KYT Americas is proud to sponsor Chris Sarbora on his road racing journey. We sit down and chat with him after his recent race at the North West 200.
With several years of professional racing experience on short circuits, Chris Sarbora returned to real road racing to compete in the 2023 International North West 200 on the Triangle road course in Northern Ireland.
What is the North West 200?
The North West 200 is Ireland’s largest outdoor sporting event. Since 1929, the event has taken place on the public roads of Northern Ireland, with some of the bravest motorcycle racers competing wheel to wheel against each other through the towns of Portstewart, Coleraine, and Portrush.
The event was originally run over a distance of 200 miles, but now the course length is 8.9 miles, with competitors completing 4-6 laps. The course is one of the fastest in the world, with average speeds of 120 mph and tops speeds of 200 mph plus. Alastair Seeley holds the record of most wins, with thirty.
The North West 200, along with all other Irish road racing events, is very dangerous. Since its founding, nineteen racers have died while competing.
Real Road Racing
In contrast to what most people consider road racing—on short circuit race tracks—the North West 200 is included in a series of motorcycle events collectively known as real road racing. The most prestigious (read ‘notorious’) is the Isle of Man TT. The majority of real road racing takes place in the U.K. and Ireland, with a few more obscure events in Europe. Real road racing is part of the Irish culture, with racing legends such as Joey Dunlop, Robert Dunlop, David Jefferies, and Michael Rutter, bringing awareness of the sport to the rest of the world. The courses are typically everyday public roads weaving through idyllic sleepy townships or rural farmland. For races like the North West 200, the Ulster GP, Cookstown 100, and others, the host towns are taken over by racers and fans and the crack of superbikes echoes through the hills.
The road racing community is tight-knit. It is comprised of some of the grittiest privateers you will ever meet in a race paddock. Not surprisingly, it takes a certain type of person to compete in such a dangerous sport. Several books have been written on the races and the people who take part. If you are interested in learning more, I suggest reading That Near-Death Thing (Broadbent), Road Racer (Dunlop), and Joey Dunlop (Barker).
Chatting with Chris - “Very little practice time, but feeling pretty good.”
Chris Sarbora has competed several times in the North West 200, as well as the Isle of Man TT. He returned this year to best his previous times, give his new bike a shakedown, and most importantly, prepare mentally and physically for the upcoming Isle of Man TT in June. As far as Americans go, Chris is fast becoming one of the most experienced real road racers still competing.
Sitting down and chatting with Chris after the races, he gave us a general summary of his time at the North West 200.
With a new bike to setup, all new gear, and new crew, practice week became an exercise in patience. A fitment issue with his airbag made moving on the bike a challenge, which then prevented him from getting suspension settings at full race pace dialed in. While frustrating, Chris took the Tuesday practice time to map the course and work with his crew on general race prep. After a minor adjustment to the airbag with the help of Robert at Bison, Chris was ready to get up to pace.
Chris is definitely playing up the whole 'American from Texas' thing.
“Suddenly, it was full rain… going 200 mph, and I thought, we are going to die.”
“Thursday practice was mixed as well. First practice on Thursday I was excited, conditions were pretty good. I was the fifth guy to set off, ready to do business. Suddenly, it was full rain… going 200 mph, and I thought ‘we are going to die.’
"I did half a lap, and didn’t go out again. Even still, I was able to drop 20 seconds from my previous practice time on Tuesday.
"So really, I only got one decent practice session the whole week.
“When it was time for the Thursday race, I didn’t have as much seat time as I wanted. The race went pretty good, conditions were good, but the sun was blinding, so I just kind of played follow the leader.”
“This is a 210 hp monster that is trying to beat me to death with my own arms.”
When I asked Chris about the new BMW S1000RR he’s on, he had plenty to say about its power. He’s competed in the past on supersport bikes—mainly Kawasaki ZX6Rs—so moving up to a superbike is a new learning curve. Chris has raced superbikes on short circuit courses, but the roads of Northern Ireland are not race-grade tarmac. Getting the suspension where he is comfortable has taken more time than anticipated.
“This is a 210 hp monster that is trying to beat me to death with my own arms. I typically like my suspension settings on the softer side. I softened up from the base and it helped me a lot on corner entry and braking, and tamed the beast a little bit
“My general impression with the bike, is that I’m really going to have to nut up if I want to go fast. It moves so much! I called Jason Pridmore, who coaches me, and he pretty much said the same thing… reach down and grab a pair, Chris."
I did a 4:44—not quite what I wanted to do—but I am the fastest American by about 4 seconds, so that’s pretty cool.”
For the Saturday races, the weather was great and Chris ultimately ended up with a lap time that put him as the current fastest American at the North West 200, besting the old time set by Brandon Cretu by four seconds.
“The races on Saturday were fun, perfect weather all day. I had a terrible starting position for the superstock races, and decent position for superbike because I had better qualifying.
“Every race was red flagged. I don’t think I saw a checkered flag on time.
"I did a 4:44—not quite what I wanted to do—but I am the fastest American by about 4 seconds, so that’s pretty cool.”
Eyes forward to the TT
For Chris, the North West 200 served as a practice run. A chance to learn the new bike and to prepare mentally for the bigger challenge ahead, the Isle of Man TT.
Chris works as a computer engineer for his ‘real’ job. He is very analytical and a student of racing. That’s why I was not surprised when he told me that he had ran some calculations on his times at the North West, and concluded that making his goal of being the fastest American at the Isle of Man TT is achievable, but requires additional work.
“I don’t consider myself someone who is naturally gifted. Like, I can’t just jump on any bike and go fast. But I do think I am skilled, after a lot of experience and studying the sport, I know I have built up decent skill. To reach my goal of being the fastest American at the TT—I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I also think it is definitely achievable.
“It’s eyes forward to the TT. I’m taking some time in Italy to stop thinking about racing and just reset mentally. I tell myself, stay hungry, you still have to try at this.”
Trust in KYT
As a road racer competing on public roads with houses, walls, and curbs on every side, you take your protective gear very serious. We are honored that Chris trusts KYT to protect his most valuable asset. Another example of how KYT is tested, trusted, and proven in top-level motorsports.
Follow @kytamericas for more on our sponsored racers competing all over the globe.