Oct 26, 2001
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Copyright 2001, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>By David Swarts<BR><BR>The racing version of the Buell XB-9R Firebolt made its public debut at Road Atlanta on Thursday, October 25 during practice for the WERA Grand National Finals and Saturday's AMA Pro Thunder finale.<BR><BR>And a total of seven top-level Buell riders have descended on the AMA/WERA Pro Thunder finale in a coordinated attempt to wrestle the title away from series point leader Thomas Montano.<BR><BR>According to Buell Racing Manager Henry Duga, newly-crowned 2001 Formula USA Champion Shawn Higbee is at Road Atlanta to "kind of just shake the bugs out" of the race version of the new, 2002-model Buell Firebolt XB-9R. If all goes well in practice with the largely untested version of the bike, Higbee may race it in the final round of the AMA Pro Thunder series.<BR><BR>When asked what he was doing at Road Atlanta, Buell development rider Higbee smiled and said, "My day job.<BR><BR>"We've tested a stock chassis with a race motor before," said Higbee.<BR><BR>The Firebolt at the track features an engine that combines XB-9R engine cases with the same cylinders and top end used on Buell's current X-1-based Pro Thunder race bikes. The XB-9R racer uses the Firebolt's stock fuel-injection system, with a custom exhaust systems. The engine has made horsepower "in the 130s", according to Higbee.<BR><BR>The chassis is close to stock. Stock XB-9R fork legs have X-1 lowers grafted on so that the Firebolt can run the same Marchesini front wheel, billet-six-piston Nissin brake calipers and conventional dual brake rotors.<BR><BR>The forks are held by adjustable Attack Performance triple clamps that are currently set up at the stock geometry. Woodcraft clip-ons replace the nonadjustable stockers, and an Ohlins steering damper is positioned sideways, below the top triple clamp.<BR><BR>A Penske rear shock is fitted, and the bike also uses the stock rear brake rotor and caliper; a 16.5-inch Marchesini rear wheel us used.<BR><BR>Higbee said that he has been waiting for the day when he could race the XB-9R racebike for three years.<BR><BR>The Buell personnel at Road Atlanta are also working on winning the Pro Thunder Championship.<BR><BR>Since the inception of the AMA Pro Thunder in 1998, Buell has never won the title while Triumph has won once and Ducati twice. Now with Munroe Motors' Thomas Montano poised to give Ducati a third consecutive Pro Thunder title, Buell has put forth extra effort to snatch the crown away.<BR><BR>With a nine-point deficit, Buell's Mike Ciccotto has a mathematical chance of beating Montano for the Championship. And Buell has done everything it can to tip the odds in favor of Ciccotto.<BR><BR>Ciccotto is riding his Hal's Performance Advantage Buell factory bike, and Tripp Nobles and David Estok are on their Tilley Buell factory bikes. But in addition to those series regulars, Michael Barnes will ride Ciccotto's back-up bike, and Jeff Vermeulen and John Jacobi are riding on Innovative Research Buells.<BR><BR>With Higbee on the XB-9R Firebolt, that makes a total of seven Buells in the race.<BR><BR>When asked if there are Buell team orders in effect at Road Atlanta, Duga said, "No, but the riders may choose to help Ciccotto, and yes, we want the Championship."<BR><BR>When asked if Rich Cronrath's Innovative Motorcycle Research team was at Road Atlanta at Buell's request, Duga said, "No, Rich called me and asked if he could come."<BR><BR>Asked about Duga's statement, Cronrath later said, "Yeah, whatever. That's why my rider is on his bikes. Let's just say that I'm here to help the cause."<BR><BR>When told that Duga had said that there were no team orders, Estok said, "Yeah, right. I feel sorry for Montano." Nobles said, "Henry has to say that, but if I were in Ciccotto's position, I would expect him to help me." <BR><BR><BR>If Ciccotto wins the race and takes the bonus points for pole position and most laps led, Montano will have to finish second in the race to win the Championship.<BR><BR>If Ciccotto doesn't take the maximum of 38 points, Montano can finish third. As Ciccotto's potential finishing position drops, Montano's finishing-position requirements also drop.<BR><BR>Although they may be able to control which Buell crosses the line first, the Buell riders can't control which bike gets pole position, or can they? "We've got that figured out, too," laughed Barnes.<BR><BR>"If Montano wins the Championship, he's the man!" said Ciccotto.<BR><BR>Montano's response was, "Bring it on."