How hard can it be to ride a KTM RC Cup bike to glory?

Travel to a sunny track in Italy to take part in a challenge against other journalists on a bike used to get kids in to racing? Sounds easy…

THREADING my way through the back section of the Autodromo di Modena, I know I’m lacking the composure I need to swiftly negotiate this set of bends. I’m not flustered, but as I sweat and shallow breathe my way towards the next lap, I’m definitely not at ease and it’s taking me longer than usual to settle in to things, to find a rhythm.

It’s not like I’m wrestling a Kawasaki H2 or Hayabusa round this technical little track; I’m on a KTM RC 390 Cup bike – the race-prepped version of the RC 390. It’s small, light and nimble, and eagerly responds to my jagged inputs. It’s not the bike, it’s me.

But I know why. First of all, there are a lot of bigger boys here and once on circuit I’m left floundering in the wake of more talented riders. It’s not exactly intimidating, but it does ram home the fact that I need to concentrate and just do my own thing, which is exactly what I’m doing when, after five laps of my first session, I’m suddenly on my arse in the middle of turn one.

I run a bit deep in to the corner and while cranked over at what is definitely a Marquez amount of lean, something – my guess is the exhaust, bellypan or my massive balls – digs in enough to lift the rear wheel and I lowside in the middle of the corner. It’s my first ever crash on circuit and I’m disappointed, not at falling off, but at doing it in such pathetic style – there wasn’t even any fire. Still, the scuffs to my kit, plus a bruised arm and ego are a good reminder that this trying-to-go-fast-on-a-little-bike-on-track thing, isn’t going to be as easy as I naïvely thought it might be.

But that’s obviously the point because KTM has invited me out here to celebrate and launch another season of its RC Cup series. My expectations for the day stretch to riding the race bikes and getting my arse handed to me by a 13-year-old. However, rather than just let me and the other participants wobble round on track all day, to get a taste of what the RC Cup is all about, KTM organises a series of challenges (which for the purposes of insurance are certainly not races, even though we each have a transponder). The RC Cup and the day’s activities are very much in keeping with KTM’s ‘ready to race’ philosophy, so I shouldn’t be too surprised to be thrown in to the deep end, but part of me still wonders whether this is going to end well for me.

The RC Cup exists and runs in various forms in the UK, Germany, US, Mexico, Benelux, France, Finland and Italy. It exists as a KTM-supported series that’ll allow budding young racers (from 13 to 18-years-old) to get out on track and learn their craft without being too prohibitive in terms of cost. KTM see it as a series that links directly to Moto3 via Red Bull Rookies – which is being proven by US rider Sean Kelly’s move to the Red Bull Rookies this year, after winning the Mexican RC Cup last year.

The RC Cup bikes can be ordered from a KTM dealer and start off as road-going RC 390s. All the road parts are removed (but kept for the owner), along with the ABS module and the original seat is replaced with a lighter fibreglass unit. Thanks to these changes, a Cup bike weighs a claimed 6kg less than the road-going version, although they’re restricted to make a bit less power than the road bike (38 instead of 43hp) so they can be ridden from the age of 13. Crucially, Cup bikes also get fully adjustable WP suspension at both ends, along with adjustable rearsets and a few choice bits from KTM’s PowerParts catalogue including engine protection, adjustable levers and a bigger screen.

Before I get on track in the morning, all the bikes are sat on paddock stands and lined up in the pit lane of the Modena circuit. There’s no doubting they look the part but even though I’m apprehensive and it’s my first time riding anything resembling a race bike and first time doing anything competitive on a bike, I’m still tired and stupid enough to wonder how hard it can be to pilot one to glory.

And then, thanks to my misplaced confidence, putting my gloves on in a different order to normal, and (insert excuse here), within five laps I’m brought back down to earth. I always knew I should have begged my parents to fund me in a series like the RC Cup when I was a yoof, then I might now have the race craft, speed, talent and bottle to hang with the fast guys. Instead, all that stuff is missing from my repertoire and after having a little sitting down on the track, I spend the rest of the morning’s two practice sessions being cautious and trying to remember that I’m on race-pattern shift.

The morning’s second practise session also acts as a qualifier for the 10 lap sprint race that comes after lunch. I qualify eighth (out of 10), but get an OK start and within three laps am going the quickest I have been all day, so make up a few places and somehow manage to finish in fifth. I’ll take that.

Next on the menu is a 16-lap team challenge (definitely not a race, remember?) with a Le Mans start and rider/transponder swap halfway through. Teammates are allocated by picking names out of a helmet. Everyone else gets another journalist. I get paired with 2002 125cc world champion Arnaud Vincent and feel sorry that his chance at another taste of victory has now been obliterated. I ask him what advice he can give me to go faster and in broken English he tells me that I need to break a rib, or really hurt myself to appreciate the pain from crashing in a race, so I’ll ride better and avoid crashing badly again. It’s not the confidence inspiring ‘have fun and enjoy yourself’ answer I was hoping for.

Vincent rides first and we get a good start (thanks to my bike holding skills). He pulls in after eight laps, when I frantically swap transponders before leaving pit lane to begin unravelling his hard work and our three second lead. Sure enough, I’m reeled in over the course of about three laps, but until that happens, I’m a young prodigy in my first KTM RC Cup race, leaving the other contenders in my wake as I ride to certain victory and a Moto3 contract.

But getting passed is inevitable sure enough, Djim Ulrich – 2015 KTM RC Cup World Final winner – soon carves under me through turn five and as I watch him effortlessly pull away from me, I know I’ve got little hope of hanging with him unless I’m interested in finding out what the inside of Modena A&E looks like.

But after the day I’ve had, that’s not too much of a surprise; I’ve just had my first taste of racing, first crash on track and the life-changing realisation that I’m not Valentino Rossi. If I’d been riding in a series like this when I was a teenager, things could have been very different - and for the most talented riders, they will be as the RC Cup nurtures and develops the talent and skill that I wish I had now. My only hope is to invent a time machine, take the RC Cup and bikes back to when I was 13, and start racing for those world titles. How hard can that be?

Click here to find out more about the KTM RC Cup.

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