Exclusive! Backstage With The 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 Superbike

Josh Hayes has won four of the past five AMA Superbike titles.

“In standard form, I can tell you that it’s equal to or greater than anything we’ve ever had.” That’s Keith McCarty talking about the new YZF-R1, the bike with which Yamaha will defend its run of five consecutive AMA Pro SuperBike titles this year in the inaugural MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Racing Championship.

In early February, more than two months before MotoAmerica’s season-opening race at Circuit of The Americas, I met with McCarty, Tom Halverson, and Jim Roach, three key members of the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha team that fields Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier in Superbike, MotoAmerica’s premier class. McCarty joined Yamaha in 1977, Team Manager Halverson followed 10 years later, and Roach, Hayes’ crew chief since 2009, arrived in ’03. Together, they have nearly 80 years of service at Yamaha.

At the time of our meeting, Yamaha had tested the new R1 just once, at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California. I asked McCarty, who oversees US racing operations, what role, if any, his team played in the development of this latest machine. Typically, he explained, the process begins with a group of engineers that travels from Japan to Europe, the US, and other important markets to discuss future models with strategic personnel.

“This goes back a few years,” McCarty said. “They were in our shop asking our riders and team what we thought was important, what would we do if we could have a clean sheet of paper. At the moment, you take that for granted, but after seeing the finished product, you say, ‘Well, we were involved in a fairly substantial way.’ We weren’t deciding what should be a 6 or an 8mm bolt, but the overall thought in a lot of areas was good.”

During the development process, the rumor mill was spinning out of control. Even McCarty didn’t know what to believe. “Can they really do that?” he wondered. “Everybody has a plan, but achieving the plan might be different. We were very excited about what we were hearing.”

In terms of performance, the latest YZF-R1 is said to pick up where the fully developed previous model left off.

For good reason, it turned out. “We were doing some things with the old bike,” he said. “The engine and chassis were at a good level, but we were probably close to not being able to do a whole bunch more to improve it without some rules changes or tires that would increase performance. This bike made those leaps and bounds that we would want to do if we had a clean sheet of paper—make it narrower, start with the same power or more, a nice package that was basically built for the track.”

In fact, McCarty noted, the new R1 is more than an inch narrower than last year’s bike. “That had always been an issue as far as punching a hole in the air,” Roach said. “The new bike is small—the way the riders fit on it and everything. That alone is exciting.” A few years ago, all of the open-class four-cylinder Japanese racer-replicas were 21 inches wide, with the V-twin Ducati a full 2 inches narrower. A small bike is good.

That first test at Thunderhill confirmed initial impressions. McCarty described it using a baking analogy. “Josh has been riding a particular model for a lot of years,” he said. “It’s kind of like your mom makes really good banana bread, right? You eat that banana bread and you love it. But until you try someone else’s banana bread, you really don’t know if it’s the best or not. I don’t think Josh had any complaints with the old bike. He won a lot of championships and a huge amount of races, and I think he thought everything was pretty good. But when he got to try the new banana bread, the new R1, instantly he said, ‘Wow, this one is better yet.’ ”

Roach was more specific. “The first time that Josh rode the new R1, right off the bat, he said it’s become a racebike. He’s consistently said the bike is fast. That’s a great starting point. We haven’t had a whole lot of time on the bike, but everything we’ve done so far seems positive.”

Simply fitting slicks was a revelation. Whereas the previous model in stock form was a handful on gummy rubber, the new bike was superior. “Josh was pretty excited about that,” Roach said. “The expression he always uses is that slicks ‘tie the bike in knots.’ That’s always been the case. On this one, though, we put on slicks and everything was better.”

Cameron Beaubier (left) and Josh Hayes work well together, despite being nearly two decades apart in age.

Halverson said Beaubier is likewise thrilled with the new R1. “He inherited a package deal that Josh developed. He did well with it, for sure, but he is definitely excited about developing a new bike. The bike being smaller—feeling more like an R6, in his words, and giving him front-end feel that he might not have had with the old bike—was a really positive thing.”

Although the upscale YZF-R1M with its Öhlins electronic suspension is homologated for use in the MotoAmerica series, the factory team opted for the standard model with its conventional fork and shock. “The way the rules are structured,” McCarty explained, “you have to use all of the other standard components that go along with that fork. Unfortunately, for racing, you need to have the ability to make adjustments in other areas, and that’s not allowed.

“Everything is so fresh and new. Development takes time. Who knows what’s going to come down the pipeline in terms of adjustability for the other components and still have electronic suspension? It might be something we look at next year.”

Plus, as it always is in racing, the clock was ticking. “We have a time line from when we received the bike to the first race,” McCarty said. “The calendar was always moving back and forth, whether we’re racing an endurance event at Daytona or something else. We were just trying to focus on being prepared for whatever happened. Electronic suspension is a total unknown for us. For simplicity, we’ve taken this direction.”

At the time of this interview, Yamaha was in the early stages of R1 power development. “We’ve taken a couple engines apart and looked at them,” Roach said. “It’s interesting and nicely packaged. We’re waiting for parts to come in—gaskets and things like that.”

Third overall in his Superbike debut, Beaubier makes no bones about his overseas racing aspirations.

MotoAmerica’s rules package is intentionally similar to that of World Superbike to provide a more clearly defined path from domestic to world championship. Former racer Scott Smart (who has a degree in physics) is the technical director for both series, further proof of the close relationship between Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey.

Under the new regulations, valve duration and lift are unrestricted. In 2012 and earlier, as well as 2014, duration could be changed but lift had to remain stock. “AMA rules were vacillating back and forth between a restricted camshaft and the full monty,” McCarty said. “Every year, it was something different. Now, it’s a global thing. The configuration of our engine hasn’t changed the game; it’s the rules that we get to play by that have changed the game.”

Valves and pistons must remain stock, but connecting rods may be replaced as long as the weight of the replacement component is the same as or greater than the original part. “You’re not doing it for the same reason you did it five years ago,” McCarty said. “You’ve got a lighter rod, maybe a longer rod, you could change certain aspects of it to tune the engine. Now, it’s a safety valve for something going wrong with the production part.”

This is a transition year for electronics. Teams may use either the existing 2014 “American Superbike Kit” or a new FIM-approved “Superbike Kit System” (ECU, dash, sensors, software, etc.) available from the respective manufacturers and costing no more than 8,000 euros. Yamaha has opted for last year’s electronics, which the crew and riders know well.

“Last year, the electronics ceiling was $18,000,” McCarty said. “This bike sells for $16,400. They get all the bells and whistles and some we didn’t have. We didn’t have a six-axis IMU [Inertial Measurement Unit] in our bike. We didn’t have slide control in our bike. The production bike has it. We need to be able to adjust certain things—the amount of engine mapping you’re capable of doing, for example, and other strategies within the ECU we currently use—that we can’t with the standard unit. That’s the biggest reason for making the change.”

With the new YZF-R1, McCarty says Yamaha has “thrown down the gauntlet. We have a bike that everybody is going to want. Ten years ago, we weren’t relevant. We are now.”

This story was originally published in the 2015 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Racing Championship season guide. Produced by the Bonnier Motorcycle Group, the 56-page guide will be bagged with the May issue of Cycle World and July issue of Sport Rider, and available for purchase at all nine MotoAmerica events.

Josh Hayes has won four of the past five AMA Superbike titles.

“In standard form, I can tell you that it’s equal to or greater than anything we’ve ever had.” That’s Keith McCarty talking about the new YZF-R1, the bike with which Yamaha will defend its run of five consecutive AMA Pro SuperBike titles this year in the inaugural MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Racing Championship.

In early February, more than two months before MotoAmerica’s season-opening race at Circuit of The Americas, I met with McCarty, Tom Halverson, and Jim Roach, three key members of the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha team that fields Josh Hayes and Cameron Beaubier in Superbike, MotoAmerica’s premier class. McCarty joined Yamaha in 1977, Team Manager Halverson followed 10 years later, and Roach, Hayes’ crew chief since 2009, arrived in ’03. Together, they have nearly 80 years of service at Yamaha.

At the time of our meeting, Yamaha had tested the new R1 just once, at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California. I asked McCarty, who oversees US racing operations, what role, if any, his team played in the development of this latest machine. Typically, he explained, the process begins with a group of engineers that travels from Japan to Europe, the US, and other important markets to discuss future models with strategic personnel.

“This goes back a few years,” McCarty said. “They were in our shop asking our riders and team what we thought was important, what would we do if we could have a clean sheet of paper. At the moment, you take that for granted, but after seeing the finished product, you say, ‘Well, we were involved in a fairly substantial way.’ We weren’t deciding what should be a 6 or an 8mm bolt, but the overall thought in a lot of areas was good.”

During the development process, the rumor mill was spinning out of control. Even McCarty didn’t know what to believe. “Can they really do that?” he wondered. “Everybody has a plan, but achieving the plan might be different. We were very excited about what we were hearing.”

In terms of performance, the latest YZF-R1 is said to pick up where the fully developed previous model left off.

For good reason, it turned out. “We were doing some things with the old bike,” he said. “The engine and chassis were at a good level, but we were probably close to not being able to do a whole bunch more to improve it without some rules changes or tires that would increase performance. This bike made those leaps and bounds that we would want to do if we had a clean sheet of paper—make it narrower, start with the same power or more, a nice package that was basically built for the track.”

In fact, McCarty noted, the new R1 is more than an inch narrower than last year’s bike. “That had always been an issue as far as punching a hole in the air,” Roach said. “The new bike is small—the way the riders fit on it and everything. That alone is exciting.” A few years ago, all of the open-class four-cylinder Japanese racer-replicas were 21 inches wide, with the V-twin Ducati a full 2 inches narrower. A small bike is good.

That first test at Thunderhill confirmed initial impressions. McCarty described it using a baking analogy. “Josh has been riding a particular model for a lot of years,” he said. “It’s kind of like your mom makes really good banana bread, right? You eat that banana bread and you love it. But until you try someone else’s banana bread, you really don’t know if it’s the best or not. I don’t think Josh had any complaints with the old bike. He won a lot of championships and a huge amount of races, and I think he thought everything was pretty good. But when he got to try the new banana bread, the new R1, instantly he said, ‘Wow, this one is better yet.’ ”

Roach was more specific. “The first time that Josh rode the new R1, right off the bat, he said it’s become a racebike. He’s consistently said the bike is fast. That’s a great starting point. We haven’t had a whole lot of time on the bike, but everything we’ve done so far seems positive.”

Simply fitting slicks was a revelation. Whereas the previous model in stock form was a handful on gummy rubber, the new bike was superior. “Josh was pretty excited about that,” Roach said. “The expression he always uses is that slicks ‘tie the bike in knots.’ That’s always been the case. On this one, though, we put on slicks and everything was better.”

Cameron Beaubier (left) and Josh Hayes work well together, despite being nearly two decades apart in age.

Halverson said Beaubier is likewise thrilled with the new R1. “He inherited a package deal that Josh developed. He did well with it, for sure, but he is definitely excited about developing a new bike. The bike being smaller—feeling more like an R6, in his words, and giving him front-end feel that he might not have had with the old bike—was a really positive thing.”

Although the upscale YZF-R1M with its Öhlins electronic suspension is homologated for use in the MotoAmerica series, the factory team opted for the standard model with its conventional fork and shock. “The way the rules are structured,” McCarty explained, “you have to use all of the other standard components that go along with that fork. Unfortunately, for racing, you need to have the ability to make adjustments in other areas, and that’s not allowed.

“Everything is so fresh and new. Development takes time. Who knows what’s going to come down the pipeline in terms of adjustability for the other components and still have electronic suspension? It might be something we look at next year.”

Plus, as it always is in racing, the clock was ticking. “We have a time line from when we received the bike to the first race,” McCarty said. “The calendar was always moving back and forth, whether we’re racing an endurance event at Daytona or something else. We were just trying to focus on being prepared for whatever happened. Electronic suspension is a total unknown for us. For simplicity, we’ve taken this direction.”

At the time of this interview, Yamaha was in the early stages of R1 power development. “We’ve taken a couple engines apart and looked at them,” Roach said. “It’s interesting and nicely packaged. We’re waiting for parts to come in—gaskets and things like that.”

Third overall in his Superbike debut, Beaubier makes no bones about his overseas racing aspirations.

MotoAmerica’s rules package is intentionally similar to that of World Superbike to provide a more clearly defined path from domestic to world championship. Former racer Scott Smart (who has a degree in physics) is the technical director for both series, further proof of the close relationship between Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey.

Under the new regulations, valve duration and lift are unrestricted. In 2012 and earlier, as well as 2014, duration could be changed but lift had to remain stock. “AMA rules were vacillating back and forth between a restricted camshaft and the full monty,” McCarty said. “Every year, it was something different. Now, it’s a global thing. The configuration of our engine hasn’t changed the game; it’s the rules that we get to play by that have changed the game.”

Valves and pistons must remain stock, but connecting rods may be replaced as long as the weight of the replacement component is the same as or greater than the original part. “You’re not doing it for the same reason you did it five years ago,” McCarty said. “You’ve got a lighter rod, maybe a longer rod, you could change certain aspects of it to tune the engine. Now, it’s a safety valve for something going wrong with the production part.”

This is a transition year for electronics. Teams may use either the existing 2014 “American Superbike Kit” or a new FIM-approved “Superbike Kit System” (ECU, dash, sensors, software, etc.) available from the respective manufacturers and costing no more than 8,000 euros. Yamaha has opted for last year’s electronics, which the crew and riders know well.

“Last year, the electronics ceiling was $18,000,” McCarty said. “This bike sells for $16,400. They get all the bells and whistles and some we didn’t have. We didn’t have a six-axis IMU [Inertial Measurement Unit] in our bike. We didn’t have slide control in our bike. The production bike has it. We need to be able to adjust certain things—the amount of engine mapping you’re capable of doing, for example, and other strategies within the ECU we currently use—that we can’t with the standard unit. That’s the biggest reason for making the change.”

With the new YZF-R1, McCarty says Yamaha has “thrown down the gauntlet. We have a bike that everybody is going to want. Ten years ago, we weren’t relevant. We are now.”

This story was originally published in the 2015 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Racing Championship season guide. Produced by the Bonnier Motorcycle Group, the 56-page guide will be bagged with the May issue of Cycle World and July issue of Sport Rider, and available for purchase at all nine MotoAmerica events.

In this body-off studio photo, the custom radiator and oil cooler are clearly visible.

The “M” version of the new R1 comes with electronic suspension. For its factory Superbike, Yamaha opted for a conventional fork and shock.

So early in development, spare parts, like gaskets, are in demand.

A custom aluminum fuel tank is one of many components that the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha team has already developed and tested.

Graves Motorsports produces the rainbow-colored, single-outlet exhaust system for the new R1 Superbike.

Yamaha is using the 2014 “AMA Superbike Kit” electronics package this season.

Brembo’s HP series has three front caliper options: two-piece billet, monoblock, or monoblock billet.

Crew Chief Jim Roach (left) has worked with Josh Hayes since 2009.

Cameron Beaubier (left) and Josh Hayes work well together, despite being nearly two decades apart in age.

Third overall in his Superbike debut, Beaubier makes no bones about his overseas racing aspirations.

Josh Hayes has won four of the past five AMA Superbike titles.

In terms of performance, the latest YZF-R1 is said to pick up where the fully developed previous model left off.