Suppose you race a car for your day job, but at heart you’re a bike guy: what would you take for a track day at the Dubai Autodrome?
Another day, another track day at the Dubai Autodrome. These are weekends that I really enjoy, even though one of my day jobs (hey, I enjoy working!) is as an instructor for the Radical Winter Cup. This season I do not have the budget to race my beloved Radical unfortunately, but – as regular readers of crankandpiston may know – I am also devoted to riding my KTM 690.
The power, the balance and the feel of the Supermoto SMC means I’m normally finding an excuse to ride the beast of a weekend. And when a track day at the Autodrome uses the National Configuration, I’m usually there waiting for the gates to open. You see, this particular circuit includes turn four, my favorite corner in the Middle East.
I bring this up because not too long ago a couple of friends asked me how difficult it is to race both cars and bikes: anybody who’s kept up with the SR8 and SR3 machines in this year’s Radical Winter Cup will know just how powerful and brutally fast these lightweight monsters are, so how can racing one of these compare with racing a Sportbike?
Well (shock, horror), its all depends on the car, and the bike. I feel very lucky since I have raced real race cars and bikes: yep, I am spoiled! I can say that to ride a good bike is the best experience your body can have. Your body is 100% involved in every inch of the ride: suddenly you are a part of the bike and the track simultaneously; it’s you alone, the only company the sound and pull of the engine. It makes you think of nothing, you isolate yourself from everything and you dive into the experience. Yes, it requires some technique and a little experience, but the satisfaction is immediate and big. Very big.
Take a look at the guys competing in this year’s UAE Sportbikes. Abdulaziz Binladen has been in a league of his own this year on the 1000cc Saudi Falcons Honda, and the competition between the classes has been getting steadily wider. But still the Autodrome receives grid numbers of up to 20 entrants, and battles between Joe Oxley’s Ducati and Mahmoud Tannir’s Triumph among others in the 600cc category just goes to show how important the racing is to these guys. I myself have shared the garage with them during race meetings, so I know how talented they are!
Now with a car, I mean a normal car, it can be boring. Take a 1500kg car and after one lap, your brakes are cooked, your tyres are melted and your only hope of hitting an apex are through prayer. You could, of course, go off the deep end and buy a Lamborghini Gallardo, with sport-tuned suspension, racing gearbox and a track-trembling 500+bhp pulsating through the onboard V8, and expect to lap consistently all day long. Wrong. Two laps in and your brakes are cooked, your differential is overheating and the game is over. Ouch!
So, what to do? Get a real racecar perhaps? A Lotus Super Seven? An Ariel Atom maybe? Ah, now there’s something. Upwards of 200hp and less than 500kg will give you serious acceleration and not a little neck ache. But again, how does this compare to a bike?
Well, both can brake later, both can produce upwards of 3G of acceleration in the corners, and the grip of both through the corners is beaten only by machines that run on rails. There is a difference though. Bikes tend to turn earlier than cars for instance, can take a shorter line, hit the apex at slower speeds and can launch much quicker out of the corners. Once the bike is straight anyway.
I suppose the difficulty is that as a racer and a biker, speed gives me the same rush whatever it comes from. I’m certainly not about to give up the Radicals: three Gs through turn four at the Autodrome National Circuit, flat through five then brake from sixth to second gear and from 270kph to 80kph in 70 metres. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and something which beggers belief. Your body is inside a canopy, and your head feels the full force of the Gs, but there’s always that sense of envelopment.
I suppose that is the big difference maker. The isolation on a bike is just that: there’s only you, the engine, the leathers and the tarmac, and nothing in between. No safety barrier. I know what can go wrong – a big impact put me in hospital some years ago – but honestly, there’s nothing that even comes closer to the sensation. The Radical may stay in my dream garage, but the KTM is always out on the track.