2022 Royal Enfield Continental GT Cup media race experience
A range of feelings are coursing through my body as we near the Kari Motor Speedway. Goosebumps, excitement, even a little stress. I've just taken an early morning flight down from Pune so I'm a little sleep deprived as well. However, as I get the first glance of the circuit, I feel a sense of relief. Within a matter of time, all the negative emotions have gone away because I've just seen two racers battling it out at the penultimate corner of the track, on a bike which I've been eagerly looking forward to ride. The Royal Enfield Continental GT-R 650. It's the final race weekend of the 2022 Royal Enfield Continental GT Cup and this year, the brand has decided to run a media race to give us a taste of their motorcycles and competition. Guess who was invited!
It's a hot day at Kari and the sun beats down on our heads. But is that bothering me? Not at all. I am psyched by the sound of twenty odd parallel-twins that are echoing a sweet symphony somewhere out on track. It's a symphony the likes of which even Beethoven and Mozart would hear at full volume. This motorcycle is an homage to the past. An homage to the good old days of motorcycle racing. The formula is simple. It has a big twin-cylinder, a retro fairing for increased aero and has lost some weight to achieve the race bike nametag. Just like how it used to be back in the ’70s and ’80s. It's the brainchild of an Indian motorcycling legend. Aspi Bhathena – the only Indian who has participated at and completed the grueling Isle of Man TT. Last year was a roaring success and this year, the Cup returned, running alongside the JK NRC.
The racers are out putting on a good show and just in some time, I will be out there man-handling the GT-R 650. The fact that I am used to riding bikes that weigh half as much as the Conti troubled me the most. The GT-R 650 weighs around 25kg less than its road going counterpart and that is courtesy of a lighter stainless steel exhaust system (designed by Aspi himself), aluminium foot pegs and clip-on handlebars made by British motorcycle overhauler Harris Performance. It still, however, tops the scales at a good 190kg.
I'm all set, baking myself in the leathers waiting for the light to go green and exit the pits, sitting on bike number 33. As one would expect from a race-prepped motorcycle, its clip-ons are low and the footpegs are extremely rear-seat. But it had enough room for me to move around and the superbly padded seat kept my bottom comfy as well. I could also easily tuck in without torturing my back.
The pit lights turned green, and off we went for the first stint. A 15 minute practice session. After the initial slow corners at Kari, I gave it the beans on the back straight and got hold of its linear surge of torque. The GT-R 650 makes use of the stock 648cc parallel-twin engine, with no internal changes. But the custom exhaust coupled with a K&N filter and an ECU remap has given it slightly more power. About 50bhp. And you can feel all 50 of those horses no matter where you are in the revv range. It gets shorter gearing, redlines at 7000rpm and whacks you behind everytime you open the throttle. Its clutch action is light and the slipper clutch is a blessing. Especially when I was hammering down the gears to slow down as fast as possible.
This year's bike, though, received a few tweaks including redesigned exhaust pipes for better cornering clearance and better brakes thanks to competition-spec pads at the front. The biggest gripe of last year's bike were the brakes and with this upgrade, that problem has been rectified. The new braking setup is superb to say the least. The GT-R 650 stops just as quickly as it accelerates and the breaks show zero signs of fade even after hard use. This setup should make its way to the road bike. The next big change for 2022 are the tyres. The bike now runs on specially developed JK Tyre semi-slicks.
The GT-R 650 is stiffly sprung and I noticed that at the start of the back straight at Kari when I encountered the bumpiest section of the track. And me being light didn't help because I was getting tossed all over the place. But this setup helps when you're cornering. The bike holds a line and even while trail-braking doesn't wander all over the place. Especially when I was trying to brake that little bit later to overtake the other guy. Just 10 mins into the practice session and I knew that this was going to be a lot of work. The motorcycle weighed thrice as much as myself and me being out of shape certainly wasn't helping. The race then, would be a tough one. In the 10 minute qualifying session, I was just sticking to the basics. Remembering the lines and the braking points. I qualified in P10 out of the total 13 of us journos and was happy that I wasn't last because everyone else had a lot of track experience and had already ridden this bike once before.
I had also gained a newfound respect for the professional riders as they're always on the limit with this bike, which isn't easy. The last race saw Soorya PM and Sudheer Sudhakar bagging P1 in the amateur and professional categories respectively.
In the main race, I got a really good start after popping the front tyre up in the air and promoting myself to P6. This was the second start of the day as earlier, on the very first lap, two riders met up with a crash. Four laps in and the tiredness kicked in, I dropped two places down and stayed there till the end. I surely wasn't happy with my result, but I had a blast on the GT-R 650. Moreover, I had shaved off nine seconds from my qualifying time in my fastest lap.
The GT-R 650 is a motorcycle that is a visit to the past. It demands your attention and rewards you with an unmatched experience. It has proved its mettle on the racetrack, with zero mechanical failures, which is a testament of its rock-solid engineering. With its unique characteristics, it stands out like a beacon in the world of Indian motorsport and that is exactly what its creator, Aspi Bhathena wanted it to be.