Scout FTR750 Fires Resounding Salvo as Indian Returns to Racing
The buzz at the Santa Rosa Mile was palpable, the grandstands filled with eager faces ready to witness the drama of the day unfold. Bryan Smith vs Jared Mees. Last race. Winner-take-all.
But while the battle for the 2016 GNC1 title was the primary storyline, much of the buzz circulated around Indian Motorcycle Company’s return to racing, the American manufacturer last fielding a factory flat track team in the early 1950s. The Scout FTR750 was making its official debut, esteemed flat track veteran Joe Kopp signed on for its first real-world shakedown, and everyone was anxious to find out how competitive Indian’s new flat tracker was.
Adding another level of drama was the fact that Indian would once again be squaring off against its long-time rival, Harley-Davidson, on the racetrack. The two have already been battling for current market share. Now they could take off the gloves and settle things once again at the track as well. Harley’s XR750 has ruled on dirt ovals for what seems like forever. Could Indian steal a little bit of The Motor Company’s thunder in the racing realm, too? Returning to flat track and recruiting the reigning Grand National Champion, Harley rider Jared Mees, to help develop your bike is a great way to stoke the flames of an old rivalry.
The Indian tent in Santa Rosa was the center of pomp and circumstance, cameras flashing and video rolling like paparazzi at a red carpet. Motorcycle dignitaries like Wayne Rainey and Cory Ness mingled with Indian brass Gary Gray and Greg Brew. Even Smith, who was about to compete in the most significant race in his life, stopped by between heats to chat with Kopp and check out the bike. Big cheers erupted from the crowd every time the new Indian took to the track. The back of Kopp’s leathers Indian Racing Team leathers fittingly said “Be Legendary.”
Because by the time the checkered flag waved later that day, the Indian flat tracker had exceeded expectations. In Kopp’s first outing, he put up the third-fastest time of the GNC1 Practice 1 session with a best lap of 38.229. The two faster riders happened to be eventual race winner Brad Baker, who put up a 37.489 lap time, and Smith with a fastest time of 37.739. In the GNC2 Heat 2 race, the Indian FTR750 finished second and Kopp demonstrated the engine’s prowess by ripping off a nasty power wheelie down the back stretch coming off Turn 2. He followed that up by winning the Dash for Cash. Granted, Smith didn’t participate and Mees didn’t push, but Kopp still pocketed the $2500 prize and got Indian a checkered flag in the bike’s first outing. In the Main event, Kopp grabbed the holeshot and the Scout FTR750 actually led at the end of the first lap. The Indian finished the 25-lap race in a respectable 7th place. This despite the fact that Kopp admittedly didn’t push it when the track started getting gnarly and Indian used primarily a baseline engine setup because at the end of the day development of the motorcycle was the main objective. Considering what it was able to achieve on its initial outing, the potential of the FTR750 is scary.
Baker, Smith and Mees must see some of that potential because later that night Indian announced all three would be part of the Indian Wrecking Crew in 2017. I imagine they saw plenty of dollar signs as well because leaving teams you’ve won GNC1 crowns with to compete on a bike that’s still being developed is a big risk. The move leaves Harley-Davidson without one of its factory riders, and the highest finish for its second factory rider, Davis Fisher, was 7th place this year. Fisher has been helping Harley develop its own new engine, the water-cooled XG750R based off the Revolution X from the Street 750. But the XR750 is still the thoroughbred in Harley’s flat track stable, evident by Baker’s dominant win at the Santa Rosa Mile.
After this weekend, a couple things are clear. The Scout FTR750 is competitive. And Indian is pushing all-in right off the bat. Next year’s flat track season can’t get here soon enough.
Indian Scout FTR750 by the Numbers at the Santa Rosa Mile:
GNC1 Practice 1
3rd, 38.229 Best Lap
GNC1 Qualifying 1
11th, 38.925 Best Lap
GNC1 Heat 2
2nd, 39.916 Best Lap
Dash for Cash
Winner, 40.161 Best Lap
7th, 39.819 Best Lap