Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Racing

Is it just a question of time before we see private BMWs competing head-to-head with the factory Suzukis and Yamahas in AMA Pro American SuperBike?

Photography by Peter Jones & Tim White

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Just off camera in the AMA Pro American SuperBike class, behind the entertaining battle raging between Yamaha's Josh Hayes and Suzuki's Blake Young, there's a story brewing. It's a story of privateers and BMW S1000RRs. It's a story of data bytes and digital tuning, of laptops and a new age of motorcycle motorsports, where the management of RAM rules over the mechanics of cams.

With his third-place starting position at the recent Barber Motorsports Park round of the AMA series, Chris Peris revealed a big hint of what's happening in privateer development of the S1000RR. This was the second time Peris had earned a front-row qualifying spot, the other being fourth on the grid at Road America. That, in case you haven't been paying attention, was just one race earlier, so we're beginning to see some consistency. It's a consistency that might be making a few big teams a tad nervous.

The first visual difference that stands between the "factory" guys and the small BMW teams in AMA SuperBike is the lack of giant, pneumatic-tired toolboxes that require a class-C license to be towed around the paddock. Peris' Iron Horse BMW team has a modest stack of plastic Beta toolboxes like you'd find under a Christmas tree. Taking it below modesty, Steve Rapp's crew chief, Curtice Thom, of the San Diego BMW/Locast Powered by Lee's Cycle team, carries his wrenches in a nifty briefcase. He can carry the whole damn thing with one hand and check it through as carry-on luggage on his flights.

Steve Rapp - AMA Pro American SuperBike

In addition to his AMA Pro American SuperBike duties, Steve Rapp is currently second in points in the Vance & Hines XR1200 class.

While the “factory” pit stalls look like industrial parks, these two teams’ setups resemble family picnics, with more folding chairs and half-empty water bottles than anything else. Sparse. Sure, this is partly due to economics, but the stock technology offered by their BMWs allows this economy to work. That, and the more-level playing field afforded by the AMA’s current rules package.

Rapp’s ECU data is interpreted and programmed by Sander Donkers, who also monitors the BMWs ridden by Jeremy Toye and Chris Trounson. For suspension tuning, the team has contracted former Öhlins technician Mike Fitzgerald.

Peris rides for Iron Horse BMW, out of Tucson, Arizona, which is managed by shop-owner John Cartwright. Evan Steel, Peris’ crew chief, also tunes the suspension—a Traxxion Dynamics-modified fork and an Öhlins shock. When asked why they have a bigger toolbox than Rapp’s crew and fewer computers, Cartwright replied, “We’re more of a seat-of-the-pants type of team.”

Cartwright also pointed out they've only had a race-worthy traction-control system since the second round of the series at Infineon Raceway. The S1000RR comes with a heralded traction-control system, but it's not up to the task of racing. Keeping street riders safe is different than keeping racers happy, so the system is tuned more for limiting wheelspin than doing national-level fast laps.

Back to the action: Due to rain, Race 1 on Saturday was red-flagged after just five laps. Following a short period of down time, the event was restarted as a “rain” race on a wet track, though the precipitation had all but stopped when the green flag waved. Most of the grid lined up on rain tires, but Peris and Rapp went with slicks. For Peris, this was choice. For Rapp, it was economics; his spare wheels were not fitted with brake rotors.

Either way, for teams in their positions, it was the right choice even if it was the wrong choice. If they’d run the same tires as the rest of the grid, they likely would have finished where they usually do. But by doing something completely different, they faced the possibility of appearing to be geniuses. It was a chance that a team fighting for the championship couldn’t afford to take. Sometimes, the poorest are the richest. As Cartwright put it, “This track has a history of drying quickly.”

Well, the track didn’t dry quickly. That said, for the last four laps of the race, Rapp put down faster laps than the winner, Martin Cardenas, and his last two circuits were the fastest, post-restart, of the race. But it was too little too late, and Rapp finished 12th with Peris directly in front of him in 11th.

Roger Lee Hayden leads Steve Rapp - AMA Pro American SuperBike

National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s Roger Lee Hayden leads Rapp on the San Diego BMW/Locast Powered by Lee’s Cycle S1000RR at Barber.

Larry Pegram, another BMW rider but with some corporate cash, ran rain tires and finished fifth, 6.863 seconds behind Cardenas. His time gets an asterisk, though, since the race was red-flagged and restarted in wet conditions. Still, the BMWs are closing on the frontrunners; Cardenas was literally in Pegram’s sight at the checkers.

On Sunday, in Race 2, run in dry conditions, Rapp finished fourth—no asterisk required. On Lap 13 of the scheduled 21, he was a scant 2.698 seconds behind the leader. For a few laps in the middle of the race, he’d actually gone slightly faster, having closed from about 4 seconds adrift. Knowing that his only challenger, Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom, had dropped back, Rapp slowed, as well, and crossed the finish line 8.637 seconds behind winner Young, having given up 4 seconds in four laps.

So, erase 4 seconds and what do you have? This was Rapp's second fourth-place finish of the season, the other coming in Race 2 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. But that time, Rapp was 24.5 seconds behind the winner. As such, the difference between the two finishes is huge. Hugely huge. As Thom put it, "We can't tune for 25 seconds, but we can tune for eight." Or four.

Despite missing the season-opening races at Daytona, Rapp has five top-six finishes. That’s equal to or better than the four riders ahead of him in points, and a better “batting” average than any of them. Thom, who led Chuck Sorensen to two AMA 250cc GP titles and worked at Yamaha with Jamie Hacking, Josh Herrin and Bostrom, said of Rapp, “It’s easy to work hard for someone who rides with this kind of effort. He’s so committed. Rapp is still developing the bike to his liking. It’s a project. The engine is built like a Supersport bike of the last decade—cleaned up, loosened up and timed.”

Aside from Pegram’s exceedingly professional and reasonably well-funded effort, the BMW teams are just getting by. Cartwright’s personal streetbike, for example, doubles as Peris’ spare racebike. Rapp’s name is spelled out on his pit board in electrical tape. He borrows tires warmers. After 21 laps in 90-degree heat, no one hands him a bottle of cold water. It’s just old-fashioned commitment and heart, fueled by modern software.

011 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Chris Peris

010 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Steve Rapp

009 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Roger Lee Hayden leads Steve Rapp

008 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Top of the chart

007 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Toolbox

006 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Sander-Donkers

005 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Pitboard

004 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Mike Fitzgerald and Steve Rapp

003 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Jeremy Toye and Steve Rapp

002 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Chris Peris

001 Eight-Point-Six-Three-Seven Seconds from the Future - Action in the Peris pit