The phone call from Kawasaki's Jeff Herzog had that familiar ring to it. "Hey, Kent, remember at the Versys press launch where we talked about preparing one to race in the Moto-ST endurance series? Well, I've got one over at Carry Andrew's shop right now getting modified for the 8-Hour event coming up. We're thinking of having both you and Andrew Trevitt race the event on two separate teams. Carry is also building another Ninja 650R for Trevitt's team. Interested?" It all sounded pretty appealing, but the clincher was when Herzog told me who I would be riding with.
"You'll be teamed up with Scott Russell and another rider we're getting lined up at the moment." Um . . . come again? You mean Scott Russell, as in Mr. Daytona? The former AMA and World Superbike champion who's won the Daytona 200 an unprecedented five times? Although the thought of a floundering magazine editor dragging the team down momentarily gave me pause, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. And I knew Trevitt wouldn't need convincing. "Heck yeah, sign us up," I told Herzog.
The official Pair-A-Nines Kawasaki race team at the SunTrust Moto-ST Daytona 8-Hour would be made up of three squads. The original team of Jimmy Filice and Jay Springsteen would be joined by Filice's son Justin on a Ninja 650R tuned by Bill Werner. A second 650R built by Andrew would be piloted by my previous Pair-A-Nines teammate Nick Cummings, fellow dirt-track protg Jesse Janisch and SR Senior Editor Trevitt, while the Versys would be ridden by Russell, yours truly and young up-and-coming Canadian superbike racer Brett McCormick. This had all the makings of a fun, no-stress experience . . . or so we thought.
The Kawasaki Versys-A Roadracer?
It's pretty hard to imagine the Kawasaki Versys as a roadracing machine. The adventure-tour-styled bike is very tall and has longer-travel suspension than its Ninja 650R brother. At the Versys press launch in San Diego last year, however, Herzog pointed out that it had better suspen-sion components (a rebound-damping-adjustable inverted fork and stronger banana-style swingarm) as well as a slightly better brake setup than the 650R-based platform I raced back in the March '07 event. The plan was to have noted engine builder Andrew modify the Versys engine to run in the Moto-ST series' Grand Sport Twins class, which has a power limit of 90 horsepower-compared with the Sport Twins class's 75-horsepower limit the Ninja 650R usually runs in. Squeezing that much power out of a 649cc vertical twin-even one as technologically advanced as the Kawasaki engine-would be no small feat. But if there was one person who could do it, Andrew would be the one. JE pistons and Megacycle cams were ordered to help boost power, although Andrew didn't have a lot of time to work with; he was also prepping a Ninja 650R for Trevitt's team, and the race was only a month or so away.
Another problem was the fuel tank-Moto-ST rules permit a maximum of 4.5 gallons capacity, and the Versys is equipped with a 5.0-gallon unit stock. Andrew had a fabricator carve out a half-gallon section of the tank underneath and weld the assembly back together. So that issue appeared to be handled-but the Daytona curse would come back to bite us.