THE FASTEST KTM WE EVER TESTED & ONLY $105,000

Josh Mosiman (96) and Daryl Ecklund line up for a grudge match at Sonoma Raceway.

THE FASTEST KTM WE EVER TESTED & ONLY $105,000 – KTM X-BOW RACE CAR

By Daryl Ecklund

Does the old saying, “With age comes a cage” hold true? I have contemplated this wisdom ever since my knees started to give me trouble. With each knee surgery (I’m currently at nine) I have thought more about diversifying my adrenaline input. Just like it’s good practice to spread your financial investments around so your exposure to any one asset class is limited, I felt that doing the same to my adrenaline account would be a sensible decision.

What about switching sports completely? I couldn’t do that. After riding speedway, shifter karts, snow bikes, dirt trackers, downhill mountain bikes, ice racers, road bikes, supermoto and sport bikes, I know I could never find the same rush I get on a motocross track. But, I also know that if my fragile knees don’t last the test of time, getting into car racing will be my go-to sport—that is until my back lets go.

Ever since the KTM X-Bow (pronounced Crossbow) came out in 2008, MXA wanted to get our hands on one. Why? For four reasons: (1) We wanted to explore the link between KTM’s car and motorcycle division. (2) It would make a really good story for a motorcycle magazine. We could title it, “The Fastest KTM We Ever Tested” or something equally mundane. (3) How hard could it be to get a test drive in a KTM X-Bow? After all, MXA has a good relationship with KTM America, and we have been to KTM’s headquarters in Mattighofen, Austria, many times, dating as far back as 1982. We figured they’d just hand one over. (4) Since the X-Bow was such a small but expensive project, we assumed that KTM would want more consumers, especially consumers who already owned a KTM product, to see what the X-Bow was all about.

WE WERE ALWAYS SURPRISED WHEN WE WOULD ASK THE KTM MOTORCYCLE GUYS ABOUT THE X-BOW, AND THEY WOULD SAY THEY DIDN’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

The X-Bow is assembled in Graz,, Austria, to city with a population of 400,000 people, located 170 miles southwest of Mattighofen, which only has 6000 residents. We were always surprised when we would ask the KTM motorcycle guys about the X-Bow, and they would say they didn’t know anything about it. It turns out that they didn’t. The KTM motorcycle division and the KTM X-Bow division are completely separate of each other. No information or people are shared between the two KTM branches. The only traits they have in common are the KTM name and owner Stefan Pierer. Why? For starters, it is a car that has four wheels, not a motorcycle that has two. Everything is different. The physics, structure, aerodynamics, weight, powerplant, suspension, contact patch; the list goes on. Also, unlike Pierer’s motorcycle branch that relies on parts built in-house or from companies that are under the Stefan Pierer umbrella like WP, which builds Husky and KTM motorcycle frames and suspension, the KTM X-Bow is based on many outside companies working together.

Once we found out about the KTM X-bow (pronounced Crossbow) we knew we had to get our hands on one. We found a bunch of them at the perfect place and we were off to put MXA’s orange helmet inside a race car.

In building the X-Bow, KTM was like a conductor of a symphony. KTM brought together some of the most highly respected companies in the car racing industry to work together in unison to create the unique car. The Kiska design team was in charge of giving the X-Bow its KTM DNA, as the team has had their hands in designing many KTM models in the past. KTM Technologies and Dallara came together to develop the X-Bow as the world’s first production car with a full-carbon composite monocoque chassis. Dallara has had a near monopoly in the Formula 3 series for the last 25 years. The X-Bow’s carbon chassis was then outsourced to Wethje Carbon Composites in Austria. And last on the list is Audi, who brought to the table their 1984cc, turbocharged, inline, four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine. This is the same engine that is used on many of Audi’s production cars all the way up to the Audi S3—and the Volkswagen Golf. However, the Audi engine arrives in parts at the Graz production plant as many alterations are made to the engine to get it to produce 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque for the X-Bow R model. KTM offers other X-Bow models that pump out significantly more power. That is a powerful punch of power for a 1700-pound car. That may sound like a lot of weight in comparison to motorcycles, but to put it into perspective, the petite Mazda Miata MX-5 weighs 700 pounds more than the X-Bow and produces about half the pony power.

WE WANTED TO TEST AN X-BOW, AND WE COULD SEE THAT GOING THROUGH OUR KTM MOTORCYCLE CONTACTS WASN’T GOING TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN. BUT, WE HAD AN ACE UP OUR SLEEVES.

We love the technical aspects, but every conversation that we had with KTM about the X-Bow since 2008 always ended in a dead-end street. We wanted to test an X-Bow, and we could see that going through our KTM motorcycle contacts wasn’t going to make that happen. But, we had an ace up our sleeves. We turned inward to MXA endurance test rider Ernie Becker. Once a Pro Circuit Husqvarna rider, he became a successful sports car racer and now travels the world as a driving instructor for companies like Mercedes AMG and Lexus. He teaches Mercedes and Lexus owners how to drive their high-performance cars to their full potential. Ernie knows everyone in the American race car business through his racing, instructor gigs and is the rep for Metalor, an exclusive supplier of axles and hubs to Formula 1 and Indycar teams—and a competitor for Stefan Pierer’s Pankl company. One day at Glen Helen we told Ernie of our desire to drive a KTM X-Bow. He said that there was a fleet of KTM X-Bows that were used for a performance driving school, as well as a race series (organized by Simraceway), at the famous Sonoma Raceway (35 miles north of San Francisco). Ernie said that he knew the Simraceway people and he would try to make it happen. The rest is history.v

Where you feet went to work, but only if your mind was engaged.

Simraceway is a breeding ground for race car drivers. They offer many performance driving programs, including high-performance go-karts, racing schools, safe-driver training, LMP3 test days, as well as track days to take your own car around the 2.52-mile racetrack. Professional driver Matt Bell is the guy that runs the KTM X-Bow program, and he would be my instructor for a crash course on driving a race car. Ernie Becker took the time out of his busy schedule to come with Josh Mosiman and me to help guide us through our car indoctrination. The KTM X-Bow program at Sonoma Raceway has only been there for about a year. Before the X-Bows were used, Simraceway used Formula 3 cars. I asked Matt, “Why switch from an F3 race car to the KTM X-Bow?” Matt said, “The X-Bow is a much better starting point for learning how to drive a race car.”

Simraceway is a breeding ground for race car drivers. They offer many performance driving programs, including high-performance go-karts, racing schools, safe-driver training, LMP3 test days, as well as track days to take your own car around the 2.52-mile racetrack. Professional driver Matt Bell is the guy that runs the KTM X-Bow program, and he would be my instructor for a crash course on driving a race car. Ernie Becker took the time out of his busy schedule to come with Josh Mosiman and me to help guide us through our car indoctrination. The KTM X-Bow program at Sonoma Raceway has only been there for about a year. Before the X-Bows were used, Simraceway used Formula 3 cars. I asked Matt, “Why switch from an F3 race car to the KTM X-Bow?” Matt said, “The X-Bow is a much better starting point for learning how to drive a race car.”

It looks a little complicated, but it really wasn’t any worse than the number of buttons and settings on the handlebars of a  2020 Honda CRF450.

To make the driving experience even easier, an Audi DSG (direct shift gearbox), dual-clutch, 6-speed transmission is used in the KTM instead of a straight-forward manual transmission. Matt pointed out that most Americans don’t know how to drive a stick. America is not alone, KTM is having trouble with manual transmissions in China as well. The X-Bow does have paddle shifters, so you aren’t exactly driving a slush-box Hydramatic Oldsmobile around the track.

This is the race car version of a motocross racer walking the track. Professional race car driver Matt Bell tries to translate roost, bermshot and scrub into pavement knowledge for MXA.

The Simraceway KTM X-Bow Experience is run in three different stages. Since I was a newbie to driving race cars I was placed in Stage 1, which cost $1995 for a full day of learning and driving. They also offer half-day experiences, as well as combo packages. I will admit at being annoyed at having to learn about the car and driving concepts before being able to floor it. I like jumping into the water head first and learning as I go. However, I have never jumped into a $105,000+ toy. So, I bit the bullet and focused on what Matt was teaching me. Being able to absorb his knowledge about the car, and everything from how to sit in the carbon fiber monocoque tub to how to anticipate what was going to happen before it happened elevated my driving at a rapid pace. There are no adjustable seats in the X-Bow carbon one-piece tub. The steering wheel as well as the brake and gas pedal are adjustable. Did I mention that the X-Bow doesn’t have power steering, traction control or ABS brakes? What you feel in the car is 100-percent raw from the input you are giving it.

The Simraceway KTM X-Bow Experience has a bevy of X-Bows ready to go out for for a real world experience on what can go wrong.

The wheels were really turning after our crash classroom course on driving a race car. I learned that many aspects of racing motocross actually cross over to racing cars, but I wasn’t going to get ahead of myself. First, I had to actually get some real driving experience before I started acting like Lewis Hamilton.

Matt started us out on learning the most important part of a racetrack—the corners. He set up one long, smooth, 180-degree corner on Sonoma’s skid pad. A skid pad is an area of flat pavement with nothing around it to hit. Matt didn’t exactly encourage me to spin out and make mistakes, but when I pushed it, at least I was in a safe place to learn what’s so bad about cross controlling in a turn.

A slight difference in price, horsepower and weight, but the idea is the same.

One of the key aspects of turning a race car is called trail braking. Braking hard initially before the corner creates the grip you need on the front tires to get you through the corner without over- or under-steering. When the cornering starts, the brakes slowly need to be released up to the apex of the corner. Trail braking creates the traction needed to turn at faster speeds. If you let off the brake too quick, or get on the throttle too early, the front tires could push or the rear end could swing around. What fascinated me was how late the apex was in the corners for race cars. I wanted to turn in too early and make the apex in the middle of the corner like I did on a dirt bike. But, those physics don’t work on the racetrack. Luckily, I was in radio contact with Matt, and he could tell me what I did wrong and how to improve it with each take. The car was all over the place, and I would often spin out fighting it. By getting the hard braking done early and trail braking through the corner, I eventually developed a smooth transition from brake to throttle. The straighter the car got, the more throttle you could give it. It was a constant balancing act between steering input, throttle and brakes. This single-corner exercise set me up for success throughout the entire day.

WP provides the suspension on the X-Bow. We asked for XACT Pro Cone Valve stuff, but the Simraceway KTM X-Bow guys looked at us like we were babbllng.

After the cornering exercise on the skid pad, we went back to the classroom to go over what we learned from our mistakes and successes. Now that we knew how wrong it could get, Matt went over some techniques on how to recover from a spin. I got excited that Matt was telling us to purposely get the car to break traction and try to recover. That meant being extra hard on the brakes, then releasing them quickly while turning the wheel. He had us do this while driving on the skid pad. This was exhilarating! You had to counter-steer instantly to keep the rear end from coming around. It was no easy task, although it was very similar to drifting the rear end on a dirt bike.

I ADMIT THAT I BRAKED TOO HARD, TURNED IN TOO SHARPLY AND ACCELERATED TOO QUICKLY ON OCCASION. GETTING IT SIDEWAYS WAS AN ADRENALINE JUNKIE’S DREAM COME TRUE! THERE AREN’T MANY
PLACES YOU CAN DRIVE A $100,000 SPORTS CAR PAST ITS PHYSICAL LIMITS.

The X-Bow Experience was a great place to learn, make mistakes and push the envelope of the car. I admit that I braked too hard, turned in too sharply and accelerated too quickly on occasion. Getting it sideways was an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true! There aren’t many places you can drive a $105,000 sports car past its physical limits. To get there riding on a motocross track I’d have to push to the edge of disaster. In a race car with nothing around to hit I felt free.

Now came the serious stuff. It was time to hit the track. Big walls, K-rails, elevation changes and off camber turns lined the Sonoma race track. Sonoma is known to be one of the more intimidating tracks on the racing circuit. This meant no more mistakes. No more living on the edge. Matt gave me the rules of the track and went through each turn step by step.

I got a total of four 30-minute sessions on the Sonoma track. However, each session I had to follow Matt in his performance Audi car. When he says “follow,” he means it. The race line he uses is the gospel. You don’t divert from it on any circumstances. It is the fastest and safest line on the track. In the first session I was in a group of three X-Bows following Matt. We started off slowly, with him telling us over the radio when to shift, where the apex of the corner was, when to brake and when to accelerate. It was a lot to remember, but he just kept on drilling us. By the second session Matt picked up the pace, and I heard less of him over the radio. By the end of the session I remember glancing over to the speedometer and it read, “100 mph.” It didn’t even feel like it. Matt had slowly gotten us used to the faster speeds. He really instilled in us to look ahead. Just like racing motocross, I thought it would be cake for me, but that was not the case. At 100 mph on a racecourse the ground passes by faster than your mind can process it. I had to constantly remind myself to look further and further ahead

I KNEW I’D NEED TWO THINGS TO ACHIEVE THIS—A LOT MORE MONEY AND PERMISSION FROM MY WIFE. SO, I CALLED JODY TO ASK FOR A RAISE AND MY WIFE TO ASK HER IF I COULD BECOME A RACE CAR DRIVER. I GOT THE SAME ONE-WORD ANSWER FROM BOTH OF THEM.

By the third session Matt had me dialed. He was going as fast as his Audi could go, and our group was on his tail. The more I pushed Matt, the more I wanted him to get out of the way and let me tackle the track alone. I wanted freedom, but I knew deep down it was dangerous for me. Matt had gotten the group of us where he wanted us to be. We were proficient race car drivers but total newbies. To gain the freedom we wanted, we would have to gain a lot more experience.

I’m glad that MXA never gave up pushing to get our hands on a KTM X-Bow. It was the experience of a lifetime to say the least. Finding ways to feed the adrenaline account doesn’t come easy to someone who has spent their life on the seat of a motorcycle racing Supercross, Nationals, one-off works bikes and getting to do all sorts of cool things on two wheels.

On the way home I tried to think of ways to get my hands on my own race car. I knew I’d need two things to achieve this—a lot more money and permission from my wife. So, I called Jody to ask for a raise and my wife to ask her if I could become a race car driver. I got the same one-word answer from both of them.

Thanks again to Simraceway for the experience. Visit www.simracewaydrivingschool.com to find the right fit for you.

 

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