Honda's seven-year domination of the World Supersport Championship was finally broken in 2009, with Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow racking up five victories in 12 races enroute to the title. Crutchlow and Yamaha Europe's World Supersport team, working under the direction of former 250GP rider Wilco Zeelenberg out of the team's Neuss base in Germany, succeeded in bringing the title Yamaha last held in 2000 with Jörg Teuchert. Unfortunately, despite winning the championship, Yamaha was forced to dissolve the team at the conclusion of the '09 season due to budget cuts caused by the struggling economy. Crutchlow has since been moved up to the Yamaha World Superbike team, while Zeelenberg has been chosen as Jorge Lorenzo's new crew chief on the Fiat Yamaha MotoGP squad.
The chance to ride the Crutchlow racebike during the team's mid-season test at Brno underlined how far his race engineer Marcus Eschenbacher-the man who tuned Teuchert's bike-and the rest of the Yamaha Europe race crew have refined the R6's performance to Honda-beating levels. Indeed, the R6 was so fast in Crutchlow's hands that his World Supersport pole position lap time at the Donington Park round would have qualified him for the World Superbike Superpole shootout! For '09, the team concentrated on refining the power delivery for increased torque compared to the '08 version to counter the softer midrange and bottom-end power that's an inevitable spinoff of such a high-revving motor.
Riding the Crutchlow R6 for 20 laps at Brno confirmed the first impressions I had of Yamaha's 600 Supersport contender when I'd briefly ridden it at Portimao eight months earlier, the day after the final race in its 2008 debut season. More than anything else in the class, and especially the slightly bigger Honda CBR600RR, the comparatively tiny R6 seems more like a 250GP bike in the way you must ride it.
Even with the extra torque that the team has sourced for this season, partly via modifications to the YCC-I variable intake system (which I honestly couldn't feel operating in terms of a difference in engine character or exhaust note before and after the 13,600-rpm actuation point), the one aspect that always matters with the Yamaha is that you have to rev it to the moon, in every gear, in every situation. Although the R6 drives okay out of a slow turn from 6000 rpm upwards-3000 rpm lower than a year ago, and a really obvious benefit of the team's hard work last winter that makes the bike much easier to ride-it definitely picks up engine speed quite a bit faster once you've passed 10,000 rpm. Engine rpm is the key to its performance, and you never forget for a moment this is a bike that demands to be kept in the five-figure rpm zone as much as possible. It builds power quite steeply from 12-12,500 rpm upwards before flattening out around 15,500 revs, with the hard-action rev-limiter now set at an average 16,500 rpm (the team varies it slightly in every gear), 300 rpm higher than a year ago. "We can maybe go even higher to 16,800 revs or even 17,000, if really necessary," reveals Zeelenberg.