9th May – BMW RRDays – Brno Automotodrom, Czech Republic
It’s 5:00 a.m. and I can’t sleep anymore. I’m thinking of the machine and the Brno Automotodrom in Czech Republic, dandling from right to left in my bed, trying to remember that onboard camera video from Rossi during its last Moto GP ride.
6:00 a.m. The darkness of the night managed to catch me dancing on my virtual machine but my brain is now on. One hour to go.
6:48 a.m. First instinct: open the curtains and check the weather. They said it’s going to rain, and they were right. The clouds look like heavy balloons that cannot retain their air anymore. Water drops from everywhere and hits the asphalt and my windows. Today, this sound will be the one of the way home for many riders not willing to take any risks on the track. For me, it’s the sound of the beginning. Four years ago, I passed my motorcycle driving license under a rain shower in the north of France and my tires were literally swimming. I remember what the inspector said back then: “If you make it today, you’ll make it every day”. And I’m smiling.
7:10 a.m. My stomach doesn’t want to hear the word “breakfast”. I see the first riders, observing desperately the sky and fueling their body with caffeine. Back in the room, it’s time to put on four or five layers with the leather finish and go to the track. In front of the grid hotel, we quickly exchange with another rider. He is packing and going home. The motorcycle has only slick tires. Too dangerous. But yesterday was a perfect weather and experience, he said.
I can finally see the paddock. A giant yellow motorcycle helmet on the right, a green tower and buildings with many windows on the left. Motorcycles are hiding under big tents between cars and trailers. People gather slowly in front of the Box 24 for the registration and I meet with the BMW team. Christoph Slawik, Marketing Manager of BMW Austria, welcomes me. Six or seven Bmw S1000RR are wisely waiting. A row of proud and silent lions. The HP4 made of seamless carbon fiber is here too. And the briefing begins. Due to the weather conditions, the timetable will be a bit modified. Groups A and B will ride for 40 minutes, followed by groups C and D. Only rain or street tires allowed. At 9:00am the first group should be ready, but only one rider will start, under a round of applause. Tires spit water; the machine roars and disappears in the first right curve.
Waiting for my turn, the BMW team introduces me to the project managers that led the development of the S1000RR, Markus Poschner, and the HP4, Christian Gonschor, who will reveal me the secrets of their creations.
I come closer to the S1000RR and admire every detail
First impression: her silhouette looks different than her predecessor. She is thinner and her lines are simpler and minimalist. Her face is symmetric and her front lights appear like drawn with led eyeliner. With her 197kg and 207 hp, she lost 11kg and gained 8 hp at 13 500 U/min. Everything not only seems, but is new. The motor is redesigned and equipped with titanium valves, thinner and lighter of 4kg. The aluminum flex frame is made of four parts welded in Berlin. The Shiftcam technology is naturally on. The brake system is the result of a collaboration between BMW and Hayes. The all-in-one headlights have also been specially developed and gave birth to the symmetry of her look. I like the fact that pieces are specifically designed for a machine, embracing the challenge of innovation and respecting all specificities of a new model. I also learn how the vertical position of the rear shock enables an optimal performance due to the respect of its natural position and a gain of weight as no other pieces are necessary to counterbalance the loss of performance when the shock is inclined. The tank is thin and a wonderful example of how men push the limits of material properties and technologies to create complex forms that appear simple to us. The handlebar has been set more towards the outside to offer a comfortable position. The exhaust system is certified EU-4 and ready to be certified EU-5. Markus also shows me the new 6,5’’ TFT display and all possibilities: four options are available between Rain, Road, Dynamic and Race. The Pro mode offers a choice between Race 1, 2 and 3. I admire the almost unlimited features that allow configuring the ABS, Dynamic Traction Control, suspension and motor brake, wheelie control inclusive. Not forgetting the carbon wheels of the M model of the S1000RR. I guess I would need more competences, from the technical point of view, and experiences on the track, to describe better the functionalities and adaptability of the motorcycle to all situations and rider behaviors. We exchange further on the compromise between forms and functions, the difficulties posed by the different regulations worldwide and the way the S1000RR is developed in different countries, but also the people behind the machine: a core team of 7 persons that dedicated 4 years of their life to make it happen.
The first round is over and I’m now heading to the other box, where I discover the HP4 and will be greeted by Christian. Two words: carbon and passion. The enthusiasm and story of Christian make me curious. The ones that developed the HP4 definitely already won a real race before the machine even hit the track. 14 months of development and here it is. Full carbon frame and wheels with specific torsion properties, 215 hp. I am lucky enough to sit on the machine and appreciate her curves. But my S1000RR is already waiting for me.
The instructor, Markus Lerf, will be my guide. Although S1000RR test rides will be officially canceled, the BMW team will make everything to allow me to ride. New street tires, warmed and approved with some laps done by Markus. I should follow him, brake when he brakes, and catch his line. Now, everything is going very quick. My helmet is on and I see Markus looking at me to check if everything is ok. I turn the key and feel the S1000RR coming alive. First and second gear. The team scans the QR code on my helmet and tells me to be careful with a smile. The visor is down and I’m gone. 20 minutes.
The instructor is raising his hand and we are living the track. What happened?
First time on the racetrack
I’m not naïve. I know that the machine and Markus did everything. He controlled the trajectory and his brake light was my brake signal. She controlled the slippery asphalt and rode through with the fifth gear without any hesitation while the speed was decreasing and rising. An unlimited power, yet progressive and linear. An explosion in slow motion on the straight line. My body embraced perfectly the thin silhouette of the bike and allowed me to keep the control with my lower body when breaking a bit harder. The brakes itself were powerful, and yet softly holding back the power.
I wish I had more experience, to experiment more, find the perfect position, and have even more feeling in the curves. I discovered the track lap after lap, checked the large display a second, and was in a kind of meditative mode, immersed in the sound of the exhaust, blessed by the rain. Our first date was too short and I know that she could way more. I’m thinking about my level as a rider, and I’m thankful to my ride. I know that back then, riders had taken way more risks and train way harder before even thinking about experiencing such a performance.
Back on earth. My helmet is off. My rain gear too. I’m looking at my S1000RR and am still somewhere else. The team asks me whether I would like to ride again. I think I didn’t understand the question. Is that a question? In 20 minutes, I’m back on the track for a 40 minutes session.
I look at her, at them, thinking about men and machines and it seems that there is no limit. No limits to the passion of men and their talent to create. No limits to the power of motorcycles and the emotions they trigger. And still, I’m thinking about freedom and control. Because of our need to always perform better but control. And for a second, I wish the S1000RR to find her rider: the one that could switch off all the controls so that she could freely express her unlimited power. And yet, I’m happy that the controls exist, because they allow me the impossible.
My visor is down and I’m gone again. 40 minutes.
12th May – 3 days after the RRDays – Vienna, Austria
It’s 00:52 a.m. and I am writing about my first time on the track with the S1000RR. Words jostle on the paper and my heartbeat accelerates. One thing is for sure…I’ll be back.
Thank you to the whole BMW Motorrad Österreich team for this unforgettable moment.
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