Win on Sunday, sell on Monday has long been a motto for racing, but sportbike sales are not what they used to be in the peak years. American road racers have enjoyed great success on the world stage of motorcycle racing and in the U.S. under the old AMA rules. Today, MotoAmerica is doing its best to rebuild the series into the powerhouse that it once was and to help propel the next generation of riders onto the international scene (American or otherwise).
The LIQUI MOLY Junior Cup class replaces the spec-class KTM RC Cup that ran in the first three seasons of MotoAmerica, with the class now open to all manufacturers meeting homologation requirements. The class, which is the first rung on the ladder to the Superbike class for up-and-coming young riders (aged 14 to 25), will make its debut in the Suzuki Championship at Road Atlanta in mid-April.
The Junior Cup class is expected to attract a large field of riders at each of the nine rounds on a variety of motorcycles from Honda, Kawasaki, KTM and Yamaha. And if all goes accordingly, there should be more business for dealers because of it.
“We’re really excited about the new Junior Cup and LIQUI MOLY’s involvement in the class,” said MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey. “It’s going to be fun to watch the different brands doing battle and will be interesting to see who steps up on the racetrack. The class is important to us because our future champions, and hopefully future World Champions, are racing in it. It promises to be entertaining and it’s always fun to see the young riders progress as the season goes on.”
The KTM RC Cup ran successfully for the first three years, but MotoAmerica saw the chance to open the class up to more manufacturers.
“We wanted to open it up to more manufacturers for 2018 because the demand was there,” MotoAmerica’s Paul Carruthers told us.“ The manufacturers are starting to sell a lot of the smaller displacement bikes and they wanted a place to showcase those bikes.
Carruthers says the following bikes will be homologated for the class, which are currently available through powersport dealers: Honda CBR500R, Kawasaki Ninja 300/400, KTM RC390, Suzuki GSX250R and Yamaha YZF-R3.
Carruthers says the class will be a place for young riders to start their road racing careers and potentially use it as a springboard to the world stage like some of the greats of the past such as a Rainey or Roberts.
“We hope these riders move to our Supersport class, Stock 1000 and ultimately Superbike,” said Carruthers. “From there we’d like to see our next American in the World Championships, either World Superbike or MotoGP. We think opening the class up will bring in more riders and we’ve already seen that on early entries. It will also get more dealerships involved and some new sponsors because we opened it up to other brands.”
Bein Network’s Greg White, who is the lead broadcaster in the booth for every MotoAmerica race this season thinks that small displacement bikes have had a hard time competing against their larger siblings because of all the technology on the bigger bikes.
“The smaller displacement motorcycles for some reason, they’re just not quite as popular as they had been,” says White. “Larger displacement motorcycles seem to be a little more popular even though the whole market is down. I think part of that has to do with the technology available on the larger sportbikes. It’s an easier sell for dealerships to say, ‘Oh, this motorcycle has traction control, launch control, wheelie control, high-side control and so on.’”
White says there’s a lot to look forward to with the new Junior Cup series, as it makes it a low entry point for manufacturers to get involved or test the waters. He points out that Kawasaki may do that with the new Ninja 400, for example. He also pointed out the progress of the Yamaha R3s being developed by Graves Yamaha.
Graves Yamaha is betting on the series success with several entries for their newly developed R3. In fact, one of their riders is KTM RC Cup Championship runner-up Cory Ventura who is 16 years old. He will race a Yamaha R3 prepared by Graves for Team MP13, which is owned and managed by MotoAmerica racer Melissa Paris.
“We started our development on the Graves Yamaha R3 at the Buttonwillow test. I am very happy with how things went working with Melissa, and I think we will make a great team this year,” Ventura said in February.
“With his talent and our Graves prepped Yamaha R3, I’m really excited to see how we can do in the inaugural season of the Junior Cup,” added Paris.
While KTM is out as the spec class sponsor, the company will be involved in Junior Cup with two riders using the new SSP300 Race Kit, which was developed through competing in the CIV Italian Road Race Championship and the final round of the World FIM Supersport 300 class. It is set to make its North American racing debut at Road Atlanta later this month.
The kit offers over 230 parts and everything needed for FIM competition (Junior Cup), including the following: full titanium Akrapovic SSP300 EVO02 system with race ECU, STM slipper clutch, quickshifter, wiring harness, spare wheels, a wide selection of gearing options, increased cooling system and a full bodywork kit made from lightweight and strong materials, among many other detailed parts.
The kit retails for $10,999.99 (available through KTM dealers), but it is not compatible with KTM RC 390 CUP motorcycles or any RC specification before 2017.
As the field looks at press time, there are entries for (14) Yamaha YZF-R3s, (3) Kawasaki Ninja 400s, (2) KTM RC-390 and (1) Kawasaki Ninja 300.
White says that MotoAmerica is going to keep an eye on the competition throughout the year and make adjustments as necessary to keep the racing even. If one manufacturer pulls away too quickly, for example, they can be dialed back after a few races. He also says that because the series puts a cap on what the bikes cost, and the sets of tires and electronics that are used, it should come down to pure rider talent.
With Junior Cup Riders starting as young as 14 and topping out at 25, that is right in the range the market is targeting for these motorcycles. Dealers can use Junior Cup racing as a way to win on Sunday and sell on Monday. Really it’s a win-win.