What Really Happened: Unadilla
At Unadilla, we saw a stock bike make a factory bike noticeably better.
What really happened at Unadilla: We found out that the better the stock bike, the better the factory bike.
Usually, when a factory team makes a pronouncement that they’re “unveiling the new (insert model year and model number here) early for this weekend’s event”, it seems like it’s usually just about boosting sales for the new bike. It might have new graphics, or a slightly different color combination or something, but the factory bikes are so incredibly different from the stock bikes that “model year to model year” changes usually don’t make a bit of difference.
However, because of the “production rule” as part of AMA racing, the frame, swingarm, and displacement has to be stock, along with a few other requirements – like the gas tank has to be stock, and if it’s not stock, it must be of a higher volume, and things like that.
So, I’ll admit that when I saw the PR that stated that the Monster Energy Kawasaki team was going to unveil the new 2012 Kawasaki KX450F at Unadilla, I was understandably underwhelmed by the news.
Then again, someone “forgot” to send me an invite to ride the new bike at RedBud a couple of months ago for Motocross.com, and if they had me out there to ride it, and had explained the changes they made to the frame, I may have anticipated more closely what ended up happening last Saturday in upstate New York.
And, before you ask, yes I’m bitter about missing a chance to ride a brand-new KX450F around a freshly groomed RedBud track. I have nightmares about it.
But when one of the parts of the “new” bike a factory team is unveiling is the frame itself – in other words, one of the “production rule” parts – that can make a drastic difference to the performance of the machine.
And it did at Unadilla.
Despite being the points leader right now, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto had been struggling with his bike quite a bit this summer. And his teammate Jake Weimer has had even more trouble with his setup, and by extension his riding.
But at Unadilla, both riders looked like someone else. Villopoto was charging noticeably harder into the turns, and out of them, later in the motos, and Weimer just generally had a lot more consistent speed, less crashes, and more of a fight in him, even against Chad Reed, who must’ve thought that Weimer was some sort of a bad dream in both motos.
The end result was the best race of the season for both of them, with Villopoto taking his first 1-1 score of the season (and only the second score like it in the class, with the other 1-1 going to Chad Reed at Texas, at round two, after Ryan Dungey’s bike quit at the end of the second moto), and Weimer going 5-6 for sixth overall (which could’ve been a 5-5 score for fourth overall had he and Brett Metcalfe not gone down together while battling for fifth in the second moto).
We often hear of factory racing teams making the stock products better, but how often do you hear of production parts making the factory bikes better?
It was literally noticeable to the naked eye out on the track at Unadilla, so much so that Mike Gosselaar – Dungey’s mechanic at Rockstar/Makita Suzuki – was reportedly quizzing the guys at Kawasaki about what they changed on the bike in impound after the race.
And if it was obvious to me, it was incredibly more so to Villopoto and Weimer. As the story goes, the first time Villopoto rode the 2012 version of his factory bike, only about two weeks ago, the team mounted the factory engine, suspension, and everything else from his race bike onto a 2012 frame – including the 2011 plastics, even though the 2012 bike is a bit narrower through its mid-section in part because of its new body panels – so that the only change on the bike was the frame. Villopoto went out on a track that had about a 90-second laptime, and did one lap that he estimates was well over two minutes because he was just cruising around, and stopped when he got to where he started.
“What did you guys do?” Villopoto asked, excitedly. “It’s like a whole new bike from here [motioning to where he was sitting on the seat] forward!”
The decision was basically made at that moment to race the 2012 bike from there on out. And so far, the 2012 Kawasaki KX450F is two-for-two in AMA Pro Motocross competition…
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