Suzuki invited us for a media endurance race on its new Gixxer SF 250 race bike which has been tuned to offer better performance. Let us discuss its experience…
Suzuki is late, very late to the quarter liter party. Though you may argue that it did offer us the ‘brilliant’ Inazuma few years back, in reality, those were not the specs India would ever settle with after paying such a price. Eventually, only a massive slash could dissolve the marked inventory for India.
Cut to 2019 and after a long wait it has given us not one but two single cylinder brilliant quarter liters – the naked Gixxer and the faired Gixxer SF, replicating its 150cc segment success. Why have I used the word ‘brilliant’ is because our road test editor, Shiraz had already tested the roadgoing SF and the review is already live on BikeAdvice.
Upon Suzuki’s invitation, I wanted him to test the race spec Gixxer as well because that would have provided a deeper insight on what difference has the changes done to the motorcycle. But because he had to attend Young Media Racer Program from another manufacturer on the same dates, I packed my kit and was away to Kari, Coimbatore – my first time on this track!
Like last time Suzuki had divided the event in two parts – one was a practice session on the motorcycle and the other day was kept for the eventual race.
Kari is a completely different experience for almost everyone. It is a smaller (2.1 km vs 3.7 km MMRT and 5.14 km long BIC), very technical track and has some very sharp corners. So, the task was not only to get acquainted with a race-prepped motorcycle but to also master/understand the track, all in a matter of a few minutes we were given for practice. Also, to let you know it was the first time the Gixxer SF 250 Race bike was being ridden for races; not even Suzuki’s official riders had tried it till then.
We were 26 journalists and all of us were paired with a rider from another publication, forming 13 teams in all. This was based on a random chit system and my partner was Suraj Sawant from Motor World India. The fastest lap from the practice session was to be considered for next day’s standings before the actual race. I clocked a best time of around 1:31 which was just about decent in the overall scheme of things but I did get a fairly good hang of things.
While we are at it, let us quickly talk about the motorcycle and the changes it had gone through before finishing it up with the actual race.
Gixxer SF 250 Race Bike
Suzuki works with an independent tuning team for its race-spec Gixxers. It must be highlighted that the race-prep Gixxer SF 250 which we were riding had a bone stock engine and the ECU was also not touched! However, the motorcycle went through massive load shedding and Suzuki stripped off everything unwanted – like the headlamp, rear number plate assembly, rear view mirrors, saree guard, etc. This meant whopping savings of about 25 kilograms against the commercial version. It had a custom made free flow exhaust which itself shaved off over 5 kgs – it weighs just 1.4 kg against 6.9 kg of the dual-barrel exhaust of the stock motorcycle.
The race bike was shod with low set clip-on handlebars and rearset footpegs to provide that crouched riding posture. The steering and brake play was very minimal and Suzuki had stripped the motorcycle off that dual channel ABS system also, along with the fan for that oil cooler.
Against the MRF tyres of the production SF, the race-spec Gixxer was equipped with Metzeler tyres which were leech like grippy and instilled a world of confidence specially during late corner brakings.
As a result of all the changes, Suzuki informed that the motorcycle produced roughly 30 hp of power, about 3-4 hp more than the stock version.
Apart from the gearing, which I felt was shorter, it was one lovely, instant-accelerating machine. I also got to learn how brilliantly Suzuki has developed the internals of the engine and other bits through the tuner of the motorcycle – who is a non-Suzuki guy and tunes all types of motorcycles!
Finally the Race
The duration of the Endurance race was decided to be 40 minutes with every team requiring to change partners at least once during the tenure. It was also a pre-requisite for both the riders to be on the track for at least 14 minutes each.
Since Suraj was quicker than me in the practice session, we decided that he should go first for a better start and let him be on the track for a slightly longer duration. We carefully thought out our strategy and ensured we will not commit a mistake.
It was a proper LeMan’s style start to the race – all the riders who were to go first were lined-up on one side with the motorcycles arranged on the other, being held by the second rider. Upon flag off, the first rider had to run towards the bike, start it and get going.
I had kept everything ready for Suraj and seconds before the kick-off signalled him to be calm and not to rush. A few teams gobbled up here at the start line in all the excitement and urgency and finally we were the first team to set off.
We were up against some people who had been riding on tracks for years, some who were race coaches, etc. So, the idea was to be as quick as possible and make only one rider change to avoid wastage of time. We carefully decided to let Suraj ride for 21-22 minutes and then signal him to come back after that.
Last year, Shiraz and his team mate had goofed up during rider changes and one was not ready when the other entered the pit lane causing a big time loss. You can read last year’s experience here.
I joined the race at around the 23rd-24th minute and carried on for the remaining period of time.
The top speed I could clock on that straight was about 155 kph with the motorcycle maxxing out each and every time (it was the same story for others as well). A longer gearing would probably have helped here. Eventually, there were only four teams which could complete 27 laps in the stipulated timelines and we were one of them. Suraj’s tenth lap was our fastest at 1:25:686. I would have also shed some significant seconds in my all-out attempt on the second day. In the overall standings, we missed the podium by a whisker and finished fourth in this list of 13 teams.
More than the satisfaction of our standings, this endurance race – the overall concept, was fabulous and each and everyone, including the ones who could not be blistering fast on the track, enjoyed it thoroughly.
Apart from a lot of track learnings, this could easily be the moto event where I enjoyed the most. And it was the motorcycle and its behavior which made us – highly-unfit-for-track-racing folks, grin from ear to ear! Suzuki deserves a huge round of applause for being one of the makers to push and promote motor racing in India and for creating such a brilliant motorcycle.
This also means curtains for Shiraz for any of the endurance races in the future 😀 .