p32 New model v 1987 bike
We’re here at Phillip Island on a 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 and, like a guided missile rocketing on to the front straight, nothing on this planet seems faster.
The Suzuki’s fancy electronics stammer to contain 199bhp of blue and yellow mayhem and like walking barefoot on boiling sand the GSX-R1000R’S Bridgestone R10s dance and shimmy on the sizzling track surface.
Digital numbers on the LCD display click past 180mph and we swoop into the first turn. Brush the brakes, snick down two auto-blip-assisted gearchanges and throw it on its side at 120mph through this aptly-named Doohan Corner.
A quick squirt of full throttle power launches the new 1000 to Southern Loop and the traction control holds a slipping back wheel in a silicone-controlled drift. Down another gear and keel into this long left-hander, I’m enjoying the feel and precision of the GSX-R’S new chassis.
Back up to fourth and down the chute to Stoner Corner. The anti-wheelie system gently tugs the front tyre back to kiss the Aussie tarmac and in the blink of an eye it’s full power trail braking into the second gear Honda Corner.
It’s impossible to crash on the brakes with cornering ABS and as the front tyre reaches the limit of adhesion you feel the lever pulse in your right hand, releasing brake pressure and balancing grip.
Dancing sublimely in my hands through this warp-speed roller-coaster tour of the Island, the Suzuki rails through the long, second gear Siberia, demolishes the flat-in-fourth Hayshed and scrambles over Lukey Heights before diving deep into the clutches of the slow, downhill MG right hander.
This modern marvel of a superbike pummels your senses with speed and with all those electronics helping you control traction, wheelies and gearshifts it’s all performed in relative safety. All you have to do is line the big Suzuki up and let it rip.
Phillip Island’s piece de résistance is the seemingly never ending fourth gear Turn 12 – the one-handed, tyre-smoking Melandri one that crucifies racing
‘That old Gixer shows that big power isn’t everything’
tyres. The Suzuki’s rear Bridgestone does its best to harness the sheer grunt of the new Variable Valve Timing motor here, but it doesn’t stand a chance. So it’s TC to the rescue again and full throttle madness back on to the straight, straddling the bright blue and white exit kerb, eyes on stalks. As the track drops away and the anti-wheelie holds again holds the front wheel serenely an inch off the floor in fourth and it’s off on another dream lap.
Back on the old warhorse
Rewind two weeks and I’m racing Carl Cox Motorsport’s Suzuki GSX-R1100 here at the Island Classic
That old 1989 ‘7/11’ hybrid – that’s an 1100 engine in a 750 frame – isn’t in the same league as the new GSX-R1000R in terms of power, chassis and electronics technology. It’s 20mph slower along the straight, has a strange up-and-over frame and none of the refinements that make the new GSX-R1000 so safe and easy to ride.
But that old warhorse is faster than the shiny new GSX-R to the tune of three seconds a lap – GSX-R1100 1m 40.6s, GSX-R1000R 1m 43.4s. How can that be?
The old Gixer shows that big power isn’t everything and electronics aren’t a one-way ticket to blistering lap times, but we know that already. We tested an R1 against an H2 at Rockingham a few years ago and the supercharged missile was three seconds slower, with both on the same control tyres.
Sure you need a decent amount of power to demolish straights, but for a circuit’s curves, corners, kinks, hairpins and chicanes you need grip, handling and precise steering. A moderately powerful bike with sweet handling and lots of grip doesn’t need monstrous bhp or silicone implants.
The old GSX-R1100 gives away 40bhp and a NASA computer’s worth of electronics to the new bike, but it’s 21kg lighter, has racing Öhlins suspension, full race Pirelli slicks and competition brake pads.
Despite its extreme and eye-watering performance the GSX-R1000R is a bogstock road bike, so it’s soft, smooth, safe and friendly. The GSX-R1100, on the other hand, is raw like an open wound. The steering is crisper, the chassis has more feel and there’s a ton more grip from its Pirelli Superbike SC1 racing slicks. Just compare the lean angles of the two bikes in the pictures to see which has more grip. The 1100’s Brembos are more tactile, powerful and consistent without brake-by-wire and intrusive ABS getting in the way.
Of course the rider’s brain has a lot to do with speed. Racing the GSX-R1100 I just wanted to win, to overtake the bloke in front, so you take more risks - trail the brakes for longer, lean over further and squeeze the power on sooner.
Riding a new superbike on a trackday requires a different mind-set. The last thing you want to do is step off it when you have to ride home. Of course, convert the new GSX-R1000R into a racer, line up on the grid with 30-odd other like-minded lunatics and it would eat that old GSX-R1100 alive.
You’ll always need a fair amount of power to get around a track quickly, but it’s more important to have a pin-sharp chassis. A machine carrying as little flab as possible, with dynamic suspension set-up, race-grade brakes and the stickiest tyres you can lay your hands on will always shine in the corners and lap faster. Race-tune the rider’s brain and you’ll be faster still.
2017 GSX-R ready to rock in its carpeted pit garage
Neeves in action on the Carl Coxbacked GSX-R1100