Since the beginning of the MotoAmerica era of motorcycle road racing, the series has had an entry-level race class, the purpose of which has been to develop younger riders into future Superbike riders and, for the best of the best, World Champions.
Initially, MotoAmerica’s entry-level race class was a spec series, with all the riders aboard the same brand and model of motorcycle: the KTM RC390. Right from the start, the concept was a huge success. Rider participation was high, the racing was close, and the on-track action was exciting. The KTM RC Cup races have been very popular among fans, and some of the riders have already moved up to MotoAmerica Supersport, as well as race series in other countries around the world.
One-brand, spec-class racing is a great offering, but the one thing it lacks is brand competition. Loyal fans of specific brands tend to follow, and cheer for, the riders who are aboard their favorite brands. For example, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool, green team, Kawasaki fan, you’d probably be even more interested in an entry-level race class if there were riders on track aboard Kawasakis. Also, multiple brands in a series give the manufacturers an opportunity to see how their motorcycle stacks up against the competition, and they can help develop future, factory-supported riders who are aboard their entry-level machines.
With this in mind, MotoAmerica launched the Liqui Moly Junior Cup for 2018, which is an entry-level, multi-brand race class open to riders of smaller-displacement motorcycles, including the Honda CBR500R, Kawasaki Ninja 300 and new Ninja 400, Suzuki GSX250R, Yamaha YZF-R3, as well as the KTM RC390 and new KTM RC390 R.
All of the above models are small-displacement machines, but obviously, their displacements are not equal. So, with engine sizes ranging from 250cc all the way up to 500cc, adjustments have to be made in order to make sure that a fairly wide range of motorcycles are equally competitive and fairly balanced.
And there’s the rub… or more appropriately, the balance. If you’ve ever had a kitchen table that didn’t sit quite level, you may have tried a quick fix and placed a folded business card or other piece of paper under one leg. The fix didn’t work the first time, did it? Fold it again… and maybe again.
The point is that, whether you’re leveling a wobbly table or balancing a brand-new race class, it’s a process and not an immediate solution. And, this balancing process is not just happening in MotoAmerica Liqui Moly Junior Cup, but in World Supersport 300, CIV (Italian National Championship), CEV (Spanish National Championship), and elsewhere.
The FIM is leading the charge to balance the bikes that are competing in these entry-level classes, and MotoAmerica is enacting the changes in Junior Cup. During this process, some brands of bikes that were dominant at one round become less dominant in the next round. For example, at Road Atlanta, which was where the brand-new Liqui Moly Junior Cup series debuted, the Kawasaki Ninja 400 showed that it had a slight advantage over the KTM RC390 R and a bigger advantage over the Yamaha YZF-R3. So, after that first round, balancing measures were made to limit the performance of the Kawasakis, slightly boost the performance of the KTMs, and more-than-slightly boost the performance of the Yamahas.
At VIRginia International Raceway for round two, the KTMs still showed a slight advantage, while the Yamahas were a lot more competitive, but the Kawasakis were quite a bit less competitive.
Prior to round three this weekend, MotoAmerica released another technical bulletin with new balancing measures that gave back some performance to the Kawasakis, provided a slight performance gain to the Yamahas, and allowed for an even slighter performance gain to the KTMs.
The balancing measures involve carefully calculated rev limits on the bikes’ engines, as well as the addition or subtraction of weight, so there are a lot more variables at play than just that folded piece of paper under your wobbly kitchen table.
The aim, of course, is to arrive at The Sweet Spot; a solution that is fair to all the motorcycles, brands, teams, and riders competing in Junior Cup. The FIM, CIV, CEV, and MotoAmerica are all hopeful that the perfect balance is found sooner rather than later.
In Saturday’s Junior Cup race one, bikes from three different manufacturers took to the 25-rider starting grid, and riders aboard bikes from three different manufacturers finished in the top four at the checkers. So, perhaps MotoAmerica has already reached its Sweet Spot. And, if so, that would be sweet, indeed.