I haven't had the best start to my PB column: I’m writing this on deadline day with an hour to go after I got led astray by a mate in Barcelona last night! I was at a KTM management meeting and Jeff Leisk, the head of KTM Australia, must have slipped something in my drink... I’m often helping on a KTM project somewhere, track testing with R&D or the new Customer Racing department, or in the office coming up with ideas on how to adapt KTM’s road bikes for the track. My latest projects are a RC390R for World Supersport 300, and the 2020 Super Duke 1290R... or maybe it’s an RR! Then there’s a 790 Duke for an exciting track project, but more on that later, when I’m allowed to talk... KTM Customer Racing was set up at the start of this year to develop production-based bikes for track/race use, and our first task is improving the RC390 as a race bike. The RC390 World Finals will be held in Jerez at the last WSB round and we’ll have two wildcards in the SSP300 race to gauge whether the bike is competitive enough to race in the series in 2018. Our department supports an Italian team developing the RC390, too – KTM Italy were keen to be more competitive in their domestic championship.
Over the last couple of months we’ve been testing the RC390 with this team and I naively agreed to race the Mugello round to aid development. I got my arse well and truly spanked! I’d forgotten that kids have zero fear and everyone else on the track is considered an obstacle. I finished in seventh, covered in tyre marks and bruises – mostly to my ego. I was relieved to survive, to be honest! But it proved that we are on the right track with the bike. Their regular rider, Omar Bonoli, won the next round at Misano. I was pleased to get to the Goodwood Revival this year – I missed last year due to work commitments. I got pole in the wet qualifying but on the dry Saturday, Michael Dunlop (on an MV with brother William) just cleared off into the distance, and Gary Johnson got by on another MV. But the Dunlop bike broke a piston just after the rider change. On the Sunday, we won by a good margin so we won the event overall. Pat and Sue Barford’s Manx Norton really is a thing of beauty, and we have a great wee team – to win for them is always special.
The ball on Saturday night is an event you’ll never forget – the bike racers and their partners are always in the middle of the dance floor causing a riot. There’s always a good effort with the fancy dress outfits, too... This year we were joined by the touring car drivers Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal with their wives. To be fair, they kept up pretty well for car pansies – Troy Corser kept the mojitos flowing, and as usual we had to be escorted from the venue after everyone else had long gone! After Rossi broke his leg on an enduro bike, there were lots of opinions flying around, but I’ve got the unique viewpoint of someone who’s been there. To be fit as you need to be, and develop the reactions required to ride a MotoGP bike, there isn’t any kind of training available that uses all the muscle groups and brain power like riding a motorcycle does. Riders are risk takers: that’s why they race in the first place.
Racers wouldn’t compete if they actually thought about the possible consequences. They can’t ever let those thoughts cross their minds, and training on a motocross or enduro bike doesn’t even register on their scale of risk. He will always feel that he has total control over whatever he is riding and this sort of training is a perfectly normal (and effective) way to achieve the best results whilst really enjoying keeping fit and alert. Compare what Rossi is able to achieve at the ranch or riding off-road bikes to dragging himself to a gym... the results are always going to be better. There’s also the endorphins released in racing or training: as riders we are addicted to and will always want to replicate those highs – that’s why Rossi still wants to race. He wants to keep hitting that incredible high of winning again or he would have given up by now. When you’ve had a great on-bike training session, you feel good about yourself and you have a sense of achievement. Riding off-road is a win-win to any rider, and the teams that employ them as the fastest bike racers in the world. They will never stop, and I don’t think they should: you just have to accept that they will sometimes get hurt in developing and maintaining what we love about them as race fans.