-Mark out for a lap, and he returned saying that not only was it running perfectly, it was noticeably faster than in practice! Unfortunately, the rules mandate dry breaks on safety grounds and a Moto-ST official was keeping tabs on our progress, so we couldn't run the stock tank. Meanwhile, our team's other two bikes were coming and going, and it was the ultimate ignominy when John-Mark and I were pulled off of working on our own bike to help refuel the others! The fact that they finished 1-2 only made us wish we'd have had the opportunity to make it a clean sweep!

We eventually traced the problem to a pinhole in an in-tank fuel-supply hose, which meant gas was effectively being pumped from the tank back into the tank! Validating our diagnosis was a second Aprilia team that traced its fuel-starvation problem to a failed crimp connector on that same hose. If I owned an Aprilia, I'd check that hose pronto! But by the time we repaired the problem, the Moto-ST officials had disqualified us.

I knew riding a twin in an endurance race would be a gamble, but I never would have imagined our effort would be brought down by a technical problem as minor as this. And while I limped away from Road America angry and frustrated, it occurred to me that things could have gone a lot worse: At least I didn't leave in an ambulance like the last time I raced there!

No, this isn't our whole team; the others were too busy wrenching to pose for a photo! (Left to right) Michael Lloyd, Brian Catterson, John-Mark Arechiga and David Lloyd.
In just his third-ever roadrace, dirt-tracker Henry Wiles put the Lloyd Brothers Aprilia on the box, he and Jon Francis finishing second behind their teammates Ty Howard and Troy Green to take an Aprilia 1-2.