THE KTM RC390 is the epitome of KTM’s ‘Ready to Race’ philosophy. It also stands that the RC Cup, a one-make race for the RC390, realises that philosophy to the maximum. RC Cups Championships are run in the United Kingdom, Germany and most recently, Asia.
The bikes being raced in the series are called the RC390 ‘Cup’. The engine is standard except for an Akrapovic race exhaust and produces 43 horsepower. All the street paraphernalia is stripped from the bike bringing the race weight down to 138kg. A lightweight racing chain is fitted as well as a racing bubble-type windshield and a fibreglass underbelly fairing. The footrests are replaced with adjustable racing footrests with a 1 up-5 down race shift pattern. The suspension is replaced by White Power fully adjustable forks and monoshock. The tyres are race specification Metzelers.
Participants in the RC Cup are strictly vetted for potential and talent. Most are very young and as a consequence, fast and fearless. Almost all are campaigning other championships and look to the RC Cup as a springboard to a European campaign of their own. The Asian rounds, five in all, held in the Sepang International Circuit (SIC), are hotly contested by riders from Japan, China, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia and of course, Malaysia.
When the opportunity arose for me to try the RC Cup bike, it was not in an informal track day, or even a private test session. KTM Malaysia invited me to try the racebike in the very crucible it was forged in, the RC Cup series, in the fourth round in SIC North Track. Excited is not the word I would use. For, it has been 10 years since I had hung up my racing leathers and despite the trophies in my cabinet, I would not consider myself a successful or fast rider. And the track forays since then have been few and far between.
With barely two weeks to race day, I was to renew my tattered Expert licence and prepare my equipment, from helmets to boots. Sadly, unlike the RC Cup riders, I would not be getting custom-fitted Alpinestars kit or a race Airoh helmet. And the only practice day was the Friday before the race itself. That amounts to one-and-a-half hours total on an unfamiliar bike before I was thrown to the lions. Preparing myself for the race was a completely different matter. Helmets and boots can be begged, borrowed or stolen, but you cannot find courage or ability for sale anywhere. I even tried Pavilion in Bukit Bintang.
A few half-hearted sessions at the gym was all I could manage before Friday dawned in SIC. The RC Cup bikes, neatly arranged in a row by the dedicated staff of KTM Racing, looked like the serious racing bikes they were. The boisterous group of youngsters racing them, younger than my own son, behaved much like any other group of boys in any other sporting activity. Lots of joking and jostling, and pranks were evident while I sat on my KTM deck chair, comtemplating what lay ahead.
The first practice session only proved what I suspected; I was really slow and only the RC250s in the Bronze category were slower. The RC Cup bike requires full dedication to momentum conservation and requires that the throttle be open for as long as possible. While this may be true of all racing bikes, it is of higher importance in the smaller capacity classes. Running 1:24 laptimes while the leaders were doing 1:18s meant I would be lapped around 2-3 laps before the chequers came out. The last time that happened was at my first-ever race, way back in 1999. I needed to up my game, and fast. During the third session, which I skipped, I went to the SIC pit building roof and took videos of the fast guys taking Turns 1 and 2 and also Turns 5 and 6. This gave me some insight into their lines and an inkling of their sheer speed. Talking to some of them afterwards also revealed more things I could try (well, attempt at least) in order to lower my laptimes.
Saturday came too fast, quite like a brakeline had burst going into Turn 1. I spent too much time thinking about the track, the lines, the braking and the gearing that I had next to no sleep. The first and only practice session was a blur but I managed a 1:22, mainly due to the better lines and being able to follow a few other riders and studying their lines. Nerves got the better of me during qualifying, as I barely qualified within 109% of the fastest qualifying lap, which was now 1:17.
Race 1 and Race 2 on Sunday were almost the same. Bad starts meant overtaking the lone RC390 (a private entrant) and chasing down a similar RC390 ridden by a Singaporean, Mah Kin Wai. In the process, I managed a 1:21 laptime and also managed my only objective; not to come last. Unfortunately, the three of us also managed to get lapped by the leaders in both races. But given another chance and a bit more practice, I’m sure I will manage NOT to get lapped . Hopefully, this will not be my last race because I am hooked. Again.