Josh Mosiman (96) and Daryl Ecklund line up for a grudge match at Sonoma Raceway.
BY DARYL ECKLUND
Does the old saying "with age comes a cage" apply? I have been thinking about this wisdom since my knees started giving me problems. With each knee surgery (I’m currently nine), I’ve thought more about diversifying my adrenaline levels. Just as it’s good practice to allocate your financial investments so that your exposure to a particular asset class is limited, I thought it was a prudent decision to do the same with my adrenaline account.
What about a complete change of sport? I could not do that. Having ridden 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 stand the test of time, getting into auto racing will be my favorite sport – until my back lets go.
Since the release of the KTM X-Bow (pronounced crossbow) in 2008, MXA wanted to get their hands on one. Why? For four reasons: (1) We wanted to investigate the connection between KTM’s car and motorcycle divisions. (2) It would be a really good story for a motorcycle magazine. We could do it "The fastest KTM we have ever tested" or call something similarly mundane. (3) How hard could it be to test drive a KTM X-Bow?? After all, MXA has a good relationship with KTM America, and we’ve been to KTM headquarters in Mattighofen, Austria, many times since 1982. We thought they would only hand over one. (4) Since the X-Bow was such a small but expensive project, we assumed that KTM would want to get 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 asked KTM motorcycle riders about the X-Bow, and they would say they knew nothing about it.
The X-Bow is assembled in Graz, Austria, to a city of 400,000 that is 170 miles southwest of Mattighofen and has a population of only 6,000. We were always surprised when we asked the KTM motorcyclists about the X-Bow and they said they knew nothing about it. It turns out that they didn’t. The KTM motorcycle department and the KTM X-Bow department are completely separate from each other. No information or people are exchanged between the two KTM subsidiaries. The only features they have in common are the KTM name and owner Stefan Pierer. Why? For starters, it’s a car with four wheels, not a motorcycle with two. Everything is different. The physics, structure, aerodynamics, weight, powerplant, suspension, contact patch; The list goes on. Unlike Pierer’s motorcycle business, which relies on parts made in-house or by companies under Stefan Pierer’s umbrella like WP, which makes Husky and KTM motorcycle frames and suspensions, the KTM X-Bow relies on many outside companies working together .
Once we learned from the KTM X-Bow (pronounced crossbow) We knew we had to get our hands on one. We found a couple of them in the perfect spot and headed out to put MXA’s orange helmet in a race car.
When building the X-Bow, KTM was like a conductor of a symphony. KTM brought together some of the most respected companies in the auto racing industry to work together to develop this unique car. The Kiska design team was responsible for giving the X-Bow its KTM DNA, as the team has designed many KTM models in the past. KTM Technologies and Dallara jointly developed 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 25 series for the last 3 years. The carbon chassis of the X-Bow was then outsourced to Wethje Carbon Composites in Austria. And last on the list is Audi, which is putting its turbocharged four-cylinder 1984-liter inline-four engine at 2.0 cc displacement brought to the table. This is the same engine used in many production cars from Audi to the Audi S3 and the Volkswagen Golf. However, the Audi engine arrives in pieces at the Graz production plant, as many changes are made to the engine 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’s some strong power for a 1700-pound car. That may sound like a lot of weight compared to motorcycles, but to put it in 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 THROUGH OUR KTM MOTORCYCLE CONTACTS THAT WASN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. BUT WE HAD OUR SLEEVES.
We love the technical aspects, but every conversation we have had with KTM about the X-Bow since 2008 has always ended in a dead end. 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 sleeve. We turned inside to MXA endurance test driver 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 get the most out of their high-performance cars. Ernie knows everyone in the U.S. race car business through his racing and instructor gigs and is the representative for Metalor, an exclusive supplier of axles and hubs to Formula One and Indycar teams – and a competitor to Stefan Pierer’s Pankl company. One day at Glen Helen, we told Ernie about our desire to drive a KTM X-Bow. He said there was a fleet of KTM X-Bows 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 he knew the Simraceway people and would try to make this happen. The rest is history.v
Where your feet went to work, but only when your mind was busy.
Simraceway is a breeding ground for racers. They offer many performance driving programs including high performance go-karts, racing schools, safe driver training, LMP3 test days as well as track days where you drive your own car on the 2.Be able to drive 52-mile race track. Professional driver Matt Bell is the guy who runs the KTM X-Bow program, and he would be my instructor for a crash course on driving a race car. Ernie Becker took time out of his busy schedule to come with Josh Mosiman and me and walk us through our car indoctrination. The KTM X-Bow program at Sonoma Raceway has only been around 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 to drive a race car."
Simraceway is a breeding ground for racers. They offer many performance driving programs including high performance go-karts, race schools, safe driver training, LMP3 test days as well as track days where you drive your own car on the 2.52-mile raceway you can drive. Professional driver Matt Bell is the guy who runs the KTM X-Bow program, and he would be my instructor for a crash course on driving a race car. Ernie Becker took time out of his busy schedule to come with Josh Mosiman and me and walk us through our car indoctrination. The KTM X-Bow program at Sonoma Raceway has only been around for about a year. Before the X-Bows, 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 to drive a race car."
It looks a little complicated, but it was really no worse than the number of buttons and adjustments on the handlebars of a 2020 Honda CRF450.
To make the driving experience even easier, the KTM uses an Audi DSG (direct shift gearbox) with dual clutch and 6-speed transmission instead of a straight manual transmission. Matt pointed out that most Americans don’t know how to drive a stick. America is not alone, KTM is also having problems with manual transmissions in China. The X-Bow features paddle shifters, so you’re not driving around the track in a Hydramatic Oldsmobile with a slush box.
This is the race car version of a motocross racer running around the track. Professional racer Matt Bell tries to translate sleeper, bermshot and peeling into street knowledge for MXA.
The Simraceway KTM X-Bow Experience is conducted in three distinct phases. Since I was a newbie to driving race cars, I was put in the first stage, which cost $1 for a full day of learning and driving. They also offer half-day experiences as well as combination packages. I admit to being annoyed that I have to learn about the car and driving concepts before I can put it down. I like to jump in the water first and learn as I go. However, I have never jumped into a toy over 1995 U.S. dollars before. So I bit the bullet and focused on what Matt was teaching me to do. Being able to absorb his knowledge of the car and everything from sitting in the carbon fiber monocoque tub to anticipating what would happen before it happened elevated my driving at a rapid pace. There are no adjustable seats in the one-piece X-Bow carbon tub. The steering wheel and brake and gas pedal pedals are adjustable. Did I mention that the X-Bow does not have power steering, traction control or ABS brakes? What you feel in the car is 105,000 percent raw from the input you give it.
The Simraceway KTM X-Bow Experience features a variety of X-Bows ready to have a real experience about what can go wrong.
The wheels were really spinning after our crash classroom class driving a race car. I’ve learned that many aspects of motocross racing actually carry over to race cars, but I wouldn’t get ahead of myself. First I had to get a real driving experience before I started acting like Lewis Hamilton.
Matt started us off learning the most important part of a race track – the turns. He set up a long, smooth 180-degree corner on Sonoma’s underride guard. An underride guard is an area of flat pavement with nothing to hit around it. Matt didn’t exactly encourage me to spin and make mistakes, but when I did push it, at least I was in a safe place to learn what’s so bad about cross-controlling in a lap.
A little difference in price, power and weight, but the idea is the same.
One of the key aspects of turning a race car is braking. If you brake hard first before the corner, you get the grip you need on the front tires to get through the corner without oversteering or understeering. When the turn begins, the brakes need to be released slowly to the top of the turn. Braking creates the traction needed to turn faster. If you release the brake too quickly or accelerate too soon, the front tires can push or the rear end can swing. What fascinated me was how late the top was for race cars in the corners. I wanted to turn too early and make the apex in the middle of the corner like I did on a dirt bike. But that physics doesn’t work on the race track. Luckily, I had radio contact with Matt and he was able to tell me what I was doing wrong and how to improve it on each shot. The car was all over the place, and I resisted it many times. By doing the hard braking early and braking through the turn, I eventually developed a smooth transition from brake to throttle. The straighter the car got, the more throttle you could apply. It was a constant balancing act between steering input, throttle and brakes. This exercise with a corner set me up for success throughout the day.
WP takes care of the suspension on the X-Bow. We asked about XACT Pro Cone Valve stuff, but the Simraceway KTM X-Bow guys looked at us like we were babbling.
After the cornering exercise on the brake pad, we went back to the classroom to discuss what we had 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 was excited that Matt told us to intentionally make the car break traction and try to recover. That meant putting extra weight on the brakes and then releasing them quickly as the wheel turned. He had us do this while we were driving on the brake pad. That was exhilarating! They had to countersteer immediately to prevent the stern from coming around. It wasn’t an easy task, although it was a lot like drifting the tail on a dirt bike.
I ADMIT TO BRAKING TOO HARD, TURNING ON TOO SHARPLY AND ACCELERATING TOO FAST.
TO GET IT SEPARATELY WAS THE DREAM OF AN ADRENALINE YOUNG RACER COME TRUE!
The X-Bow Experience was a great place to learn, make mistakes and push the envelope of the car. I admit to braking too hard, turning too sharply, and accelerating too fast on occasion. Getting sideways was an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true! There aren’t many places where you can drive a $105,000 sports car beyond its physical limits. To get there on a motocross track, I would have to go to the brink of disaster. In a race car where there was nothing 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 as one of the most intimidating tracks on the circuit. This meant no more mistakes. No longer 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. At every session, however, I had to follow Matt in his performance Audi. When he "follow" he says, he means it. The racing line he uses is gospel. You do not distract from this under any circumstances. It’s the fastest and safest line on the track. In the first session, I was in a group of three X-Bows following Matt around. We started slow and he told us over the radio when to shift, where the apex of the corner was, when to brake and when to accelerate. There was a lot to remember, but he just kept drilling us. In the second session Matt picked up the pace and I heard less of him on the radio. At the end of the session I remember looking at the speedometer and it said "100 miles per hour". It didn’t even feel like it. Matt had been slowly getting us used to the faster speeds. It really instilled in us to look forward to the future. Just like motocross racing, I thought it would be a piece of cake for me, but that wasn’t the case. At 100 miles per hour on a racetrack, the ground goes by faster than your mind can process it. I had to constantly remind myself to keep looking ahead
I knew I needed two things to make this happen – a lot more money and permission from my wife. So I called JODY to request a survey, and my wife to ask her if I could be a racer. I got the same one word answer from both of them.
At the third session Matt let me choose. 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 on my own. I wanted freedom, but I knew deep down it was dangerous for me. Matt had the group of us where he wanted us to be. We were competent racers, but total novices. To gain the freedom we wanted, we would have to gain a lot more experience.
I’m glad MXA never gave up on getting their hands on a KTM X-Bow. It was the experience of a lifetime to say the least. It’s not easy for someone who has spent his life in the seat of a motorcycle racer to ride Supercross, Nationals, one-off factory bikes and do all kinds of cool things on two wheels.
On the way home I was trying to think of ways to get my hands on my own race car. I knew I would need two things to accomplish this – a lot more money and permission from my wife. So I called Jody to ask for a raise, and my wife to ask if I could be a race car driver. I received from both the same answer with one word.