Because there was only one...
Because there was only one KR211V in existence at the first Sepang test, Roberts Jr. and Team KR spent a lot of down time in the pits while changes were made. A second bike with a different frame setup was made in time for the Phillip Island tests, but KRJR preferred the older chassis.
Kenny Roberts admitted he was nervous when his son took the KR211V on the track. "We've been a long time out of the ball game without a lot of confidence that we're going to nail it the first time out," the usually supremely confident Roberts revealed. "It would've been a little embarrassing if it wobbled around and was eight seconds off the pace. Obviously, that's not the case. Although it's not perfect, it's not a disaster yet either." Quite the opposite. Junior's times at the Malaysia test were more than respectable, given the quick fabrication time.
"We built the bike in a very, very short time, and saying running down pit road was the first time it ever was in gear makes me a little nervous," Roberts continued. "I'm responsible for that project. It's a lot of pressure. For us, no more engine excuses. We have to perform. The whole thing is a little bit nerve-wracking and, of course, with him riding it, you want the best of the best. No doubt having your kid on it is, of course, another pressure or any rider who has that kind of relationship like Wayne [Rainey] and I did. You always have that kind of nervous tension building. And I don't think that's going to go away."
Junior's best lap was a 2:03.37, which put him 16th out of the 19 riders. He was two seconds slower than the fastest riders, but that was deceiving because the top riders all used qualifying tires. On race tires, he was closer to a second off the pace. And the fastest riders were on Bridgestone tires on a track that favors the Japanese brand.
Kenny Roberts Jr. sees the...
Kenny Roberts Jr. sees the KR211V as an opportunity to revive his flagging career after struggling on the Suzuki GSV-R for four years.
What made the time more impressive was that he only had one motorcycle, which meant considerable downtime for adjustments. A second chassis materialized for the follow-on test at Phillip Island. The geometry was no different, but the air box placement was. Junior preferred the original chassis, and the team had an entirely new frame for the Barcelona tests in early March.
One of the elements that most energized Roberts about this project was the chance for Junior to ride a bike that suited his style. "He's not a corner-speed rider, he's an acceleration rider like I was. If my bikes had to depend on corner speed, I couldn't ride them. So I had to engineer them or help Kel [Carruthers] or whoever make it the way I could ride it.
"Kenny [Jr.] was never comfortable on the Suzuki. The Suzuki has always, in my opinion, depended too much on mid-corner speed to make it work. I'm just happy to see him ride something that has that kind of bottom power that you can use. For me to ride what he had over [at Suzuki], I couldn't have done it either."
With so much to test and only one machine, Roberts said the team lost its way on the final day of the Sepang test. Junior's times were the same at the beginning and the end of the day. "It's not right, but it's not that far off either," he said. "If you just look at the lap times and go you're fifth or sixth or whatever or you're only 2:03, it's just hard to relate to unless you actually build motorcycles. I didn't really think we'd come here and blow Honda off. I think they've had a little more experience building these things than we have."
What the tests confirmed was that chassis stiffness was a concern.
"We felt coming here we weren't ready yet in stiffness and that has come out of the test," he said. "Everything that we thought we were going to have trouble with, we had trouble with. It's kind of depressing, but it's also reassuring that our figures off of our test rigs are accurate. It's a lot for [Kenny Jr.] to run through. And it was a lot of downtime for us. But we have to do it. There's really no other way to shortcut it."
By concentrating on Roberts...
By concentrating on Roberts Jr., the KR team intends to fashion a racebike around his dirt track riding style that concentrates more on off-turn acceleration than the outright corner speed that most of the MotoGP machines are developed toward today.
Junior's first impression was that the engine was "Awesome...Yeah, pretty amazing." Chassis issues overshadowed the brilliance of the engine, however. "Just from the time I roll off the throttle until the time out of the corner and getting ready for the next one, that all needs to be a 10th of a second quicker," Junior said during the break between the Phillip Island and second Sepang tests. "That means everything needs to speed up. If I'm braking too fast for the bike and I'm flicking it in too quick, the thing's not all together. I have to ride it at its own pace. If you flick it in really hard and the thing's not in the right area, the weight and the mass doesn't go with you as quick as you need it to and it just upsets everything.
"We can do it," he added, confidently. "In Malaysia I was quick as anybody right from the start, if not quicker in that first run of 2:03. I actually thought the lap timer was a mistake because the lap time was so quick right away. The Honda engine makes it so nice around that place, just doesn't wheelie, you're able to accelerate hard off the corners. That's a tremendous amount of lap times right there."
The first chassis was better, Junior said after the Phillip Island test. "The basic thing from Malaysia to Australia was rotating the chassis to get the weight and balance a little better and also possibly that this circuit suited the problems we were having a little better than Malaysia did because Malaysia, the more grip you have, the better it is."
Right now, Junior doesn't want to force the KR211V to do things it doesn't want to do, "Because the more I try to force the bike and try to take wider lines and be aggressive on the throttle, it just ends up spinning. The good thing is I can envision what I need it to do and it's what the other guys are doing. Warren [Willing, Kenny Jr.'s crew chief] is extremely confident that once we get the chassis set up and all the other odds and ends of things that are making it difficult, we're going to be right there. That's our goal anyway."
Despite its early teething problems, Roberts Sr. says the KR211V is the best motorcycle to wear his name "By quite a long ways. We never really had one that I was happy with. I was happy with the two-stroke in the end, but we were racing against four-strokes. We never had a world-beater, in my opinion. We always sort of kicked ourselves off in the wrong way. Let myself get talked into going around the corners faster. I think the moon and the stars all lined up together this time and said, 'now it's time for you to have a decent motor."
Roberts' agreement with Honda is for one rider for one year, but he would like it to continue.
"We have always said we would really like to work with a company that wanted to work with us, that wanted to go places. I would love to continue this relationship with Honda and have it work for both companies. We don't really want to be a problem to Honda, we want to be a solution. I think the way that we're doing this project is a solution in some ways. And so I hope that they see it the same way."