Sprinting for glory

Sprinting for glory

Combine competitive sprint racing with European custom style, add a huge party and what do you get? The Sultans of Sprint race series. We spoke to the Harley-Davidson® factory team to get the lowdown on what it’s all about…

The Sultans of Sprint race series emerged from humble beginnings back in 2016. Bike builder and drag race fanatic Séb Lorentz, from Italian custom house Lucky Cat Garage, had had so much fun racing his custom-inspired drag race bike that he realised he wanted to share the opportunity with other custom builders.

Along with his girlfriend Laurence, Séb created the Sultans of Sprint race series: an opportunity for other speed freaks to share their passion for racing, to showcase the sport - and just as importantly, to have a whole lot of fun. That was enough to tempt Harley-Davidson to enter the ‘Factory’ class this year with ‘Sprint Glide’.

The concept
The series now occupies a unique place at the intersection between custom bike building and competitive racing, and has taken on momentum of its own. The basic concept is simple: competitors build a bike and race it down a 1/8 mile drag strip run. But it is not all about speed; the series also rewards competitors for ‘style, creativity and craziness’.

There are two classes – the ‘Freak Class’, open to air cooled four stroke bikes up to 1600cc, and the ‘Factory Class’, for OEM manufacturers. The Factory class has no capacity limit, but allows turbos or superchargers, nitrous oxide and slick tyres, so long as a strict power-to-weight ratio is observed. Most of the points awarded to the racers are for pure sprint performance, which keeps things competitive, but there are extra points up for grabs under categories such as ‘style and engineering’, ‘scary factor’ and ‘party monster bonus’. The result is a wholly unique race series, with beautiful custom motorcycles and one hell of a party. What’s not to like?

Test run
We caught up with the Harley-Davidson team at a practice session at the Santa Pod drag strip in Bedfordshire, where rider Taylor Mackenzie, Daryll Young and Craig Prior of Silverstone-based race specialists IDP Moto, and Richard Albans of supercharger company TTS Performance were putting the Harley-Davidson entry to the test, under the watchful eye of Harley-Davidson’s Nik Ellwood.

At first sight, sitting at the famous ‘Christmas tree’ start lights of the drag strip, the Harley-Davidson Sprint Glide appears to be a stock Street Glide®. Still in its entirely street-legal form, it looks like it has been ridden to the track and could just as easily be ridden back home again, after blasting down the strip.

“That is deliberate,” explains Nik Ellwood. “The aim is to run a bike that looks stock and is still road legal – a tip of the hat to the ‘run what you brung’ ethos of proper old-school drag racing. That’s why we’ve kept the bodywork and batwing fairing, panniers and stereo, stock suspension and brakes, and even the stock Continental tyres and the feet-forward riding position of the original bike.”

Street Glide, supercharged
However, appearances can of course be deceiving. The ‘Sprint Glide’ has been fitted with a big bore kit, a wider cam, flowed heads, bigger throttle bodies and Carillo con-rods. In the most visible difference from a stock bike, a TTS supercharger takes up much of the left side of the motor.

“These changes take the power from about 93hp on the stock bike to 230 horsepower,” explains Daryll Young. “It took about two months to fit and tune in the modifications, as there was a lot of machining and engineering required, which we achieved just before the first round of Sultans of Sprint at Monza in May. Unfortunately that event was rained off, so the bike didn’t get the chance to run in anger – hence why we are here testing at Santa Pod.”

Piloting the bike on its initial run is young rider Taylor Mackenzie, son of racer Niall Mackenzie. Having raced from an early age, Taylor has since climbed through the rankings as a pro racer, and in 2016 won the hugely competitive British National Superstock 1000 championship.

Onwards and upwards
Back to the track, and two runs up the strip later, Taylor has accumulated some 25 seconds of drag strip time. It’s quite sufficient for a professional racer to gauge the techniques required for a lightning fast start – and to power the bike up to its maximum potential to the finish line.

So what did Taylor think of the bike? “I absolutely love it – it looks cool, it sounds amazing and it is fast! It is really good fun, and it’s over before you know it.”

With a second run well into 11 seconds, the team decides that enough has been gained from the Santa Pod experience to take the bike to the next level ready for the remaining rounds of Sultans of Sprint, in France and Germany.

The final verdict
It’s now a few months later, and the competition has come to a close after the final race on 31 August at Glemseck 101, Germany’s biggest open-air motorcycle festival. So, how did ‘Sprint Glide’ fare?

In the final, as in each previous leg, all contenders showed a high level of skill, with very close results each time. The Harley-Davidson team performed well, particularly in the final race, with a super-grippy rear tyre fitted. They ended the series in a creditable fifth place, having gained a year’s worth of experience, and are more than ready to make their next assault on that trophy. And of course, the team were thrilled that Sprint Glide went home with the Best Burnout award…