Everything is faster in racing – even the bike builds. Down Under specials builder Karl Webster recalls the week he (and his friends) took building a Kawasaki ZXR750 racer!
Take a look at this beautiful Kawasaki ZXR750 H2 – can you believe that we built this machine – from a wreck – in around four days just to go racing.
Down Under we call this a ‘Period 6’ racer and this was taken from a minger of a bike into what you see here (complete with paint and graphics) within a week just so it could be ready for the Phillip Island classic races taking place at the World Superbike round back in 2014.
What needed doing then? EVERYTHING was rebuilt, where it could be. The shocks and forks were refurbished, the wheels re-done, consumables replaced and we didn’t even know if it would go alright around the track. Was the bike straight at all? All of this was packed into evenings and nights (I build houses during the day, y’see) where we worked from 7pm to 2am every night to get it finished and we were so pleased with the result, as you can see here.
Like most things bike-related with me, I was inspired. What inspired me this time was a picture of I had of Scott Russell’s ZXR750 H2 that he raced somewhere around 1990, in the USA in AMA Superbikes. I also had a 1989 Kawasaki ZXR750 H2 which was a wrecker. Closer examination showed that it only had some gravel rash really, but I had to have it – as in the back of my mind was that picture of Scott on his own H2 racing Kwak! I kept that picture and kept referring to it, until a plan began to form in my mind.
Once more I’d be working with John Wilkinson – my partner in crime and the real rebuild/technical genius behind my bikes. He thought that perhaps we should use the ZXR and build a Period 6 race bike for his son Mark to ride, when he came back from racing in the UK. The plan was to show a few riders that they weren’t going to have it their own way at the Phillip Island 20th International Classic, even if they had deeper pockets than us!
In Australia, classic racing is growing fast but in the modern classes we seem to have the same old guys Down Under standing on podiums while the youngsters (like Mark) have to go to the UK to get seen and get the rides. Thankfully with some time to go before the Classic, Mark’s sponsors delivered some goodies to us so we had things like Venhill lines, R&G crash bungs, Bendix, NG Rotors, the Oil Warehouse helped out, as did Megacycle Exhaust and TM performance Suspension, who were going to revamp the standard shock and forks. Perrows Automotive Paints gave us the green (I was to do the graphics as per usual) and Bendigo Mazda even paid for a set of new race fairings. Elliott Bros. supplied Renthal sprockets and a DID chain. Mark was pumped to be riding the thing, and his dad John was too – they both have green blood pumping through their veins because Mark at the time was racing for Gearlink Kawasaki in the UK!
First of all we had never started the bike so we pulled off the tank cleaned out what you can imagine was in the carbs and applied some power. BANG it fired straight away and there were no rattles or smoke: result! This was a clean, free-revving engine with 80,000kms on the clocks! Sadly we hit our first snag months before going racing. A call to Phillip Island and it seemed that the entry list was more full that a fat bloke’s pants. We tried the old charm, but to no avail – even though they knew Mark could steer a bike around there.
So, we were on the waiting list and the bike was in bits, looking like it had been hit by the Southern Aurora Train. And there it would sit. With no race entry came no motivation and three depressed blokes but then fate took a hand. As typical motorcycle builders, rather than press on and take our time to properly prepare the bike for another event, nothing happened, but then World Superbikes were coming to Phillip Island the third weekend in February and lo and behold there was a class for period race bikes. Suddenly the dream was on again, we made call and got an entry in. The problem was that we had just eight days to go: why hadn’t we just pressed on, eh? Oh well!
Suddenly, people popped out everywhere ready to build a bike to race in the seven or so days we had left. And I mean this was from scratch! The only advantage was a company called IDE had already powder-coated the wheels and the sponsors parts were all laid out ready to go. Then comes another hurdle even though we had an entry we didn’t have a log book for the bike, so on the phone again and this time the anxiety was kicking in but with some very handy explanations as to why we didn’t have one as we’d always raced new bikes and didn’t know they were required, we (with the aid of some photos we had) were able to sort things out. Nothing was going to get in our way!
Looks-wise we wanted to keep the thing looking like a good H2 should. So the main graphics and colour scheme were to be pretty much the same as any ZXR from back in the day. Every piece of bodywork was prepped from scratch and the chassis was stripped and rubbed down – apart from the tank which had to just ‘work’ thus feed fuel to the carbies and nothing else. For the exhaust, sadly we didn’t have time to get the bike to Ken at Megacycle Exhaust to hand-build some tuned-length headers, so we had to run the stock standard ones. The muffler on it had a bit of gravel rash on the corners and a perished logo from years of heat exposure and a chrome finish. I had a new Muzzy sitting in the box which looked the horn but there was no use fitting it to the standard headers, so we had to be time efficient. I pulled off the old logo from the end-can and cleaned it up so it looked OK then drew up a Muzzy logo out of masking vinyl and painted the logo on it with heatproof black paint – it looked mint and factory!
After I left John’s work shop each night, I went home and drew all the graphics for the bike, including sponsors’ logos, race numbers and I even made T-shirts for race-day. We called ourselves ‘Team 360 degrees Classic Superbikes’.
The only issue was that we were running out of days fast when we suddenly hit another problem with the re-vamped wiring. With the whole bike back together and the race foam cut and shaped on the duck tail awaiting the rider, this bike was ready to fire up. We tried but nothing happened! We had 12-volts everywhere and every fuse was tested. You name it we checked it. John traced it back to the igniter box and found 12-volts going in but nothing coming out! Where do we get a replacement at this late stage? Thankfully not long before, the guys at IDE had sold a smart H1 to a mate, so I rang him and raided the igniter box. We tried it and still nothing! Now John is very good with electricals and he re-tested all the fuses (which were new) and came across something in all his years that he had not seen: an un-blown fuse, new but with no resistance! He changed it and she fired up again. By this time it was 11.30pm the night before we were due to set off, so I wheeled the bike into the other shed and began applying the graphics and decals. Apart from not painting the tank again this bike looked the goods and by 1am we loaded it into the van for a 6am departure.
We arrived at the track with new Bridgestone slicks only to find we had a damp-to-wet track to play on. We set up our garage and tried to relax and enjoy the moment and the Bridgestone guy there gave us an old set of wets for free practice, but as we only had one set of rims you can imagine the chopping and changing that went on over the three days! This is before you remember that this bike had never been ridden for years, so we didn’t know if it would even complete a lap. What happened next put the cap on all our hard work. Mark went out in the wet and posted the fastest time in class: we were thrilled! The next practice was dry so there was another tyre change and he was third fastest. He’d never ridden an old bike before or this unproven one that was stock standard and which had a perforated diaphragm in one carb!
Think about the people Mark was racing against. Robbie Phillis – ex-World Superbikes front runner/race-winner and known as ‘Syph’ to his friends – and other riders of his calibre were on highly-developed 1200cc machines, but Mark still qualified on the front row in third place on the grid. Not bad for a stock four-stroke road bike. You had 750cc two-strokes, six-cylinder Hondas, you name it. But Mark only weighs 60-odd kilos, which helped, even if we knew we lacked horsepower and outright speed but we had no time for development. But that will come! Instead we concentrated on good braking and suspension. Trevor of TM Performance spent what time he could setting-up the suspension the weekend before the race and did the best he could with the stock shock and forks.
Despite this, the results shout loud: fastest in first practice in the wet, second in the next session. Third in qualifying and in the three races Mark placed 4th, 5th and 3rd, getting 4th overall with a best lap of 1m 48.247s. Not bad for a youngster on a standard, old ZXR! Maybe we needed to throw some money and kit at this bike and rebuild the motor: 130bhp should be a reality…The results Mark achieved were brilliant and with the future upgrades we want to get into the 1m 39s at Phillip Island, so let’s keep improving it!