Last December, Chris Fillmore suddenly found himself without a ride in AMA Superbike. Now he's back in on the KTM RC8 R, thanx to a decision by the Austrian factory to revive its AMA Superbike effort.
Fillmore surprised many by running near the front at the Mid-Ohio round of the AMA Superbike series last year. He finished seventh.
A little over two weeks ago, Mitch Hansen didn’t have a whole lot on his plate. The basic story behind the KTM/HMC Superbike project launched last year at Mid-Ohio was that it was on hiatus and there was no indication that would change. Until it did.
The owner of HMC Racing suddenly got the call that KTM wanted to return to AMA Superbike racing in 2012. And, by the way, could he be ready for Daytona in a little over a month’s time?
“I thought the program had been finished,” Hansen said in a phone conversation from his shop in Wisconsin. “Obviously, that’s what we were told. And then they reversed their decision, thank God, and we just found out about a week ago or so.”
As to how it happened, Hansen said “it was a KTM Austria decision. I know the U.S. was pushing hard for it. I think that that was the main reason. The U.S. was pushing pretty hard. They wanted to see it go forward. They’re trying to develop or get their road market up to speed and it’s only going to help. Now we got to really start getting things back together.
“We still have the bikes, which is good. We did the Daytona test this fall. That’s where we left things. And now we’ve just got to get things ready.” On the to-do list for Monday was driving a couple hours south to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to pick up a couple of crew members.
The team will use the same KTM RC8 Rs that Chris Fillmore rode at Mid-Ohio and New Jersey Motorsports Park. The former Supermoto rider finished an impressive seventh in his first Superbike race at Mid-Ohio on Saturday and ninth in Sunday’s race two.
“We’ll use the ‘11 because there’s no difference and they’re ready to go,” Hansen said. “We’ve got some updates that we’re going to do. We can drop 10 pounds, the twins can drop 10 pounds this year,” to 370 pounds, the same as the four-cylinders, “so that’ll help.” How will they do it? ”We were using forged aluminum wheels last year, we’re going to use magnesium, so that’ll help us. We were right at the limit last year at 380, so the 10 pounds will be pretty easy to find.”
The number one priority is rebuilding the motors, which the team will tear into as soon as all the parts arrive.
“We’re just got to get everything fresh again. It takes some time,” Hansen said, though with the restrictive AMA rules there isn’t as much to do as in years past.
“Really, basically we’re running the RC8 R,” Hansen said. “Other than doing the head work that we’re allowed to do and putting on the electronics and miscellaneous other things, there’s really not too much for us that we need to do.” The team will use Magneti-Marelli electronics, but not the top of the line model.
“There’s a number of systems that you can get from Magneti-Marelli and the one that we use will be under” the proposed $18,000 price cap on electronics for the 2013 season. “There’s a number of different systems. The one that we use, I think it’s called the SRT, and it’s the lower level, but it still has everything you could imagine, everything you’d need. You can go with the Marvel 4 system and it has a lot more bells and whistles. But I’m sure most of the teams aren’t even capable of using all that it offers. You can take on something and if it’s not used properly and you don’t have the proper people to maintain it and use it properly, you’re not going anywhere.”
By the time the bikes are ready to roll, there will just be enough time to load them on the truck for the drive to Florida. The tight time frame won’t allow for the team to test prior to the race. “It’s going to be tough getting it ready for Daytona, really,” Hansen said.
As difficult as it is to get ready, it’s easy than it was last year. Fillmore has ridden the bike numerous times, both in tests and races, and has a feel for the KTM and the control Dunlop slicks.
“Really, last year was the tough thing,” Hansen said. “I mean, you didn’t know what to expect. You didn’t know if you were going to competitive. It was Chris’s (Fillmore) first ride on a Superbike, so we had all those questions marks. This year we know Chris is competitive, we know bike is competitive, and now it’s just up to us to make sure the bike stays together and Chris keeps the bike upright. And that’s our biggest challenge right now is going out there and being competitive.”
KTM is the main sponsor, with Hansen keeping his long-time sponsors Millennium Technologies, Motorex, Vortex, and DID.
The team will take part in the entire racing and testing season, an all-out assault, Hansen said.
“We’re out there, we’re serious,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can have some really good finishes this year.
“I’m hoping, and we have some tracks that it really works well at. I don’t see why we can’t break the top five now and then. And who knows when you get a rain race?”
The response to KTM’s entry last year was encouraging, Hansen said, with more enthusiasm last Friday when the plan to revive the program was announced.
“We really saw it last year,” he said. “It was amazing the feedback we got and all the e-mails I received. And then when the press release came out, I’ve just been getting a number of calls and e-mails and people that another brand’s out there. It’s really been remarkable. I mean, I wasn’t expecting that much feedback from fans.”
Hansen hasn’t been given any assurances, but he hopes to be able to continue for years to come.
“I believe that it’s going to be a long term deal, but you never know,” Hansen said. “The industry is what it is right now and I’m hoping that this brings us three, four, five years down the road yet, I’m hoping.”