As motorcycles roll onto the track at Silverstone tomorrow for the Hertz British Grand Prix, the usual suspects will be fighting for wins and championship titles. But somewhere in the swarming pack of Moto2 bikes will be one motorcycle, team and rider unlike any others on the grid: a racebike with a carbon composite frame and a strange-looking front suspension, built by a U.S. company and ridden by a rider twice the age of the average Moto2 frontrunner.
This is one wild-card ride that should earn a cheer from anyone who loves innovative and risky motorcycle designs and quixotic efforts. Plus, anyone who, like me, has enough seasons of experience to have an age starting with the digit 5. The team is Bennetts Brough Superior, carrying the name of the reborn legendary British brand. The bike is an utterly unique prototype built by TaylorMade Racing out of Los Angeles. And the rider is former MotoGP pilot Jeremy McWilliams.
When the Moto2 class was created, it combined a spec engine (a Honda 600cc four-cylinder) with unlimited chassis options. Many thought the freedom would lead to new innovations in frames and suspensions, but the realities of racing have been different. Given the costs of traveling around the world to race Moto2, teams played it safe and stuck to tried-and-true technology. Nobody went out on a creative limb.
TaylorMade Racing, which sells sportbike exhausts and makes composite parts for race teams, didn't just go out on a limb. They blew the limb off the tree with a stick of dynamite and improvised a parachute on the way down. Company founder Paul Taylor and British designer John Keogh, whose resume includes MotoGP teams and Buell, built a thoroughly unconventional Moto2 racebike.
The TaylorMade prototype to be raced by the Brough Superior team not only has a carbon composite monocoque frame, but also has an A-arm front suspension. The fork legs still have springs, but they can be much softer, because the A-arm absorbs brake dive. To keep the bike slim and aerodynamic and make room for the A-arm, the radiator is under the tail section. How does air get to it? From a scoop on the nose and through a tunnel that runs the length of the bike.
If the bike is unconventional, the team's choice of 50-year-old McWilliams as a wild-card rider is equally unique. Arguably, youth rules world championship roadracing today more than ever. In MotoGP, the youngest-ever champion, 21-year-old Marc Márquez, dominates, while the oldest rider, 40-year-old Colin Edwards, has seen his final-season farewell tour cut short by being abruptly relieved of duties. Youth definitely rules in the Moto2 class, where the average age of the top five riders in the standings is 25, despite the presence of "old man" Mika Kallio at 31.
McWilliams' last full season in MotoGP was 2004, but he's still active and recently won cheers from gray-bearded riders everywhere with a win in one of the two Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series XR1200 races at Indianapolis during the MotoGP weekend, beating youngsters such as Daytona 200 winner Danny Eslick.
McWilliams only had one test session on the Moto2 bike at Mallory Park before the MotoGP weekend at Silverstone starts tomorrow. There will be no Hollywood-scripted ending. No wins. Barring turn-one carnage of epic proportions, McWilliams won't be near the top 10.
But it will be a victory for anyone who loves innovative engineering, a willingness to experiment and a company that's ready to spend money on racing just for the love of it. Not to mention guys like me, who have more than a few miles on us but aren't yet ready to hang up the leathers. Go get 'em, Jezza!