It didn't take very long for me to realize this was unlike anything else I had ridden before. Mat Mladin's 2009 AMA championship winning American Superbike is fast. Really fast. So fast in fact that the first thing I was able to scribble in my notes was, "Had to slow down because my brain couldn't process everything my eyes were seeing fast enough." And to think, these bikes are nothing like superbikes from years past...
Love him or hate him, Mat Mladin set the bar for all other AMA Pro Roadracing champions to come. His seven championships are a testament to his skill, training and the dedication of his Yoshimura Suzuki team. Even with the purchase of the previous AMA regime by DMG, whose goal was to make the racing less expensive for everyone through homologation of parts, which would then mandate that everything be available to anyone who has the cash. In essence, taking away that perceived advantage Mladin had over the competition. It didn't matter. He still won the championship in convincing fashion. This after admitting that he lost interest in the series midway through the season.
Taming The Beast
The outline for the test ride was simple: we'd get five laps aboard each of Mat's bikes at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. At the end of the first five lap stint, come in, switch, and do another five. Each bike came to the track exactly as they rolled off the truck at the season finale in New Jersey, except for slightly softer fork springs-1.0kg as opposed to the 1.1kg Mladin normally runs. Also, Mat's "A" bike featured offset triple clamps that offer a half-degree extended rake that also offset the crown three millimeters forward of the steering stem. This made for a bike that wasn't as quick to turn-in, but was more stable once on its side. The "B" bike, meanwhile, has the triples in their standard offset and steering geometry for quicker steering at the expense of stability. Depending on the track Mladin would ride both and choose which he liked best, then the other would be set up identical.
Fully stripped you can see...
Fully stripped you can see the complete titanium exhaust piping along with the full trapezoidal racing radiator. But unlike superbikes of old the stock swingarm and forks remain (with updated internals in the latter).
Not having ridden a bike of this caliber, I didn't know what to expect. Surprisingly enough, power output isn't as intimidating as expected-no doubt because of the stock bottom end. Wait, stock bottom end? Yup. When asking Rich Doan and Denis Ackland of Yoshimura about power modifications, both seemed rather disappointed. The reason is because under the new rules structure everything below the cylinder head is bone stock. Stock pistons, stock connecting rods, and, yes, a stock crankshaft. Gone are the days of titanium bits and quick-revving engines. Heads are fully ported and house Yoshimura camshafts with the same lift but longer duration as allowed by the rules. Cam sprockets are also adjustable to allow for optimum cam timing. Compression is raised slightly via thinner head gaskets. A standard R77 exhaust system, available through Yoshimura, allows the GSX-R to breathe. Believe it or not, that's basically it for internal engine mods. These simple changes are good enough for about 185-horsepower to the wheel-about 15-20 less horsepower than superbikes of old. Making it all work correctly is a Magnetti Marelli ECU that controls and datalogs a multitude of parameters: suspension travel, brake pressure, timing, fuel mixture, and traction control, just to name a few. Speaking of traction control, Mladin's bike is equipped with a six-level system. Depending on the situation the rider is able to adjust it-on the fly-via the standard toggle buttons normally used to select the different drive modes on standard GSX-R models. Qualifying laps generally mean the system is turned to the lowest setting (or even off), while higher settings can be used when Mat has a comfortable lead and wants to maintain the tire for the length of the race.