In homage to Valentino Rossi's Yamaha-mounted world championship win, TWO takes all four generations of R1 to Spain for a right good thrashing and a weekend at the races .
In a desperate bid for every last drop of speed I'm tucked into the guy in front's slipstream so deep that if he so much as blinks he's going to have me as a passenger. I can feel my knuckles whitening and realise I'm holding my breath. I force myself to relax. The fact I'm texting while also trying to lever a particularly obstinate Elvis Presley album out of the CD player isn't helping matters.
The péage flattens out, I snick the van into fifth and away from the redline it's been on for the last mile or so and we leave the last long climb behind us, drop over the top of the Pyrenees and head south, down, and on to our destination: Valencia. Oh viva España.
It's 10pm and Daryll and myself have been in the fetid TWO van for what feels like most of our adult lives. Cabin fever has set in. In the back lies our precious cargo - four gleaming R1s - while ahead lies the perfect long weekend and our last, fast riding fix of the year before we batten down the hatches for winter.
Here's the plan: Friday: trackday at Cartagena with Farside Sportsbiking. With just 30 riders and an open pitlane, we'll be in heaven. Oh, and the forecast says warm and sunny. Perfect. Saturday: off to Valencia's Ricardo Tormo circuit for final qualifying before Sunday's end-of-season GP, followed by a knees-up in town.Sunday: back to the circuit for the big race, wave Rossi flags, jump up and down, and generally get all excited.Monday: wash the whole trip down with a day's riding on God's own twisty roads just a stone's throw from Valencia, before the long haul home.
Covering the motorcycle side of matters we had a bevy of R1s. Four to be precise - one of each generation to date.
From back in the day - well, 1998 - we had one of the very first models. You know, the one that finally gave the FireBlade the bloody nose and wedgie everyone had failed to administer since 1992. The '98 R1 may have been sophisticated on its launch, but don't be fooled because it's the rawest, roughest, hardest-to-ride R1 there is.
The year 2000 heralded the frankly awesome mark two R1, also catchily known as RN03. The initial bike's brute power was harnessed in a chassis that could genuinely cope, and R1 owners got their first taste of proper steering.
Two years later and 2002 brought us the third generation R1. The styling went pointy, the carbs became fuel injection, and extra power now came with added control. Some said it was too civilised; others simply enjoyed watching their mates struggle to keep up.
Then came 2004 and the brand new R1 we're still getting used to. Pointy looks have gone swoopy in places, the bodywork panels are shrinking as fast as Jordan's bikinis and the R1 has come over all trendy with underseat pipes, radial brakes and one of the sweetest production swingarms ever seen. It's also got an industrial shitload of power.
All that was needed to top that lot off was a suitable crew. Daryll and myself made up half the team, Niall Mackenzie and James Whitham - taking the deluxe option and flying in to join us - made up the other half. As Friday dawned over Valencia and we all convened over breakfast feeling suitably out of place in our five star hotel (surely some mistake), you could feel the excitement brewing. Winter's chilly grasp back home was already taking its toll, and the relief at having escaped it for some proper riding, temporarily at least, was palpable. Cafés con leche were poured down the hatch and it was off to Cartegena circuit.
Surrounded by the kind of dusty nothingness you'd expect from a spaghetti western, the circuit has a long start finish straight that suckers you into an awkward bugger of a blind, crested, tightening right which demands the best from a bike's front end. From here, it's through a fast chicane that sorts the sweet steerers out and into a frighteningly fast entry right hander with next-to-no braking markers. A pair of uphill turns later, both of which flatten out on the exit, need a cautious throttle hand, especially with upwards of 138bhp on tap, and also weed out the sorted back ends from the soggy. Throw in a few more flowing lefts and rights and this is a beautifully testing track, which is why Niall and Whit both know it inside out from years of pre-season testing.
First session out and I'm on the new bike. Harsh and ungainly at slow speeds it may be, but give it space to tug at the leash and the '04 R1 is a peach that will flatter any rider at any track. Although it feels milder and less inspiring low down than perhaps any previous R1, the performance figures speak volumes and prove this is the most powerful R1 we've ever been treated to; 10bhp more than the '02 bike, a faster standing quarter and another seven mph top speed.
Continue the Chosen Ones: Yamaha YZF-R1 - 2/2
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