However, switching straight over to the Corser bike for another five-lap stint revealed an even more well-rounded and seemingly more powerful package, with vivid power delivery lower down and what felt like stronger acceleration all through the powerband. I tried hard towards the end of my short five-lap stint to distinguish any step in the power delivery around the 12,000 rpm mark, where Troy's race engineer Dave Marton had told me the TCC-I variable intake system starts to work, but honestly failed. It's just that the whole bike seemed to be a little sharper in engine response, without being at all snatchy or brusque in the way it picked up again mid-turn from a closed throttle, like the old 20-valve R1 used to be, or the 750cc R7 before it.
But it wasn't just the engine that felt better on the Corser Yamaha, which as usual I felt truly comfortable on within the limits of the still unfamiliar circuit. I've ridden Troy's bikes for the past 12 years, and each time I do so I'm reminded that his chosen chassis setup is always the closest to how I prefer my own bikes to be--evenly balanced front and rear, with relatively soft, compliant suspension that doesn't however wallow in turns. The whole bike is ideally set up for keeping up high corner speeds, without sacrificing significant agility on turn-in or in chicanes. The conventional rear shock seemed softer set up than Nori's electronic one, plus on the Corser Yamaha I felt molded to the bike, sitting inside it as a part of it, whereas on Haga's much taller machine I was more perched on top. As last year, the Corser R1 also had a notably different set of gear ratios compared to Haga's, with the bottom three also evenly spaced, but then a tight fourth and fifth and a long sixth.
Another big difference between the two R1s was that Troy had left a lot more engine braking dialed in compared to Nori's bike, presumably adjusting the electronics and the spring settings on the STM slipper clutch to help produce this. That delivered more confidence for my riding style under heavy braking for Portimao's slower turns, especially the first downhill left-hander, where its more balanced setup didn't stop it turning just as tightly as the more nervous, front-loaded Haga bike with its more radical geometry. But that also delivered extra momentum as I accelerated hard uphill to the next turn, with the staged green shifter lights Troy opts for flickering from 13,500 rpm upwards, before a bright red one flashed at 14,200 revs to remind me to tap the sweet-action powershifter lever with my left toe.
Holy video game, Batman! The...
Holy video game, Batman! The Yamaha's left clip-on bristles with switchgear for changing various performance parameters. The yellow "A" button is for switching off the traction control, while the blue "B" button below is for the pitlane speed-limiter. The rocker switch between those two buttons is for choosing between two traction control settings, one with more and the other less intervention. The red and green buttons on the left are for the three-step torque control, which controls the ride-by-wire throttle and determines the amount of torque in the lower three gears.
The Magneti Marelli Marvel...
The Magneti Marelli Marvel 4 ECU system has many of its control boxes attached to the back of the airbox. Note the tiny Marelli generator unit (as well as airflow cooling ducting) mounted inside the stock cavity where the stock alternator used to reside.
Haga preferred the new generation...
Haga preferred the new generation "through-rod" Ohlins TTX fork that is essentially built like a steering damper, with the operating rod running through seals at either end of the damping tube. Corser used the MotoGP-style TTX25 with external accumulator cylinders. The calipers are Brembo lithium monoblock units (lighter than aluminum), with the 320mm discs now 6.5mm in thickness after testing discovered dangerously high metal temps in the thinner discs.
The Yamaha's narrow build makes it seem pretty agile, perhaps because of the way the frame spars run up and over the slantblock motor. This seems to impose a higher C of G on the R1, which helps it steer nicely into turns, but makes it harder to lift up and over from side to side. The Corser R1 was super stable under heavy braking, almost faultless stopping from hard on in top along the main pit straight, then working down through the gears leaned over through the double entry before braking hard, hard, hard for the first-gear right-hander. The bite from the lithium Brembo calipers was superb, but the best thing was the way the Yamaha stayed planted to the line I'd chosen for it under heavy braking.
In 2009 Yamaha will be trying to have the best of both worlds, as listening to new recruit Ben Spies' R1 at Portimao amply illustrated as he trundled down pit lane at the end of the day, past the garage where I was packing up my kit, for the first laps in public of the new 2009-model bike. With its unpainted black bodywork, I thought at first it was a Sterilgarda Ducati as I heard it coming towards me, but not so: it was a four disguised as a twin, in drag!
I guess his spanking new R1 makes the YZF-R1 which Troy Corser and Nori Haga took to the final two places in the 2008 SBK series rostrum already history on wheels, the end of one particular era of four-cylinder Japanese superbikes. It may be gone, but not forgotten.