2017 BMW HP4 RACER
More power, less weight, sharper handling, and very limited. The Bavarian Motor Works delivers an ultra exotic carbon-fiber track-only superbike.
AS SUPERBIKE RACING has evolved over the past four decades, almost every manufacturer that has participated in the sport has at one time or another built special homologation models to get an advantage within the scope of the rules. But in recent years, a few of those same brands have decided to push the boundaries beyond the restraints imposed by racing and built no-holds-barred trackbikes. Lighter, more powerful, more exotic, and more awesome.
These technical marvels are as much about showcasing engineering knowledge as they are for developing ideas for future models. Ducati’s Superleggera and Desmosedici as well as Honda’s RC213V-S are prime examples of super specials that for one reason or another are too radical to compete in most racing series.
BMW’S brand-new HP4 Race is all of those things and more. At 377 pounds fully fueled and with 215 hp at the rear wheel, the power-to-weight ratio is stunning. But this bike’s real talking points are the chassis components and upgraded electronics that put it into a realm that few riders outside of the World Superbike or Motogp paddocks have ever experienced.
The HP4 Race is so much more than a fancy paint job. First off, the one-piece, carbon-fiber frame weighs just 17.2 pounds (8.8 less than its aluminum counterpart) and is built by an automated Resin Transfer Moulding process in which all pivots, inserts, and headset races are molded in without any fiber-damaging drilling required post production. An ultrastiff aluminum Suter-developed swingarm differs dramatically from the S1000RR’S with underslung bracing as opposed to the standard model’s banana beams. The subframe is also CF, but it is a more traditional hand-layup piece and offers three seat-height settings ranging from 32.1 to 33.3 inches.
Because adjustability is absolutely essential on a trackbike, the HP4 Race comes with adjustable-swingarm pivot inserts that alter the position in +/-4mm increments, while the steering head’s offset and rake can be altered with inserts (offset: 26, 28, 30, or 32mm; rake: 24.5 degrees, +/-0.5 or +/-1.0 degree). Ride height can also be adjusted +/-5mm on the Öhlins TTX 36 GP shock absorber, while tasty rearsets can be set to preference too. A quiverful of included front and rear final-drive sprockets will ensure your gearing is ideal wherever you ride.
There is eye candy bolted all over the HP4 Race, but every bit of it is designed for function first. Up front is a WSBK refugee Öhlins FGR 300 inverted fork with titanium-nitridecoated inner tubes and 5.1 inches of travel. If that doesn’t grab your attention, the nickel-plated Brembo GP4 PR Monoblock brake calipers (the same as Valentino Rossi uses) surely will. These have anti-friction-coated titanium pistons and clamp down on thicker (6.5mm) 320mm-diameter steel racing discs and are fed by a Brembo RSC 19x18 master cylinder. Super trick, but easy to miss, is the tiny rear four-piston Brembo caliper (with Ti pistons) that pinches a 220mm disc.
Although looking at the spec sheet is impressive, understanding how it works as a package can only be fully grasped at speed on a racetrack. For that, I headed to the Autódromo do Estoril just outside of Lisbon, Portugal. After getting reacquainted with the circuit on standard S1000RRS fitted with the same Pirelli Diablo SC2 slicks spec’d on the HP4 Race, it was time to get serious.
Like the cockpits of various factory superbikes that I’ve been fortunate enough to ride over the years, the HP4 Race’s is all business. The 2D dash is all about communicating data to the rider in a simple interface, while the Motogp/ Superbike-style mode-control pods are designed for making quick changes on the fly at speed. BMW brand ambassador Nate Kern explained how different the settings on the Race are compared to the RR, meaning traction-control, enginebraking, and wheelie-control settings are completely unique to the HP4 Race (read: aggressive).
Once the engine was started, I was encouraged to get moving quickly before it overheated (hot and humid ambient temps and no radiator fan requires movement). Kern suggested I start in the Intermediate power mode with a fairly traditional-feeling engine-braking setup, conservative DTC, and then I could change them on the fly. I would only have two sessions on the bike and a lot to try. Within a lap, it was quite clear that I was on something very special.
It wasn’t the engine and/or electronics that initially
snagged my attention; it was the amazing handling afforded by the bike’s light weight but enhanced substantially by the flickability the carbon-fiber wheels allow. Weighing 30 percent less than forged aluminum wheels, these composite hoops are made by a machine that braids the fiber into the shape in one piece. The effect of the rotating mass is claimed to be 40 percent reduced at speed. Flicking through Estoril’s tight chicane was much easier on the HP4 Race than the RR.
And while the handling couldn’t be called anything less than dreamy, those big Brembo brakes are truly impressive, trying to suck your eyeballs out of their sockets at the end of the sixth-gear front straight. Oh, yeah, that’s with one finger on the lever; the feel is linear and powerful without any grabbiness. Braking is clearly designed for riders much more talented than myself. The same can be said of the Öhlins dampers at either end. I didn’t have a single complaint to file with them.
That leaves us with the engine. After switching from Intermediate to Dry 2 and Dry 1, I got the real meaty flavor of this machine. These handbuilt, blueprinted engines are hybrids of World Superbike and World Endurance specifications. A 200-gram-lighter crankshaft, forged-steel Pankl connecting rods, race camshafts, optimized air intakes, rev limit increased to 14,500 (from 14,200), an all-titanium Akrapovic race exhaust, and updated electronics unleash the beast.
And while the power is damn impressive, I was shocked by the rideability the electronics generate. In the past, I wouldn’t have rated the standard S1000RR’S electronics package as class leading, but the suite of rider aids on the HP4 Race is on a totally different level. Change DTC or EBR on the fly and you better take baby steps, as each step is meaningful. Performance lap to lap was absolutely consistent. All of this serenaded by the audible crackling of the ignition/fuel cuts during intervention. Clutchless up- and downshifts from the HP Shift Assistant Pro, combined with the close-ratio gearbox with updated ratios (all except third) and slipper clutch, let you focus on lines, braking points, and going fast.
And while going fast is kind of the point, with only five machines available for about 25 journalists, we were told “not to crash” in a way only the Germans can make sound so serious. Point taken. Attempts to tame less intrusive DTC settings will have to wait until my lotto numbers hit. But if you happen to be one of 125 US buyers lucky enough to acquire this amazing $78,000 machine, do us all a favor and don’t lock it up in a closet away from curious eyes— get out there and let the awesomeness be free!