Interviews 27 Sep 2018

Industry Insight: Penrite Honda Racing’s Shaun Clarke

Team manager discusses the development of Herfoss' championship-winning bike.

It’s been an incredible maiden year in the Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) for the ER Motorsport-operated Penrite Honda Racing outfit, with Troy Herfoss clinching the crown at Winton’s penultimate round earlier in the month. In this edition of Industry Insight, team manager Shaun Clarke discusses the significant development process that the squad went through to make the Honda CBR1000RR SP Fireblade a title-winning machine.

Image: Russell Colvin.

An ASBK crown in the team’s first year, talk me through the process of went into building a small yet championship-winning operation.

I’ve said it a couple of times along the way – even though it’s a new team, the people within the team as a collective have a lot of experience. Not just myself, but also Glenn [Granger] who’s been around for a long time, and there’s Ian [Collier] who has experience in WorldSBK and BSB, plus Deone [Coote] who has a successful business outside of racing and is an ex-racer himself, so he understands what it’s like to be a rider. Then you have Scotty [Charlton] who’s our driver – he’s also quite handy around the team. Everyone has a lot of experience around racing, it’s just finding the right personalities to work with each other. Everyone just works together quite well, and everyone has a similar mindset, which is very positive. We’re there to win – winning is the first option every time – it’s not about just being there, we’re there to win, and if weren’t there to win, we wouldn’t be there at all.

In terms of the bike, what was the package that you initially started with at Phillip Island’s opening round?

It was quite a basic bike. The biggest problem we had in forming the team is that I started at ER Motorsports at the beginning of November last year, and we basically had nothing there to run a motorbike team. We were already starting to build the workshop, but it wasn’t complete when I got there. We sort of built bikes that would be competitive, but nothing outstanding – they were reliable and were always going to do the same thing when you we them on the race track, which was important in the initial stages of development. We kept it very basic and just tried to get a key areas right first before doing everything at once.

Image: Russell Colvin.

What significant advancements has the team been able to make with the CBR1000RR SP Fireblade since?

I would say there are two areas we’ve had significant developments in. The first thing would be changing over the K-Tech Suspension – right away when put the shock in, the bike took a massive leap forwards. It allowed us to do things with the chassis that we’ve never been able to do – we had always found a dead-end in that direction with the other product we were using, but now with the K-Tech product, it’s so much more versatile and a lot more tuneable. It’s allowing us to do other things with the geometry and all sorts of other things in the fact that we couldn’t do them before. That was a massive advantage. At the beginning of the year, we left our devices in terms of electronics – all we had was a very basic HRC ECU kit. Pretty much up until after Darwin, our ECU development was very much in our own hands. We have quite a good relationship with Woolich Racing, and they gave us access to parameters to use with the ECU that HRC wouldn’t. That us allowed us to do a lot of things and made the bike a lot more faster. The main thing was that it allowed Troy to race a lot better with a faster bike – instead of wasting half a lap trying to catch everyone from the time he lost down the straight, he could actually pass down the straight and try and make a gap in the next section. That was a massive advantage in creating more torque and power from the engine. Then we had the ability to play with traction control, wheelie control and all sorts of things. HRC came to the party following the Suzuka 8 Hours with a new ECU, which was pretty good and had a whole new traction control strategy in there. We haven’t really tapped into the back of it yet, mainly because we haven’t really needed to. We’re definitely keen to develop it into 2019 – we definitely won’t be resting with what we’ve got.

You mentioned the developments being made through technical parts from team partners, has it also been a strong combination of that and the crew and Troy’s feedback?

When we first got this model last year, it was so different in many, many ways. We had to develop a lot of parts to make it competitive from its first outing, which we did. I think the pleasure of this year is we’ve had the opportunity to take a different process and really understand what our problems are the begin with and then try to fix them. We’ve had the ability to be a lot more patient in understanding what the motorbike is trying to tell us, rather than fixing 20 problems that aren’t really the problem, creating even more problems. Just having the patience and being a lot more settled in our direction of development has resulted in much more growth than if we were to rush it. Being left on our own in Australia, it gives us the opportunity to use our own thought processes, rather using others from around the world – we’re not getting clouded in our direction.

The bike Troy had at Phillip Island at the start of the year compared to the bike he’ll have at the Island next month, how different is it?

Very [laughs]. We actually spent a couple of days down there on Monday and Tuesday doing some work and getting things set-up for the final round – it’s very, very different. But in saying that, it’s very similar to the bike Troy raced at Darwin. It’s a testament to where our development has brought us. I think he’ll be very, very strong at Phillip Island – we just have such a good base now that we’re barely changing anything from circuit to circuit, even though the characteristics are different. It just goes to show that the product is doing what it needs to be doing.