Car vs. Bike Showdown!

Kawasaki’s Ninja H2R goes head to head in a half-mile acceleration contest against a trio of modified supercars: a McLaren MP4-12C, a Bugatti Veyron, and a 1,350-hp Nissan GTR by SPE

Kawasaki Ninja H2R vs. Car

Ever since its debut, everyone has been salivating over Kawasaki's supercharged Ninja H2R. With its track-only pedigree, a claimed 300 hp, superb build quality, and outrageous styling, the H2R has certainly generated a lot of buzz for the company despite its build-to-order production and lofty $50,000 price tag.

That build-to-order production and non-street-legal status also meant that press access to the H2R was like getting an audience with the Pope. Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA only had a single bike intended for promotional purposes, and corporate management was not too keen on the idea of it being ridden in anger and possibly damaged.

Luckily the stars aligned in early May, as we were somehow able to work out a plan with KMC USA in conjunction with Sean Russell at Super Street magazine and Tony Lopez of Omega Motorsport. Russell suggested running against some modified cars (Super Street's editorial specialty) and/or high-end supercars that he could gather up in a straight-line speed contest. Lopez organizes various half-mile speed events for automobiles called "No Fly Zone" (so called because the events are held on airport runways that are shut down to aircraft traffic) at locations across the country, and he had an NFZ planned for May 2 at Minter Airfield in Shafter, California.

The Kawasaki Ninja H2R’s propensity for wheelies in the first three gears—even with the KTRC’s ability to control wheelies to a certain extent—was a handful to get under control.

The NFZ events are low-key affairs that utilize a rolling start (approximately 40 to 50 mph) to the half-mile run; this takes the drag launch from a standing start—plus the specialized equipment and skill, as well as wear and tear on the machinery—out of the equation and makes it more of a measure of the car’s speed potential. Timing lights at the end of the half-mile accurately measure the car’s speed. Normally Lopez does not allow motorcycles to participate in his events due to insurance restrictions, but he graciously made an exception this time so that we could run in the event.

Unfortunately we had a scant two weeks to organize everything, and getting all the pieces of the puzzle put together in time was a nightmare. For example, because the H2R had just been taken out of the crate, Kawasaki wanted to make sure the engine was broken in properly, so it was run on an in-house dyno just two nights before the event. Then Russell informed us that obtaining the current model automobiles from the manufacturers in the time frame we needed wasn’t happening; luckily Lopez was able to arrange three supercars that frequent his NFZ meets to run with us at Minter Airfield. And none of the trio is anything to sneeze at.

Making matters worse was that I had exactly zero seat time on the bike prior to our arriving at Minter. And we would really be pressed for time, as we had to also arrange for photography and video content to be shot during the day, in addition to running three races with each car. I managed to get in a total of four practice runs (including a shakedown run to make sure the bike ran okay) before our first race.

Kawasaki tech Joey Lombardo wheels the H2R out of the truck Saturday morning at the No Fly Zone event. The bike had just been broken in on the dyno two nights before.

I’d ridden the 200-hp street-legal H2 at a Kawasaki press launch held at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, but even that motorcycle’s ultra-strong acceleration paled in comparison to the H2R. After my first real full-throttle run, the words “monster” or “fierce” don’t begin to describe how hard the H2R pulls—and that’s through all six gears, not just the first two or three. You’ve probably heard someone describe how a bike’s acceleration seems to make everything around you a blur, as if someone had pushed a “fast-forward” button? That really does describe the voracious manner in which the Kawasaki inhales space and time.

My first assumption was to just run without the KTRC traction control, but I quickly found out that was a mistake after fighting to keep the H2R from looping out in the first three gears at anywhere near full throttle. Even with the KTRC on Level 1 (which has a measure of wheelie control), keeping the front end down in first and second gear took a lot of work. My best trap speed at the end of three practice runs was 194 mph.

Although a fantastic car that can get around a racetrack quickly and turn 10-second quarter-miles, the McLaren MP4-12C was no match for the H2R, which easily pulled away from the 600-plus-hp car.

McLaren MP4-12C
Our first opponent would be a McLaren MP4-12C, manufactured by McLaren Automotive, which works closely with and is part of the same company as McLaren Racing, the Formula 1 racing automobile constructor. Powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8 engine pumping out around 600 hp, the McLaren 12C makes extensive use of carbon fiber in its construction, including a chassis built around an F1-style one-piece carbon tub. This keeps its weight down to a claimed 2,868 pounds dry, and the McLaren's performance numbers include a low 10-second quarter-mile ET, lap times that are some of the quickest for production cars at several racetracks, and a manufacturer-claimed top speed of 207 mph.

Owner/driver Tim Davis told us the car had been tuned by a specialty shop that claimed to have achieved “around 700 hp” on its dyno, but Davis was pretty skeptical of those claims, and after three runs against the Kawasaki, he was even more doubtful. Each run was a decisive win for the H2R, with the bike easily scampering away by the halfway point to cross the timing lights with a huge advantage. Best trap speed for the McLaren was 162 mph, while the Kawasaki ran 192 mph.

Despite 1,000-plus hp at the wheels, the Bugatti Veyron couldn’t match the Kawasaki’s superior power-to-weight ratio in the half-mile, even with a rolling start.

Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4
The next car to line up against the Ninja H2R was owner/driver Travis Ellis' Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4, a supercar powered by a unique 8.0-liter "W-16" engine (basically two narrow-angle V-8s melded together and running off the same crankshaft) with four turbochargers helping to boost power output to more than 1,000 hp. The Veyron is famous for its listed top speed of 253 mph, but probably the most famous aspect of the Bugatti is its sticker price: The base model retails for a cool $1.5 million, with special models such as the Super Sport with an upgraded 1,200-hp engine costing almost $2.5 million.

Ellis told us his Veyron had been updated with the Super Sport engine tune, but despite those aforementioned monster power levels, it was no match for the H2R. The first two runs were decisive wins for the Kawasaki, with the margin of victory almost as large as they were against the McLaren. Best trap speed for the Veyron was 180 mph, while I was able to bring the H2R’s speed up to 194 mph at the end of the half-mile.

For his final run, Ellis wanted to try the launch control on the Veyron, meaning this run would be from a standing start like a dragrace. With so little time on the Kawasaki, I didn’t know how to engage the H2R’s launch control, and with no time or Kawasaki techs nearby, I just decided to wing it. Mindful that this was KMC USA’s only H2R and that we still had one more car to race, I kept my launch modest, allowing the Veyron to jump out to a huge holeshot. It mattered little, however; the Kawasaki went screaming past the Bugatti just past the halfway point and won with ease.

The H2R was able to pull a slight lead at the beginning of the final run against the SPE GT-R, but on the back half, the car’s superior horsepower (1,350 hp claimed) enabled it to get past and take the win.

1,350-hp Nissan GT-R by SP Engineering
Although the Kawasaki people were confident, I knew the SP Engineering GT-R was going to be a much tougher opponent. I'd heard of SPE's tuning prowess before and knew the 1,350-hp claim was no idle boast. A stock GT-R puts out around 575 to 600 hp, so to more than double the power output required substantial modifications to the car. This is no "daily driver"—the interior was completely gutted, with racing seats ensconced within a full racing cage. The SP Engineering folk admitted the car was purpose built for events such as this.

With such monster horsepower levels, the SPE GT-R appeared to be a temperamental beast, with the crew spending the day dialing in the car (by contrast, we were sitting around in the Kawasaki/Sport Rider pit twiddling our thumbs on the “uncrate and play” H2R). Even with the continual fiddling, the 90-degree heat was apparently playing havoc with the SPE GT-R’s clutches, and the first two runs were aborted, as a major error-code warning forced the driver to shut down prematurely.

During the downtime waiting for the GT-R, Bradley Adams suggested I try starting the roll in second gear, so I made a quick practice run. I thought it would bog the engine, but the H2R surprised me by easily pulling it, and the wheelies were easier to deal with. The result was a 204-mph trap speed!

The third time was the charm for the GT-R though, as everything held together. And despite the Kawasaki jumping out to a small lead at the beginning, the car eventually overhauled the H2R at about the two-thirds mark to take the win by a small margin. The SPE GT-R trapped at 208 mph, while I was able to get the Kawasaki up to 200 mph this time around. A valiant effort on our end, bolstered by the fact that this effort basically came straight out of the box and onto the track. On pump gas from the local Chevron station.

Special thanks to Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA for letting Sport Rider be the first US publication to run the new H2R. This bike is truly no joke.

Check out videos of each run and more information here: VIDEOS: KAWASAKI NINJA H2R GOES HEAD-TO-HEAD AGAINST THREE SUPERCARS

More Than Just a Centerpiece
All the readers out there screaming we should've done this or that aside, this contest was a fun experience that showed the Kawasaki Ninja H2R is more than just some flashy manufacturer centerpiece. It clearly has the power to back up its looks, and if our ride on the street-legal H2 is any indication, the H2R should be able to get around a roadcourse pretty well too. No, the bike is obviously not the end-all in performance for sportbikes, it's certainly not for everybody (especially with a track-only pedigree and $50,000 price tag), and, yes, you can spend a bit less money building a 'Busa or whatever with comparable straight-line performance. But to be able to get this kind of performance straight out of the crate, on pump gas?

You can bet those few who have H2Rs are likely very happy with their purchase. We would be.

For more images and videos from the test, read Super Street's version of the story here: World's Fastest Hyperbike Races Bugatti Veyron, 1350hp GT-R & McLaren 12C on Airstrip

A large assortment of fast and exotic cars attend the No Fly Zone events, lured by the low-key atmosphere and rolling starts.
The SP Engineering Nissan GT-R proved to be a worthy adversary to the Kawasaki H2R. Perhaps a rematch with some mods to the H2R might be in the offing?