Through an amazing combination of skilled mechanics, years of racetrack experience, and sheer determination, my 2021 Aprilia RS660 hit the racetrack for the first time this year at Daytona International Speedway. I believe this is the first time the RS660 has successfully competed in ANY racing competition in the US, and possibly the world.
Beyond the usual challenges of trying to develop a brand-new-to-the-world motorcycle into a competent track machine - the lack of parts availability, lack of setup data, lack of diagnostic tools, and so on – MRP and I were also faced with an extremely tight timeline. Due to Covid-19 related production delays, the original delivery date of “mid-October 2020” pushed all the way to the third week of February 2021, giving us just 3 weeks to prepare for the races at Daytona. Most would have simply decided to forego Daytona and target a future event. In the words of Forest Gump, however, I’m not a smart man.
Fortunately, the crew at MRP Motorsports dug in to the project with enthusiasm (with maybe a ‘WTF are you thinking’ side-eye look at me, but only briefly). They sourced and installed a new upper triple, clip-ons, rear sets, electronic controls, new clutch and brake levers with remote adjuster, and a steering damper, and I had a wide selection of Vortex gearing available for me to try at Daytona. They had to custom engineer a suitable belly pan to meet CCS safety requirements, as race bodywork was not yet available for this bike. MRP also had to machine a bracket to mount a Bitubo steering damper to the front of the frame. We ran the stock bodywork with some slight modifications and precision trimming, and duct tape on the headlights. All critical bolts were safety wired, and we used white vinyl to create some number plates.
The day before we departed for Daytona, the K-Tech 25mm IDS fork internal kit arrived. There was no time left to install it, so we tossed it in the trailer and headed south.
I headed out in morning practice on Friday, not knowing what to expect. I was mostly nervous about having to run a standard shift pattern, as opposed to my preferred GP pattern, since the software update to the ECU for GP-shift was not yet available to us. I did shift the wrong way once or twice; fortunately, the standard slipper clutch and auto-blip system both work very well, and I never had any serious moments.
The bike immediately felt very small to me, in a good way. Like a 300cc motorcycle, but with the solid feel of a big-bike chassis and a rocket strapped onto the back - this thing is quick both in the corners and in a straight line. It’s extremely responsive, without feeling twitchy at full lean. I did struggle a bit with the stock suspension; it’s kind of like riding around on a mattress. I was on the bottom of the fork travel immediately, and struggled braking deep into turns and being able to get on the gas early.
Between practice and the first race, Kenny installed the K-Tech 25mm fork kit. In the first race, I immediately dropped over 6 seconds per lap from my practice times - the front end felt completely different, and more in line with what I needed. Over the course of the weekend, we would adjust spring rate and other parameters, ultimately yielding us another few seconds per lap.
We did what we could with the stock shock - making adjustments to spring rate, preload, and rebound - but we still lacked rear-end grip almost everywhere on the track. I’m looking forward to an upgrade there before the next round.
We also ran into a few teething issues with the electronics on the bike that resulted in one DNF.
The final verdict: I managed a couple of 4th place finishes, one 5th, and one DNF. I improved my times and MRP improved the setup every time out on track, so even without a visit to the podium I’m calling it a very successful weekend. Not bad for a 3 week old bike and an over-the-hill rider! That said, this is NOT a simple bike to pick up from a dealership and roll out onto a racetrack. The newness, sophisticated electronics, limited parts, and overall ‘uniqueness’ that comes with being an Italian bike make this one of the more complex motorcycles I’ve raced over the last 20 years. If you’re thinking about racing one, get in touch with MRP Motorsports for your build! They’ve got the experience to save you a ton of time, frustration, and money. I can’t thank them enough for their work to put a fantastic motorcycle underneath me in only 3 weeks.