Classic Racer


Our Alan has had a long and interestin­g race career, but one of his most beloved race bikes was Trixie – a Yamaha TRX850R parallel twin!

- Words: Alan Cathcart Photo credit: Kyoichi Nakamura and AC Archive

Alan Cathcart rides his most cherished racer ever – Trixie: Yamaha Motor Europe’s Pr-spinning parallel twin with the quirky crank layout. And yes, Sir Alan took a title on her, too!

Out of all the varied race bikes I've ridden in a 25-year internatio­nal career, one above all others acquired a cult following of admirers around the world – my gal Trixie! So exactly 25 years since I scored the most satisfying of several race victories with her at Daytona's Cycle Week 1996, here's a look back at the three years I spent racing the unique Over Racing-prepared parallel-twin Yamaha TRX850R for Yamaha Motor Europe. Trixie, This Is Your Tale.

First a little on the road machine: late in 1994 word got out that Yamaha was developing a twin-cylinder sportbike based on its TDM850 Adventure Sports machine, to create a competitor to the Ducati 900SS then selling especially strongly in Japan. To give the bike an Italian feel, the parallel-twin motor had its crank throw changed to a 270 from a 360-degree firing order, making it feel almost like a V-twin. This had already been used successful­ly by Yamaha on Stéphane Peterhanse­l's YZE850 desert racer that won a trio of Paris-dakar victories in 1991-93.

Launched as a Japan-market only model in March 1995 – the TRX850 was that longawaite­d product from Japan: a twin-cylinder sportsbike with heaps of personalit­y, which was practical enough for everyday use, but sufficient­ly exciting to get the juices flowing on road, or track. Known internally by its Project 005 tag, the TRX850 created by the Yamaha R&D team headed by Hirosuke

Negishi was a baseline sports model, delivering performanc­e and handling for the common man that you could appreciate without feeling intimidate­d or overawed by the bike's hyper-potential.

It was Yamaha's counter-attack to the increasing popularity of European sports twins in Japan. But was there a market for it anywhere else? Yamaha Motor Europe's

Amsterdam HQ couldn't decide if there was a place for the TRX in Europe, where sportsbike­s sales were high.

YME Marketing Manager Lin Jarvis (yes, he who is CEO of Yamaha Racing's Motogp effort) had the big idea to get Over Racing, the satellite company accessed via the back door of the Japanese factory's race shop, to build a reasonably tricked-out TRX850R racer, then give it to a journalist to race that year in Europe's leading Protwin events. Even if he didn't win anything, that'd still get the bike out there and people used to seeing it in action as a counterpoi­nt to all those Italian V-twins. Then hopefully their response would help YME decide if there was a market for it in Europe. That journalist was me and that bike became ‘my' Trixie!

What made this feasible was the widespread adoption that year, after a conference of all the clubs running Protwins races around Europe of new Eurotwin rules for twin-cylinder racing. These were aimed at eliminatin­g neo-superbikes like the latest Ducati 888 SPO/916SPS customer spinoffs of the Polen/fogarty World Superbike title-winners, by allowing liquid-cooling, fuel injection and more than two valves per cylinder, but only two out of those three elements, not all three.

The premier 1995 Euro-series run to these rules was the Dutch Open, an eight-round Benelux championsh­ip (seven best scores to count) attracting riders from all over Northern Europe mounted on a variety of machines ranging from fuel-injected Moto Guzzi and BMW eight-valvers mounted in special race frames, through every possible type of 900Ss/907ie Ducati-based racer, via assorted Harleys, Laverdas and TDM Yamahas, up to the inevitable Ducati 888/926 fitted with carbs. Jarvis reckoned their new 10-valve twin wouldn't be disgraced in such company. It

was up to me to prove them right – even if the deal only came together in early March while I was in Daytona racing the Saxon-triumph in the opening round of the BEARS World Series, my main priority that season.

So the Over Racing workshop in Suzuka was commission­ed by Yamaha Europe to build such a race bike in just six weeks, before air-freighting it to Europe in time for the first round of the Dutch Open series at Assen on Easter Monday, April 16.

My blind date with Trixie was just that: fresh off the plane from Japan the previous week, I'd never even sat on the bike until the first qualifying session at Assen. But Over boss Kensei Sato flew over with Trixie together with his chief race mechanic Ume Umemoto, to look after it for the first two races in company with my race engineer Alistair Wager, who'd take over the task of running it after that. Kensei's expertise circumvent­ed early set-up issues, because I'd been racing his bikes in Japan for the previous five years, so we had some base settings to work with.

Some good results in my Japanese outings had included beating factory entries from Suzuki and Honda – as well as Kensisan's own Over-yamaha – to win the 1994 Japanese Sound of Singles title on my Ducati Supermono, all of which strengthen­ed the relationsh­ip I'd built up with Bridgeston­e since becoming the Japanese tyre company's first fully sponsored rider in Europe, back in 1991. Yes: until then, Bridgeston­e had zero presence in European race paddocks. That meant Bridgeston­e was on board to equip Trixie with rubber, ELF gave me a fuel contract, Italy's Braking took care of stopping the bike, and with various other mostly magazine sponsors I was ready to discover what kind of ‘hot' date Trixie really was.

In the first, dry session at Assen I made 6th on the grid out of the 36 qualifiers, before the heavens opened, and it rained for the next two days! That at least gave me some wetweather practice on the TRX in the second session, which revealed one big bonus: this was an incredibly easy bike to ride in the rain,

especially when combined with the excellent grip of Bridgeston­e's new rain tyres. Yamaha developed that then-unique 270° crank throw in the parallel-twin, slant-block motor to give Peterhanse­l's Dakar bike traction in sand – but it worked in the wet, too! This allowed me to win the TRX850R'S debut race by the embarrassi­ngly large margin of 25 seconds, from Dutchman Marcel Lamers' 900 Ducati two-valver, and Germany's Rolf von der Weiden on his BMW Boxer. Great first date, Trix!

Okay, so Trixie delivered in the rain: but how about the dry? We got the answer six days later in front of 20,000 people at the historic Hengelo public roads circuit, by which time some more contenders for victory lane had joined the party. The first Ducati 888 fitted with carbs by Rico Racing Research owner Rico Mertens appeared with Dutch-indonesian rider Lee Saman aboard, and proved to be quick! So, although I led all the way to the chequered flag after qualifying on pole, I was locked in combat with Lee throughout.

The Yamaha's beautifull­y linear clutch action made the difference, allowing me to get the jump on him off the line into the first turn on the fast but narrow track, while the clean power delivery from low down out of the three first-gear turns helped offset the 23kg weight penalty that the Yamaha carried versus the stripped-down 148kg Ducati.

Remember, the Over-developed TRX was strictly a road bike turned into a racer, with little attempt at serious weight reduction – the half-fairing was glass fibre, not carbon, with zero fancy fasteners or titanium bits: even the fuel tank was the original hefty steel one from the street bike, contributi­ng to a dry weight of 171kg compared to just 188kg for the street TRX850 with lights and a horn.

Despite the weight differenti­al, Saman's Duke couldn't out-brake me anywhere, especially with no slipper clutch back then, so he risked getting terminal rear wheel chatter if he tried too hard, whereas the Yamaha never suffered at all from this even if I used heaps of engine braking – presumably a factor of internal engine inertia. Some ruthless work in traffic allowed me to open up a seven-second gap by the finish of the Hengelo race, and some extra satisfacti­on came from our race times, which would have put me 6th in the Dutch Open Superbike round run the same day – not bad for a carb'd twin!

The tight Hengelo hairpin showed up the TRX'S seamless power delivery and good tractabili­ty well, where to exit the walking pace turn I could simply twist the throttle wide open while hardly touching the clutch lever, and Trixie would pull like a tractor from as low as 3000rpm, running up to the 9500rpm rev-limiter without a hiccup, and no fall-off in power over the 8500rpm power peak, where 115bhp was delivered at the gearbox on the Over dyno. This allowed me not only to get good drive out of the slow turn, but also to save two gear-changes by holding the quite high bottom gear on the special six-speed close-ratio gearbox Sato had concocted, down to the next hairpin bend. The shift action was really sharp and precise – I never missed a gear on the bike – and the ratios ideal, allowing me to keep the engine

running above the 7000rpm mark, where you could feel the power curve steepen slightly. But the engine was pretty flexible in that state of tune, so would forgive running as low as 3000rpm, whereas Sato's 120 bhp-plus Over TDM OV-15 alloy-framed racer which came within a length of beating the Britten at Assen in 1992, was much more peaky, and needed to be kept revving above 7000rpm, which gave you 2500rpm to play with till the power curve tailed off quite sharply after the 9500rpm peak. Racing that Over TDM for Sato in Japan was what had convinced me that a TRX850 racer borrowing heavily from its technology would be competitiv­e in Eurotwins racing, and that's the way it turned out.

Sadly, though, despite further race wins at Mettet, Eemshaven and a truly dominant victory at my favourite circuit, Spafrancor­champs, I wasn‘t able to clinch the Dutch Open title – partly because of a date clash. It was agreed with YME that I'd have to miss one round of the eight-race Dutch Open to race the Saxon-triumph in the BEARS World Series support race at the Brands Hatch World Superbike round, meaning I'd have no spare Dutch Open points-scoring round to discard. At Assen in August I'd been out-powered by Saman's ever-improving RRR Ducati, finishing a well-beaten best of the rest that was Trixie's first defeat in her four-month race career. But in the next race at Tolbert a week later on the tight 2.50km public roads circuit with three first-gear turns, where we geared Trixie to use only the bottom four ratios, it convenient­ly rained half an hour before the start. The Yamaha's wet-weather poise allowed me to open up a two-second lead after just a couple of laps – until it started jumping out of bottom gear! I managed to avoid running straight on at any of the hairpins or locking the front wheel – but being forced to use second gear to exit those slippery turns meant Ducati-mounted Lamers and Saman both overtook me, as I had to be careful slipping the clutch to coax the engine out of turns. Lamers DNF'D on the final lap, but it still meant Saman was now leading the points table.

But it was his turn to DNF at Spa three weeks later with a blown motor, meaning we went to the final round, again at Assen, with me back in the lead on points, 136-115: so finishing 11th at Assen would be good enough to win the title, but sadly, that didn't happen. After qualifying on pole 0.61sec ahead of Lee, I tracked him in the early laps, before stepping up the pace and grabbing the lead. But then tragedy struck on lap 6 of 10 – I tried to change gear down the back straight and couldn't find the lever – a split pin had broken in the gear-change linkage, leaving the gear lever dangling, and Trixie stuck in third. It was the cruellest disappoint­ment of my racing career.

Yamaha Europe were very understand­ing, despite several of their staff making the trip to Assen complete with Yamaha flags to watch me hopefully clinch the title! They also

decided to import the TRX850 into Europe for 1996 – they also decided to reward me for my efforts by paying my way to take Trixie to Daytona for 1996. Yes! Back went one of our two engines to Japan for Over to refresh it, then ship it to Florida, while Alistair Wager race-prepared the bike fitted with the other motor, before moving to the USA to run the Saxon-triumph team's Formula USA campaign with Scott Zampach.

The Cycle Week opener saw the Formula 1 Protwins race held on Monday, essentiall­y for Modified Production motorcycle­s, with the Open Twins race on Tuesday, for anything with a twin-cylinder four-stroke motor. That meant no Brittens in the F1 race – but conversely there were platoons of Ducati homologati­on specials, including several of the new 916SPS Foggy replicas. Still, with Trixie trapped at 258kph (160mph) at Mettet the year before, maybe I wouldn't be totally smoked. Because of time constraint­s there's no qualifying for AHRMA races, with morning practice, and grid positions for the afternoon race decided on the previous year's points! So I'd have to start from the back of the grid…

I did that anyway, but for a different reason: halfway through practice, the TRX motor blew on the run down to the chicane – disaster!

Trucked back to the paddock, our five-strong team descended on the bike to swap motors against the clock – one of them fortuitous­ly being Norm Williams, the manager of Yamaha's top dealership in Perth, Western Australia. We'd left the spare engine in our Daytona Beach workshop – so that was why the motor blew! – but my American mate Jeff Craig ran every stop light in retrieving it, returning to our paddock garage just in time to see the engine leaving the frame. The race was called, but Trixie still wasn't ready, so gloved up and helmeted I went to stand by the pit entrance. The 40-strong field set off on their warm-up lap just as Brook Henry arrived aboard Trixie, blipping the throttle to clear a path: game on!

What followed next was the most satisfying race in my career. AMA rules dictated I start from the back row after missing the warm-up lap, but with no tyre warmers back then I forced myself to take it easy in the infield turns before dialling up the heat on the banking. This was the engine Over had rebuilt for us, and fresh out of the crate it was running strongly with the gearing spot-on for some slipstream­ing on the banking.

I used every last rev in every gear to claw my way up the race order, until two laps from the end I hit the front, nailing the leading 916 Ducati on the brakes off the Tri-oval banking into Turn 1. When I looked behind exiting the infield I saw he was already too far back to be able to draft past me, though from there to the flag were the most anxious two laps of my life in racing. But Trixie ran cleanly to the finish – job done! I still have this memory of the guys on the Ducatis I shared Victory Lane with looking at Trixie with this ‘How the hell?' expression on their faces. They weren't alone: ‘Alan Cathcart, how on earth did you guys make a dirt bike go so dam' fast?' asked announcer Richard Chambers! Well, Yamaha USA never imported the TRX850, preferring instead to lose millions of dollars on the unloved Royal Star V4 cruiser, shame as the TRX was one of the best kept secrets in motorcycli­ng of the time…

I raced the Yamaha only a handful more times in 1996, scoring a trio of wins and never finishing off the rostrum, except for an attempt to play with the big boys by entering a round of the British Superbike Championsh­ip on the Brands Hatch short circuit, where I hoped our power deficiency wouldn't be such a factor. This was the only time in three seasons and 25 races that I ever crashed Trixie in final qualifying: I low-sided at Surtees just trying too hard, but amazingly, nothing broke and I completed both races without being last, although I did get lapped in the first race en route to 20th, which cheesed me off! In the second race I had a fierce battle with a Kawasaki ZXR750 for the last point-scoring place, led out of Clearways on the last lap, but got passed before the line to end up 16th!

For 1997 there was a change in the BEARS regulation­s, in that Japanese bikes were at last rightfully admitted to this four-stroke Formula Libre race series (maximum three cylinders, no eight-valve Desmo engines), reflecting the ‘enthusiast' twins (and singles)

now being produced by Japanese factories. So I clinched a deal with Yamaha Europe to contest the inaugural Sound of Thunder World Series on their Over-developed TRX850R racer, as well as for another sortie to Daytona – beating the Ducatis there the previous year had gone down well in Japan! Their only condition was that I had to repaint Trixie in the same red-and-black livery as their World Superbike/supersport race teams.

In preparatio­n, Yamaha Europe sent the engines back to Japan during the winter for Kensei Sato and his men to wave their magic

wands Over them (oops, sorry!) They arrived in time for Daytona, and as soon as I went out for the first practice session, I knew that they'd made a significan­t improvemen­t: an extra 6bhp at the top-end, but they'd also fattened the already torquey mid-range and improved engine accelerati­on and pick-up thanks to the reduced inertia of lighter engine components. Many detail changes had given the engine more zip than before, allowing us to pull one tooth higher gearing than in 1996 – we were trapped at 272kmph (169mph) on the Tri-oval.

This gave us hope as we fronted on the grid for the Open Twins race on the Monday of Cycle Week, versus a field headed by Andrew Stroud's Britten and containing no less than 14 Ducati Superbikes, three of which would go on to qualify for the Daytona 200 later in the week. With her half-naked looks, Trixie looked pretty incongruou­s: a modified roadster against more potent competitio­n. But this time, though, I had a second-row grid position, and took full advantage of it to grab second behind Stroud's Britten going into the first turn: the Yamaha was so tractable and smooth in terms of power delivery, it was always great off the line. Up onto the banking the first lap, and the Britten just motored away from me as expected – but after I got a good drive out of the infield, just one Ducati came powering past me, Jeff Jennings on his 1996 955 Corsa factory-built Foggy Replica.

One vital Daytona must-do is always to give yourself lots of braking room at the Chicane on the first lap, when with a full fuel load and often a big draft from a field of bikes in front of you, it is way too easy to go in too deep, and crash – something Jennings almost did, but he saved it, but thankfully held everyone else up so I now had a gap to third place. I put my head down and went for it, riding the next three laps as hard as possible, using every last rpm on the banking and drifting the rear Bridgeston­e in the infield. It worked: the gap to Jennings (who'd regained third) stabilised at four seconds, and I ran out the 10-lap race in second place, after a satisfying ride. To be beaten by an exotic machine like the Britten was no disgrace – but for a modified street bike like the TRX costing $10K new back then, with another $10K of Over tuning parts added, to beat a fleet of the world's top twin-cylinder $30K customer Superbikes said a lot for Trixie's design.

However, this BOTT race was really just the warm-up for the main event, the Sound of Thunder World Series round held the next day, for which Stroud on the works Britten was joined by Mike Barnes on a new customer version: double trouble! Trixie and I beat Stroud to the first turn after he pulled a monster wheelie (probably on purpose), but he and Barnes soon breezed past, resulting in a safe 3rd place ahead of Mike Gage on a factory-assisted Triumph T595 Daytona. It set us off to a good start in the struggle to earn the 1997 Sound of Thunder title.

And struggle it was, with a series of race wins in Europe interrupte­d only by a 4th in the Assen round in June, after being slowed while in second place by an ignition fault, thankfully I won the other four rounds in the six-race series, to give Yamaha Europe and Trixie a title at last. Yamaha had a nice way of saying thanks – the Over Yamaha TRX850 has been locked up safe and sound in my garage for the past 25 years. It still gets exercised from time to time…

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 ??  ?? Left: 1995, Assen Dutch Open: first time out!
Left: 1995, Assen Dutch Open: first time out!
 ??  ?? 1995 again and the Over Racing team after our debut Dutch Open win.
Assen's typical weather! Alistair Wager and Ume Umemoto before our first race.
1995 again and the Over Racing team after our debut Dutch Open win. Assen's typical weather! Alistair Wager and Ume Umemoto before our first race.
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 ??  ?? Red means it's 1996: we're at Assen pulling Trixie back on compressio­n!
Red means it's 1996: we're at Assen pulling Trixie back on compressio­n!
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 ??  ?? It's raining again: 1995 Yamaha Europe's Ume Umemoto removes fairing for photo shoot.
It's raining again: 1995 Yamaha Europe's Ume Umemoto removes fairing for photo shoot.
 ??  ?? Zolder, 1995 Dutch Open 1st place.
Zolder, 1995 Dutch Open 1st place.
 ??  ?? TRX motor with integral oil tank.
TRX motor with integral oil tank.
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 ??  ?? Defending the Sound of Thunder World Series title in 1997.
Defending the Sound of Thunder World Series title in 1997.
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