We’ll admit, when we pulled up to Eagle Raceway to test drive Yamaha’s R1DT concept car, we started feeling a little out of place. Located just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, the oval dirt track cut into the ground was prepared perfectly. We were provided brand new driving gear, and as we suited up, six R1DT cars were lined up for test driving. Still, this was no dirt bike, and we weren’t totally sure what to expect from the car or the track. After a brief lesson from Cory Kruseman of Cory Kruseman’s Sprint Car and Midget Driving School and watching Dustin Nelson spin a few laps, we strapped into the cockpit of the R1DT and hit the track.
Being that this is TransWorld Motocross, we’d be lying if we pretended to be experts on dirt track cars. What we can say, however, is that any concerns or doubts about the fun of spinning laps around a dirt oval are gone the second you bury your foot into the pedal of the R1DT. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun.
At the heart of this machine is a 998 cc R1 motor that pumps out plenty of horsepower. How much to be exact? That all depends on what tune you select. Using much of the technology already available to the R1 street bike, Yamaha developed four options for us to test in the R1DT. There were two full-power options, one with heavy engine braking and one with light engine braking, that produced over 170 horsepower according to the guys at Yamaha. The other two options had reduced horsepower, which Yamaha says they designed for entry-level and younger drivers. Despite never having driven one of these cars, we stayed in option A and B all day. In fact, we started with A when the track was wet in the early morning, and as it packed down and got dry and slick later in the day, we switched to B. The differences in engine braking were extremely noticeable, as the heavy braking mode caused the car to shake side-to-side entering corners.
When it came to the handling, the R1DT couldn’t have been much better in our books. Much like being on a motocross track, you could nose the car around the inside in a tight line or go a little wider and blast through the loose stuff. We weren’t expecting the drifting of the car to be so smooth, but to our surprise, it was almost hard to tell that you had broken traction at all. There were only two times that the car started to get sideways a bit, but stabbing the throttle and making a slight adjustment of the wheel would immediately shift the weight rearward and get the car back under control. This is where we really appreciated the engineering done by Yamaha. The car behaved exactly how it needed to, and it was extremely predictable and easy to drive even with our lack of experience.
Aside from the power and handling, the car was surprisingly familiar. Many parts were borrowed from other Yamaha machines, and the fit and finish itself was on par with what we expect from anything the Japanese manufacturer produces. Despite being hand-built by a small team, all six machines were consistent. No matter what car you hopped in and no matter how many laps it had already done, everything felt right ergonomically and the performance was good.
If there’s one complaint we could come up with, it would be the clutch pedal. Being that this was a bike motor, it was designed to work with a clutch lever. Adapting the clutch to actuate with a pedal presented some challenges and the end result was a clutch that was either on or off, making it tricky to use. Even the most experienced drivers would occasionally stall out while leaving or entering the pit area. Some of the stalling woes could also be attributed to the gearing though. The gearing of the chain drive is set up to run the track entirely in third, so first and second are only necessary for getting on and off of the track. It’s really a minor complaint, especially considering that the clutch is rarely even needed on the track.
As we said above, we’re not experts on dirt track cars or anything of that nature. Despite this, the more time we spent behind the wheel of the Yamaha R1DT, the less we felt out of place. There are differences between our sport and the world of car racing, there’s no denying that. What we were surprised by though is just how many similarities we found. In only a few laps, we began thinking solely about throttle control, braking, and line selection. Rather than focusing on the vehicle, our attention shifted to analyzing the dirt ahead of us and how to be faster and smoother than the lap before. Yes, it’s a car and yes, it’s an oval track without any jumps, but it still provided that same feeling of joy and satisfaction we get from riding a dirt bike.
For the time being, the Yamaha R1DT is a concept car, and while it has come a long way from the early prototypes that Yamaha started with, we want to be absolutely clear that this is not a production vehicle yet. In speaking with Dave Park, Project Manager of the R1DT, he explained that their goal is to go to production as soon as possible. Most of the hurdles that Yamaha faces involve the actual manufacturing of the cars and the infrastructure needed to support them at the dealership level. Another big question mark is the cost and as of now, there is no word on what the price might be. What we do know is that Yamaha wants the R1DT to be an entry-level car that doesn’t cost a fortune to buy or maintain.
If there’s one thing that both the media and the guys in blue learned from testing the R1DT, it’s that the car itself doesn’t need much improvement or change, if any at all, to go into production. Much to everyone’s surprise, we managed to put over 900 laps on the cars over the course of an entire day without a single breakdown or failure. According to some of the dirt track racers and experts on hand, most cars need a motor rebuild in less than 100 laps. Minus changing tires as needed, and a few spinouts, we drove the cars almost nonstop for an entire day, and everyone left smiling and impressed by the R1DT. We’re not sure what the future holds for Yamaha’s latest project, but even as motocross enthusiasts, we look forward to seeing more of this car and hope that it finds its way to showroom floors soon.