Honda’s Mika Ahola has won the World Enduro Championship three times but enjoyed a taste of something different this week when he tested Jonathan Rea’s Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade at Portimao in Portugal.
The 34-year-old from Finland has been riding enduro competitions since 1991 and has also won the International Six Days Enduro three times. He secured his third consecutive world title on Honda’s CRF250 in September and is already signed up for the HM Zanardo Honda team for the 2010 championship.
With 18 years of enduro experience behind him, Ahola is familiar enough with off-road motorcycles but his road-riding experience goes back ten years and, before last Monday, 26th October, he hadn’t ridden on tarmac since then.
He had also never ridden a road racing motorcycle, had never ridden on a circuit, never ridden on slicks, and Portimao is not the easiest track in the world to learn…
However, being a triple word champion obviously gives you a feel for a motorcycle that other ordinary mortals never experience, and Ahola’s performance at Portimao surprised a few people, himself included.
His experience coincided with some of the world’s fastest motorcycle journalists descending on Portimao to test the World Superbike machines from seven worldwide motorcycle manufacturers.
But at least the journalists got a few laps on scooters to see which way the 4.59km track goes. Ahola arrived after the test had started in earnest. He therefore learned the circuit on a 150bhp CBR600RR, which Parkalgar Honda rider, Eugene Laverty, had taken to victory in the World Supersport race the previous day.
However, like a duck returning to water, the Flying Finn simply rode back into the pits with a massive grin on his face, before strolling down to the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda garage for some tips from Jonathan Rea on how to handle his slick-shod, 220bhp+ CBR1000RR.
“What a fantastic experience! I’ve never had such levels of grip,” said Ahola. “except when I’ve been riding on a really compacted enduro track just after some rain. It’s completely amazing!
“The only problem I had was the gearshift pattern, which was the other way round from what I’m used to. And the power, of course, which wasn’t a problem really, just incredible!
“It’s completely impossible to make any kind of comparison with riding my CRF in competition,” he added. “The only thing similar is when the rear starts to slide, I shut off the throttle because I know how painful a high-side crash can be. At one corner, the rear of Jonathan’s bike started to slide, so I shut off pretty fast!”
Rea – himself an ex-junior motocross champion – was impressed. “Mika has just slotted into a rhythm really easily,” he said. “I know how different your riding style has to be, because I still do quite a lot of motocross training. He’s done a great job today, learning the track as well as riding a completely different machine.”
Ahola’s best lap time was around 20 seconds slower than Rea’s Superpole time at Portimao and, when the data from each lap was overlaid, it was easy to see where time could be made up – a 30kph speed differential at the end of Portimao’s start-finish straight, for a start.
Ahola concluded: “I’ve got a lot of friends back in Finland who are always trying to persuade me to come on track days. I’ve always used the excuse that I have no bike or leathers. I’m thinking now that I might try to change that.”
His HM Zanardo Honda World Enduro team manager, Franko Mayr, was not so convinced.