If you haven’t been, Goodwood Festival of Speed really is the ultimate petrolhead’s paradise. Hundreds of classics, modern cars and bikes, collectors’ pieces and everything between, all gathered together at Lord March’s estate for an extended weekend of eargasms and spectacular sights. Whether it’s the hillclimb action, a sensory overload in the paddock, or the array of assorted displays, there’s something for everyone.
And there was something very special waiting for me in the paddock on Sunday morning – a brand-new BMW HP4 Race ready to be spanked up the fabled hill. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Festival of Speed also hosted Ferrari celebrating 70 years of the prancing horse and Bernie Eccelstone being awarded something. All I was interested in was mounting the £68,000 HP4 Race.
There’s me, struggling to zip up my leathers in the über lavish Drivers’ Club changing rooms, rubbing shoulders with motorcycling royalty such as Freddie Spencer, Giacomo Agostini, and MCN’s Michael Neeves. As media, there’s a tangible element of fraudster that I cannot shake – walking down the red carpet, expectant kids asking for autographs and sharing the same tarmac with these heroes all feels a bit plastic. But for punters, this is the closest you’ll get to racing royalty with unrivalled access in the paddock.
Exciting? Yes. But Goodwood is also an intimidating prospect, believe it or not. Thousands of hopeful spectators paying good money to be entertained don’t wish to see some knobber crawling up the hill. The last time I rode at Goodwood was several years ago, piloting Kevin Schwantz’s factory 1993 Suzuki RGV500. Its carbon brakes very nearly caught me out as I barrelled into the first left-hander with staunch commitment and zero stopping power. I styled it out with a seemingly intentional Dr’s Dangle.
Note the title has omitted any reference to a review of the BMW HP4 Race. This was all about the experience, a snapshot of riding one of 2017’s finest steeds. As someone who can’t afford to spend £6.80 on dining out, let alone £68,000 on a motorcycle, riding machinery like this – at a venue like this – is extremely humbling. It’s also worth pointing out that – thanks to TV rights and Sky Sports – we weren’t allowed to shoot onboard or any action without paying hideous amounts of dollar for the privilege.
A successful run up the hill at Goodwood is a combination of looking and sounding fast, and not making friends with any hay bales. Tyre warmers aren’t allowed at FoS, which is a bit shit for bikes and leaves riders/owners/teams with limited options. Slicks and road rubbers are utterly pointless unless you fancy stacking it, leaving intermediate and wets as the only viable options for pacey runs. This was BMW Motorrad UK’s bike, fitted with Pirelli inters, which emit grip very quickly.
“There’s one rule,” said Andy from BMW UK. “No burnouts.” Ok, so this run had to be filled with an Akrapovič soundtrack, the HP4’s audible traction control and several Cat Deeleys. Waving to the crowd is reserved for proper racers and legends.
For a few minutes of showtime, there’s an enormous amount of faffery before and after a run at Goodwood – which only happens twice a day for motorcycles. The bikes gather in the assembly area before moving, en masse, the wrong way down the track to the start line. This should be a relatively relaxed affair, although Troy Corser came flying past aboard his 2010 WSBK on the grass lighting up the rear on the limiter for what seemed like an age.
Despite the competition-based sophistication, 2D dash and an onslaught of carbon fibre, the HP4 Race all feels very S 1000 RRish. That said, the cockpit looks very complex and its electronics system is far more intricate (and racier) than the road bike. French Superbike rider, Kenny Foray gave me a pre-ride briefing on how the HP4 Race functions. Being a race bike – and a £68k pimped one at that – there’s a myriad of unlabelled buttons that could be mistaken for M&M’s. We also dropped traction control to a minimum to allow for dem wheelies…
On the right, the kill switch is a red button, the riding mode switch is blue and the Pit Lane Limiter/Starter button is black. On the left, the blue button is a selection switch for Dynamic Traction Control and Engine Brake. A red or green button can be used to adjust DTC or EBR. The yellow button is used for scrolling through menus.
A palpable belligerence oozes from the Akrapovič full system. Even during the sedate jaunt down to the start line, the engine spins with ferocity, internally, and the throttle is super-light. Yet it all feels very measured and manageable – nothing like a Superleggera, for example. With no fan (other than the twat riding it), I also had to keep an eye on the coolant temperature during the pre-ride faffery.
The engine is somewhere between a 6.2 and 7.2 – similar to those powerplants used in World SBK and World Endurance – punting out a claimed 215bhp. Some of the S 1000 RR’s fundamental motor remains, although BMW has blueprinted and weight-matched components that feature Pankl rods, and a crank that’s 200g lighter than stock. The redline has been upped from 14,200rpm to 14,500rpm, a close-ratio ‘box makes for ideal gearing, and shorter intake trumpets are responsible for the artificially-induced kick up the arse at 11,500rpm.
I’m sat next to Agostini and Spencer as we’re called for our run. Despite being bloody legends, the HP4 Race is getting just as much attention. On clicking 1st gear, launch control is automatically engaged without any need for buttons. Throttle pinned, the ECU holds the needle at 8,000rpm and manages traction control and wheelie control, leaving me to simply dump the clutch in blind faith. It sounds full factory. Kenny was very reassuring and pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t loop/stack it, so I had a few dummy starts as we crept up to the line.
That’s it. I’m away. Amongst a sweet cacophony of launch control, wheelie control and traction control noise, the bike gathers momentum with serious vigour – like only a 215bhp bike weighing just 146kg can do. I had to make sure I hit third gear to deactivate launch control before tipping into the first corner.
Cold tyres. Thousands of people watching. Big screens everywhere. Don’t bloody crash it. Despite a lack of tyre temperature, the HP4 Race tipped in with confidence and chewed the first turn with consummate ease, filling me with confidence at the same time. Even with compromised grip and huge amounts of trepidation, I could feel every little smidgen of surface beneath. The feedback being radiated from the HP4’s carbon chassis is immense. And intense. Every ripple, every surface change was transmitted through the ‘bars but beautifully ministered by Gucci suspension.
On passing the house and grandstands, it was our first chance of a Cat Deeley. However, the job was in tatters. I gave it a handful of gas and a healthy wedge of clutch, and all I got was a dose of wheelie control and a puny wheelie that my gran could have mustered. Okay, head down, look fast.
Of course, much of the hype revolves around the HP4 Race’s carbon frame. Taking inspiration and lessons learnt from its four-wheeled arm, BMW has engineered the optimum stiffness, rigidity and torsional qualities into a full carbon frame, usually compromised in alloy frames. The frame itself weighs just 7.8kg, the bike just 146kg in dry form and feels every bit as light as the claimed figure. It feels like a toy in comparison with a stock RR, submissively bossed at mediocre lean angles. The aesthetics are where the similarities end: the HP4 Race looks like an S 1000 RR but acts like it’s £50k dearer.
Gone are the days of questioning the strength and suitability of carbon fibre. Apparently, BMW carried out tests involving both forged and carbon wheels, running over a 70mm object at 120kmh. The forged rim suffered damage and instantly lost pressure, while the carbon wheel absorbed the energy and didn’t undergo any injury. The decision not to use a carbon swingarm was nothing more than BMW’s tried and tested knowledge with an aluminium item. Besides, despite being sexy and lightweight, carbon swingarms haven’t exactly proved successful in past.
Öhlins FGR300 forks are straight outta the SBK paddocks and the rear of the HP4 wears a TTX36 GP shock. I certainly didn’t have to worry about brake fade or a lack of stopping power. Brembo GP4RR Monoblocs brag titanium pistons and bite T-type discs, controlled by an RCS master cylinder to offer super-sexy braking.
I completed the run with several more feeble attempts at wheelying, plus a few rev bombs to satisfy onlookers. Then casually parked the HP4 on a hay bale, jogged into the café at top of the hill and had a drink and a cheeky selfie with Giacomo Agostini. You could say it was a pretty sweet Sunday.
But then I rode someone else’s bike. More on that next time…