Limited edition Ducati MH900e replica makes debut at Willow Springs
(click for pictures and video)
My dream started with getting an MH900e for the intention of racing. I had missed a handful of wrecked/salvaged ones and then #1636 came along at a reasonable price. After a couple of street rides, it was time to get on track. Parts were purchased and time spent in the shop.
Race prep included the usual safety wiring of the oil drain plug, oil screen plug, and the oil filter. The rear caliper and eccentric pinch bolts were also wired. For the front end, safety pins were utilized instead of safety wire, allowing for faster changing of the front wheel. The OEM caliper bolts do not lend themselves to safety wire, being counterbored allen head screws. Longer hex head bolts were bought and spacers installed to bring the head of the bolt out of the counterbore. Similar technology was used on the pinch bolts. With the license plate "star bracket" removed, a section of thick wall stainless steel tubing was run between the aftermarket Staintune mufflers for stability. Number plates were attached below the upper fairing with zip ties (using rubber hose as spacers) and with a bolt to a hole drilled in the battery box. Sidestand removed per racing regs.
Many OEM parts were removed for the sake of preservation or to reduce risk of damage to truly MH-unique parts. The cast faux sump was removed and the cast airbox cover was replaced by a portion of a number plate cut to cover the hole. The front brake fluid reservoir was replaced with a standard part, as the special cast aluminum one was already leaking. The wheels were replaced with Marvic magnesium since the OEM wheels are unique to the MH900e with their unusual spoke shape. The muffler caps were removed: unnecessary for function, added weight, and unique to the bike. The OEM footrests were replaced by Nichols parts, as the OEM ones are a safety hazard being so slippery. For general race prep, the clutch cover and pressure plate were replaced with Cycle Cat parts and then Cycle Cat frame sliders were installed. The OEM brake rotors are prone to warpage so they were replaced with Brake Tech ductile iron AXIS rotors. Since the OEM rear brake basically sucked on my MH, I also installed the BT Axis style rear full floating rotor. The Ohlins rear shock came with the used bike as well as the Helibars (which I need due to my wrists). The BenFer rear inner fender is great for keeping rubber off the rest of the bike. Racing generates a LOT of flinging rubber and it is obvious where the fender's protection ends.
Race prep parts list (and MSRP):
- Marvic Magnesium wheels : $1700
- 20 hours of labor for race prep : $1200 (but my time is "free")
The week leading up to the third Sunday of September was a hard one for me. I do greatly enjoy race prepping bikes, but working in my "spare time" from 8 pm to 3 or 4 am for 3 or 4 nights straight is not trivial. To save from having to hitch up the trailer, I decided that it wouldn't be that important to use tire warmers and thus wouldn't need the generator. Taking the generator would mandate the trailer… ALSO, I did order some warmers but they weren't delivered in time to go to the track.
Saturday morning, I awoke to some strong breeze at the hotel. Uh oh… breeze in the morning is never a good sign, because at Willow the "breeze" only gets stronger through the day. I got in to the track and dropped off the bare wheels (front did have the rotors) to get some tires. I was hoping to be ultra cheap and get some Bridgestone slicks which previously cost me $275…
I got the pit set up and then returned for the wheels with tires. Well, the slicks were a lot more than my old price. AND Dunlop was having a sale on D208GPs for $249 a set. Then I start being warned to really go easy on these tires and let them warm up. Can you see some warning signs? :)
I got out on my first session (2nd or 3rd of the day) and just as the announcers start really talking me up, I did a faint attempt at a race start and end up wheelying up the frikkin hot pit lane. Oops. WSMC doesn't like people showing off. It was a total accident … and one I apologized afterwards for - and was sure to not repeat! I get out and really tip toe around, trying to get something of a feel for the track and the bike. I come in and the lap times start in the high 40s and worked down to 1:37s at the end. Not bad. Next session and I'm taking it easy around the track… tip into turn 5 and the rear wheel breaks loose and the bike snaps hard enough to throw me out of the seat and my left foot off the peg. *groan* Now I realize that I've got to REALLY tiptoe around on the out lap. At least going into turn 8, I'm able to wick it up and try to get some heat into the tires!
Once up to speed, I realize there is a strong head shake / weave going on the straight into turn 8, but settles down before the entrance into the fast sweeper, so I choose to ignore the head shake and leave the steering damper alone so as not to introduce any more variables into my riding. Through 8, there is a high frequency chatter that is a bit disturbing. This creates enough "noise" in my connection to the front tire that I don't feel compelled to simply pin the throttle. Combine that with the "breeze" trying to blow everyone off line and I'm having to back out of the throttle more often than desired.
As the day wore on, I worked on my confidence with leaning more and more and started getting knee down. The MH is really tall and the pilot is definitely ON the bike rather than IN it. A lot of effort is required to hang off effectively and the shape of the top rear of the fuel tank digs into my thighs. But the Nichols pegs worked very well to keep my foot planted on the peg, which helped. My practice sessions went well and my times dropped to 1:35 until after lunch when the wind kicked up two notches and then I went back to 1:37 and 1:38.
The Solo GT "Open" 50 mile / 20 lap race started near 5 pm. It was my first race in 10 months and I was hugely nervous. But it's also one of my favorite races, so that soothed me a bit. I was running against R1s and GSXR 1000s, so wasn't expecting much … and hoping for some novices to be out there. Well, there were no novices and the only guy I beat was doing testing (and he, Jeremy Toye, passed me like 3 times). But the 20 laps were good practice. I worked on my turns. A couple of the faster riders made passes closer than necessary, but I didn't have to brake for anyone, so I didn't mind. Towards the end of the race, my Bridgestone rear slick got real hot and was getting greasy. It was stepping in 4 and drifting in 3 and 5, so I chilled a touch to make it on for the rest of the race. Afterwards, the tire looked ok, so I didn't worry much. Likely, the slightly low pressure I was using to try and get them to warm up was too low for a 20 lap race.
Sunday, I awoke to dark clouds in Lancaster at the Park Plaza and about crapped myself. I was not prepared for the R word in the least. But driving up Hwy 14 to Rosamond had the skies clearing. There were no clouds at the track at all. I intentionally missed the first warm up and went out on the second. Leaving the starting line, the rear tire spun. *groans at no traction* Rolling into turn 1 for the first time at like 50 mph, both tires were wandering around. Not nice. I went into turn 2 at 70 or so and get more of the same. So I walk around the track so slowly until turn 6 then I really pin it through 8 for that heat build up. Even on the 2nd lap, I'm getting some weirdness coming from the tires in turns 1 and 2. This all works to erode my confidence a bit.
After the warm up, everyone attends the riders' meeting. Here, someone said that the back of my bike was doing weird things in turn 1 and that I should add more rebound. My initial thought was "I don't feel anything, so why should I?" But I nodded and didn't say anything. I added 2 clicks of preload damping and then shortly head out for race 1: Battle of the Twins (BoTT) Middleweight. Going out on the out lap, I realized that those two clicks made it worse as the rear steps around even at a snail's pace. For the race start, I did very well … beating 3 or 4 bikes to the area that is turn one. And then I had to totally let off and coast through the turn and they all shot past. Going through turn 2, I tried some throttle but the rear tire was still dancing around, limiting me. On the second lap, I was able to start getting the throttle to the stop more and I gained on an SV650 and easily passed him between turns 2 and 3. Once past him, I realized there was another on up ahead and hoped that I could catch up to him. Three laps later, I had him reeled in and put the move on him the same as the other one. I was very happy to not finish Dead Freakin Last.
I pulled in off the race and then got to relax a few moments before heading out for Battle of the Twins Heavyweight. While the bike is legal to run the class, there's a reason that it's allowed to run "down" a class in BoTT Middleweight! I set the shock's rebound back to where it was and headed out. This race was more or less track time. As I was riding around, I thought I could hear a four cylinder as I was going through turn 4… Then on the last lap, the FZR400 leading the 500 Modified Production race passed me on the inside going into turn 3. Heh… he was probably doing 1:31s or so and I was floundering around in the 1:36s, so he caught me. The wind was still heavy enough that I didn't do anything silly in turns 8 or 9 and motored on him on the front straight to "repass" the leader of the race behind my own before the checkered flag.
I added more fuel to the bike's small tank and waited a couple races and headed out for Formula Twins. In this race, any 4 stroke twins are legal, so I'm hoping for some more action with SV650s or riders with less experience than me. Still sucking due to the lack of warmers, my great start fizzled as I weakly tiptoe through turn 1. I came out of 1 riding with an interesting TL1000R with one pipe under the tail and the other on the left. But he pulled on me in turn 2 as I simply couldn't put the power down, limited by the cold tires. As the tires came into their own, I started gaining on an SV650. And I started gaining … then on the 4th lap, I was on his tail. Crossed the start finish line and I was sizing him up, wondering if I should sit on his tail until the last lap. Going through turn 2 on lap 5, I lost patience with sitting around and dialed up full power towards the exit. I timed it just right so that as I got real close to him, he kept the turn going to "go straight" up the chute from 2 to 3 and I powered on out closer to the edge of the track. I think he had some extra power on me as he out accelerated me to turn 3, so I clung to him through turns 3-4-5. I set up for 5, but again, his acceleration was a little better than mine which over came the slight cornering speed advantage I had. I was right on him through 6, 7, and 8 but the wind was too much for me to make a safe pass. I started reeling him in going into turn 9 and we exited the turn together.
Right on his tail up the front straight was an interesting experience. I pulled out of his draft to not hit him but then didn't have enough acceleration to really pass. So we motored on up the straight more or less side by side, with me trailing a little. 1000 feet and 30 mph later, we're entering turn 1 around 125 mph with me set up on the inside. I just waited until he slowed for the turn, counted to 3 and then did my braking and entering. This was caught on video, too! Woohoo! I kept my head down and bum up for this last lap to make sure the pass stuck. I hit all my marks just right … and then going through turn 8, I could see a ruckus in turn 9. Ends up that the "breeze" kicked up a huge dust storm in turn 9 area. As I got there, it was so bad that visibility was reduced, so I let off and downshifted to 3rd gear. I got into the dust devil and all was well then pinned the throttle for what I was sure would be a drag race up to the finish line. I got there and looked around and the SV rider wasn't fighting me to the finish, so that was cool.
It was a great weekend with lots of … excitement! Yes, that word fits well. There was tons of anticipation, lots of butterflies in my belly, and I'll admit to some fearful moments out on track. But it all came good in the end. What was really amazing was the interest in the MH900e. I couldn't believe how many people came by the pits and gawked over it. Everyone had something to say about it … "Is this a 2005 model?" … or "What a great restoration!" … "Look at that swingarm!" All said it was too pretty to race. Mostly all asked why I race it. Pretty standard answer is that it makes me happy.