Between the Races: Factory Aprilia Millennium Technologies Manager Chip Spaldingposted Mar 4, 2009
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by Jeff Feathers
Having spent a decade racing Suzukis, the Georgia-based KWS/Millennium team is moving to Aprilias for this season's Daytona SportBike class, as preparation for a likely 2010 American Superbike effort aboard the new RSV4. Alongside his riders, Chaz Davies and Ben Thompson, team manager Chip Spalding is excited about the change in both his team and the AMA Pro structure.
RRX: Can you talk a little about the switch from Suzuki to Aprilia?
Chip Spalding: We've essentially been a Suzuki team since the team's inception in 1999. The shop and the business that the team is based around primarily focuses on Suzuki stuff, and as we got to the 2009 season, our intention was to stay with Suzuki, but we were approached by Aprilia late in the season. We started talking, and as the off-season progressed, it became evident that things were going to be difficult for Suzuki financially, so we started talking more with Aprilia. Suzuki finally came back to us and offered us a small support package, but it wasn't enough to sustain us, and we decided to move on to Aprilia.
Is it difficult to step away from Suzuki?
Yes, it is tough. Suzuki has been really good to us and supported us throughout the years and helped build the team. But we looked at the changes in the rulebook and Aprilia's history in racing, we looked at the RSV twin and its potential, then we looked at the new motorcycle-the RSV4-and its potential down the road, and we thought this was a smart move to make.
When we talked to Ben Thompson, he was very excited about moving to the RSV4 in American Superbike in the future.
Absolutely. The new motorcycle looks amazing, and we have a great opportunity with the bike-it's the future of Aprilia. The Italians tend to have long cycles between model-year changes, so to be able to get in at the beginning with the V4 and start the development process is a huge advantage. There's a lot of technology in the bike, and it looks to be really good; we're very excited to get our hands on it. As soon as the bikes come out in Europe, we should be getting development bikes, and we're definitely keeping the possibility of running the RSV4 in American Superbike this year. Of course that depends on time and money, but also where our riders are at that point in the Daytona SportBike class. If both riders are high in the points, then it might not be advantageous to test a new motorcycle. It will be at the racetrack though, and we will be testing it. The original idea of this program was to move to 2010 and start development on the V4, but we decided to build a team structure in 2009 and get the program going so that when we started 2010, everything was not new. We're going to try to race the V4 at the end of the season, but that's still up in the air. For sure, both of our riders are interested in riding the V4.
Big twins vs. 600s?
I don't know [laughs]. It's going to be what makes this whole thing interesting. In the past, we've shown up, and we knew who was going to win, whereas when we show up to Daytona, nobody knows what's going to happen. If there's something inherently wrong with one of the platforms, the sanctioning body is willing to make changes to make it competitive. The only question is how they'll enforce it.
Does that fluidity make it difficult to plan?
Again, it goes back to how they do it. As long as they're aware of the costs involved in making changes, then it will work out. If they decide to give an uncompetitive bike the advantage of a custom frame, that's not really practical. They have to be cost-conscious and time-conscious when they're making these decisions.
Since we spoke to Ben Thompson, you've also hired Chaz Davies.
He's a professional, and he's got an enormous amount of experience and is very easy to work with. He gave excellent feedback [at a recent Roebling Road test]. One of the nice things about having Chaz there was that he has been racing frontline 600s for the last couple of years, and Ben has been on the 200 horsepower GSX-R1000 superbikes, so we knew what Ben's response was going to be as far how the new bike ran. He got off the thing and said, "It's slow" [laughs]. Chaz gave us a better idea of how the bike will stack up against the actual competition.
Do you feel like you're in the ballpark?
Yeah, we've got a direction. The bikes that we rode at the test were maybe 80 percent prepared. They had the Ohlins suspension, Leo Vince pipes, and rudimentary electronics-just a few things to make them track-ready. It was more of a shakedown test for getting ready for Daytona. What does the bike do well? What do we need to change to make the bike better? The chassis is really good-she's a bit on the porky side, but I think we're headed in the right direction.
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