EXCLUSIVE: Anybody Can Be A Racer: Adrian Sellers Of Royal Enfield

Here’s our exclusive interaction with Adrian Sellers, Head of Royal Enfield Industrial Design Department and Custom Program

Last year, Royal Enfield announced its new one-make racing series called the Continental GT Cup. Headed by Adrian Sellers, this series featured in the 2021 JK National Racing Championship and made for an exciting entry into the world of retro racing. 

Now, as the Chennai-based manufacturer gears up to kick-off season two of the Continental GT Cup, we caught up with Adrian to get his views on how season one fared, expectations from the upcoming season, along with his tips to this year’s budding racers:

Zigwheels: Season one was obviously a great success and we’d like to know what were the biggest learnings that Royal Enfield took from the first season of the Continental GT Cup?

Adrian Sellers: On a very basic level, most of our learnings are organisational. That was the first time we were running a race series, and while we have done quite a few events, like different rides, the Ridermania event, we have never organised race events. In our partnership with JK Tyres, we had a partner who is very good at race events for quite a few years now, so we benefited from their expertise in that area. Working with them has been a very easy experience. They are very passionate about racing, and we are passionate about being (in) racing. So we had a very good partnership in that way, ensuring everything runs smoothly.

ZW: There would have been some expectations from the bikes that were prepped for season one, so how did the race bikes fare on track against what was planned or expected out of them?

AS: So pre-season to season one we did quite a bit of testing. We wanted to make sure that the bikes we gave to the riders would be the best as they could be for the track. In context with the Continental GT Cup being a spec series, it’s not about the horsepower, it’s not about making the ultimate racing weapon. It’s about providing a really good base for the riders to shine, and so the modifications that we made were all pretty simple, along the line of basic tweaks, like getting the suspension dialled in right, getting the tyres just right, getting the rider triangle position just about right to maximise the experience. We were happy to find that there wasn’t an overhaul of the stock GT650. There was just a level of finite adjustments to make it just that much bit better for the riders.

ZW: So did the bikes perform as per your expectations?

AS: Definitely yeah, yes they did. Working with Aspi and so on to get the bikes fine-tuned, working with our testing team, be it the power profile or the way the bikes handle around the track, all that was worked out. So by the time we put the bikes out on the grid in the hands of our contestants, they worked to a point where we were really confident with them, and particularly the tight racing at the front definitely showed that the bikes were pretty well dialled in.

ZW: Also then in terms of racing, the improvement we saw in season one from the first race to the final race was massive, at least in terms of lap times (set) by each rider. While the riders did show a great progression through the season, how were the bikes also improved simultaneously until the final race?

AS: Honestly, it was the same bike that they started with. And this is the benefit of having a stable platform for everybody. Going into the series, it’s really up to the riders and so the riders who are able to adapt their riding style to suit the bike and who are able to gel with it best are going to do the best as well. Riders that take this on, lap after lap after lap, are going to understand the motorcycle and how to work with it, those are the ones that are really going to triumph in the series. And it’s not because of the bike essentially, it’s because of their ability to take the motorcycle that we provided and make the absolute most of it.

ZW: Well, moving on to season two now. The entries for amateur racers are obviously great, but then what exactly constitutes an amateur racer? 

AS: The amateurs as you say is a very relative term and there is a wide range of possibilities there. Basically you have to have track experience, you can’t be a complete novice. You have to have a minimum level of race accreditation and track days and so on. You have to have the proper equipment, know how to race a motorcycle on track. It would be dangerous to put somebody who has no experience in racing conditions (out on the circuit), and so we very carefully vet everybody to make sure that they have enough to be reasonably competitive and for their own and everybody else’s safety be confident on a race track. 

And so we have registrations and then try outs that allow us to vet everybody thoroughly. Of course, this year we have a Pro-Am format. Last year was purely amateurs going in, however this year, to spice things up a little bit, we’ve added a pro component, where they all race in the same races in the same grid as the amateurs. 

Even if you’re not very experienced, we don’t want you to always be losing to a more experienced guy. We want to give them the opportunity to also lift the trophy and so we are trying this format out this year. Hopefully it’ll make for essentially two very tight races you know, one by the pros, and the other one with the less experienced at the back but still give them that excitement to go racing.

ZW: What would you hope for an amateur young racer to take away from season two of this championship?

AS: The first we want everybody to take away is that everybody can be a racer. If you have that desire to be on track and to ride fast and to dice it up with other riders, you can do it. That’s the great messaging of the GT Cup. Beyond that, for the participants, the ones just getting in and have not participated before, it’s to really get the most out of this experience to become a better rider. Be a part of the amateur series with a goal that in the next year or two (to) become a part of the pro series. Work your way up lap after lap after lap, just taking it in and getting better, learning the bike, learning yourself and then look to progress. That’s really what it is, giving people the opportunity to do that and hoping everybody makes the most of it.

ZW: What aspects were looked into while selecting the 75 amateur riders from the online submissions for the rider selection programme?

AS: So we gauged the riders through all their track experience, through their accreditations. That’s all that was looked into as part of the online entries. Once we’ve understood that, we’ve had to reach out to people to make sure we understand what their level was, and also reach out to people who might have forgotten to attach their certificates, to make sure we get the best group we can. From there, it’s really up to you on the track getting those lap times in. And the fastest group advance, racing’s pretty simple that way. You go around faster than the other guy, you win, you know, so when it comes down to it, that’s how we determine the final list.

ZW: Now, apart from the lowered clip-on bars, and the rear-set footpegs for this year, how else does the GTR650 differ from the bike used last year?

AS: Not much honestly. We felt the platform from last year was really solid. We got the special tyres provided by JKTyres, quite a bit stickier, designed for the GT Cup. We’ve got the full system exhaust swapped out and as pointed out, we’ve got the lowered clip-ons this year provided by Harris Performance. That’s really exciting for us along with the rear-sets which were also designed and provided by Harris Performance. These are pretty nice upgrades for the racers, as Harris has 50 years of experience in developing parts and chassis for top riders of the world. And now having their expertise for the GT Cup is quite a win for us. 

We are very excited and hope that the riders are able to make the most of these mods. Beyond that we have the fairing which gives something for the riders to tuck behind, that’s unchanged from last year. Something you will notice, and it’s not relevant to performance or anything is because of the Pro-Am format, there’s a differentiation in colour on the number boards. We’ll be having the riders wear special vests this year that’ll help the viewer differentiate between pro and am when the racing commences. Once you get in and all the bikes are red, it’s very hard to see who is who, so we want to find visual ways of helping people see who is racing for which trophy, and that’s something you’ll see when the bikes get onto track.

ZW: What steps are being taken to ensure that the grid is more closely stacked this year? Last year we could see that the top four or five riders dominating races, spaced way ahead compared to the rest of the field. While the Pro-Am format should make for better racing, are there any steps being taken to improve midfield battles?

AS: Honestly, it’s up to the racers at that point. We can provide the format, they’re going to have to do the racing. We’re hoping that the Pro-Am format mitigates some of that and (would) lead to some dicey racing all around the track, but you know, it’s racing. Sometimes a rider is having a bad day, they may be the best, but they’re just not feeling it that day, woke up wrong, something like that and they’re just not on their A-game. You see this at the top levels of the sport as well, whether it’s MotoGP, SBK, Formula One, racers have a bad day. You know, it’s all about that gel between man and machine. If both aspects are not a hundred per cent, racing’s not going to be there. So obviously we hope that everybody is in top condition every race, but you know that’s not necessarily always going to be the case. I hope they all do really well and the racing to be very tight. We have provided every opportunity for it to be that way and it’s up to them.

ZW: Moving on to the bike, what learnings from the GTR650 would help make the road-version better? 

AS: If we were going to take things away, it would be relative to handling, relative to suspension setup and so on. Fundamentally, it’s the same motor as the road-bike, obviously with the differentiator and the exhaust system. But fundamentally not so different, so any learnings that are taken away would be relative to how it handles in an environment. I understand that the race track is a very extreme environment, you know the bike is going to be ridden a lot harder than most people would ever do on the streets. Also fairings and so on, something that we do not have on our road-going bikes currently, so we would look at how those fairings work with the riders and what the feedback is from them. 

ZW: Will there be any race-developed accessories for the road to be offered on the GT650? 

AS: With Harris Performance, we’re specifically developing these parts for the race series, you know, the clip-ons, the rear sets and so on. We look to do more of that as the series progresses in the future. Whether that makes it to the road or not is a different question. Obviously in the same way that the race track is a very extreme environment in one way which is the hard riding, taking every bike to its limit. 

The road is also a very different and extreme environment, where we are looking at a different set of parameters, that’s based on long-term survivability. You know, if someone purchases one of our motorcycles and purchases parts for it, they need to know that they can ride their bike out 24-7, 365 days a year and the parts will be fine and everything. That it can do 30,000 miles or kilometres, and so it is a different range of testing that we have to apply everything to and that’s a long process. But who knows, these parts are developed and work in one extreme environment. The response has been good, so you never know what that leads to.

The Royal Enfield Continental GT Cup begins this weekend and we will be bringing you all the updates about the on-track action. So stay tuned to this space, as well as our social media channels for more.

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