Since the introduction of the first GSX-R750, Suzuki has aggressively partnered its flagship sportbike line with a high-paying contingency program for club racers. Many are familiar with the story: The aspiring racer travels the country with a GSX-R in the back of his van, hitting all the events that offer contingency, and making a decent buck as well as gaining notoriety along the way.
The highlight of Suzuki's contingency program, or, if you will, the Mecca, is the Suzuki Cup finals held every year at Road Atlanta in Georgia. Riders must qualify to attend by gaining points in their local series; with enough points, they are invited to compete in a winner-take-all battle in the final. The program started with the GSX-R750, spread to the 600 and 1100/1000, and now includes the three GSX-Rs as well as the SV1000 and SV650.
Our plan here (cue the Mission Impossible soundtrack) was to qualify for the SV650 Cup final by attending a handful of WSMC (Willow Springs Motorcycle Club) rounds at Willow Springs, then race the final at Road Atlanta. And this would be no show-up-and-ride deal--the SV shown here is our own long-suffering test mule. In addition to learning more about the Suzuki Cup series and WERA Grand National Finals (which the Cup races are held in conjunction with each year), this would give us a chance to further explore the SV650 and its cultlike following.
Simple enough, right? Riiiiight
The first order of business was to prepare the SV for battle. A quick peek at the Cup rules showed a mix of Superbike and Superstock regulations, with horsepower and weight restrictions thrown in for good measure. Because the finals are run under WERA's umbrella, the basic guidelines follow that series' Superbike rules for lightweight twins. However, to keep expenses in check, stock wheels, brakes and forks are required. To further level the playing field, maximum horsepower and minimum weight rules are also in effect. That's a lot of rules to keep in mind when building a bike, but you can see the point--Suzuki keeps the horsepower and weight numbers realistic, so it's fair for everyone and major modifications are allowed but not required.
Of course there's always a fly in the ointment, and in this case it was WSMC's qualifying class for the Cup, which is Middleweight Twins. That class runs under the club's liberal superbike rules, which meant I would be running against not only fully built SV650s, but also Ducati 748s and some fast Buells. Luckily, the number of points required to qualify is not that great, and I kept the SV mostly stock for the qualifying rounds. That way, I would get more experience riding it in the form it would be at Road Atlanta, instead of going wild on modifications for the WSMC rounds and then reverting back to the more supersport-like specs for the Cup race itself.
With the 650 stock but for tires, suspension and brakes, I attended the first qualifier and finished eighth (see Full Pin, Oct. 2003). That first race was certainly an eye-opener, as even with the class structure at Willow, an SV650 won the race. It's incredible how much some of these little Suzukis get modified--GSX-R600 front ends (I even saw one with an hlins setup), aftermarket swingarms with wider rear wheels and slicks, overbored engines pumping out close to 90 horsepower--just because the SV is a budget bike does not mean you have to go budget racing. Not that those faster bikes are an excuse; I would definitely have to pull my thumb out, both in my riding and in some more steam for the poor little SV, if I was going to be competitive for the Cup final. For the next Willow race, I had a few more ponies (76.4, against the stock 72) in the form of a Yoshimura pipe, Dynojet Power Commander and K&N air filter. I went a bit quicker, finishing sixth in the Middleweight Twins race and getting within a second of my goal of a 1:30 lap time.
For the last qualifying round, with the bike just as I would ride it at the final but with stock bodywork, I again finished sixth in the race and garnered a few valuable points (grids for the Cup heat races are determined by points from each region) and more seat time. Perhaps more indicative of my progress with the bike are the results in the 550 Superbike races that I also entered at Willow. My first weekend I finished a dismal 12th, but improved in the next two rounds to finish fifth and second, respectively, in the other class.
To this point, the little SV had been performing amazingly well, with no reliability problems--and the throttle is wide open for most of a lap at Willow. I can see how the SV650 is a great bike to learn on; even the tiniest miscue can cost huge amounts of time, as the bike just doesn't have the power to make up for mistakes. The only snag I encountered at Willow was with the Traxxion Dynamics-modified front fork, which was sensitive to temperature and required constant attention to fork oil weight. When the oil and temperature were matched, the front end worked extremely well, especially when you consider that it's a damping-rod fork. But stray more than 10 or 15 degrees from that ideal temperature (and it's common to see double that swing over the course of a summer day at Willow) and the front end would be rock solid or a pogo stick.
With some time left before the big race at Road Atlanta, I mapped out the last tweaks for the SV and waited anxiously for the minimum weight and maximum horsepower numbers to be released so I could prepare accordingly. There was one last surprise in store for the project, however. With the bike's ride out to Georgia being in the back of the Suzuki demo truck, I had but a few days to weigh the bike (390 pounds with a half-tank of fuel) and dash to the dyno to experiment with a couple of things before the bike had to be off across the country. Sure enough, a couple of days after the SV left, Suzuki released the final rules of 79 horsepower and 365 pounds.