The wining formula: Crowe Perfomance
For a very long time now, we’ve admired the National Superstock 1000 championship, and all those who ride in it. Sure, it plays second fiddle to the premier Superbike class on the BSB roster, but it’s just as fiercely competitive, if not more so. You see, the ’stocker class is filled to the brim with riders who are striving to make it into the proper big league, and who knows, maybe even make a career out of it all, alongside riders that really are quick enough to be on a superbike, with names such as Richard Cooper, Billy McConnell, Michael Rutter… the list goes on. I mean, there’s even an ex-world champ, in the form of Danny Kent. And as far as classes go, in the last 20 or so years there aren’t many other classes that have seen such massive changes in the rules and regs. To be honest, it was put best by Phil Crowe from Crowe Performance, responsible for the task of building, rebuilding and guiding Chrissy Rouse’s championship winning S 1000 RR: “When Whit says these are production bikes on the telly, he’s talking out of his ass. He’s probably still thinking about the 1998 production TT… but nowadays, it’s not the case. On one of these bikes, there’s about 17 grand of bolt-on extras to get that bike where it is” – and that’s without the man hours that go into setting up the electronics alone, which are more complex than what you’d find on a British Superbike machine…
But of course, all of you lovely die-hard readers already know this, as we followed the build of one of Phil Crowe’s Superstock-spec Beemas earlier on in the year. It was ace to get a proper insight and see what goes on under the skin of one of these things, how much time, effort and cash it takes to get it on the grid for the first round, and to be close to the sharp end of BSB. Yet close to the sharp end didn’t happen, oh no; after championship contender Chrissy Rouse found himself rideless for 2020 thanks to Covid, Phil and Gabriel at Crowe Performance stepped in with what they could – and somehow, they only went and won the bloody thing. So how on earth did Chrissy go from having no ride at all at the beginning of the year, to standing on the top step by the very end? Especially as the whole gig was very last minute, nor was it ever really planned or budgeted for – it was the perfect storm. Yeah, you know how a stocker is built, but we went along to Crowey’s, to chat to him and his partner in crime Gabriel, to get their take on how to win a championship, and the roller coaster that was 2020.
Proper David vs Goliath spec stuff…
In order to start the story properly, it’s worth tracking the whole journey – from when Crowey received the first S 1000 RRs at the back end of 2019. Yes, the new bikes didn’t arrive until September, which meant that like nearly everyone else on the grid, there was barely any saddle time on the Gen 4 RR in 2019, making it hard work before the start. “To be honest, we got the bikes late, and they’re very complex, so we needed some time on them. You’ll always get teething problems on new machines, and I think because we put a load of time and effort into it, we really were ahead of the game. At the beginning of 2020, we had an idea in place that we were going to run Jenny Tinmouth, so in February, we went to Spain with Jenny to do some testing and to learn the bike out there. We weren’t just there to ride round in circles though, as we met up with some Germans, and had Alpha Racing (BMW Motorrad’s official partner, and race part builder) schooling us. This was the best thing, as it meant we were well invested in the electronics and, more importantly, ahead of the rest of the teams on our knowledge. We learnt a hell of a lot from those guys. We got back, and by March I had built two bikes – they were my two personal bikes, and we were in talks with Jenny but we just couldn’t put together a solid deal.
“We wanted a bike to get out, to be seen and be visible; that’s why she would’ve been good, but it dropped through. With a bike sitting there, Matt Truelove got in contact, and it just seemed logical to go down the route of getting him on it, as they’ve always been good with me – I race a Truelove Supersport bike at the TT, with no financial implications which is mega. We wanted to help as much as we could with that, but had no money to help them with a full package. So we shook hands on a deal, where we supplied the bike and they paid the bills. As it was just a single bike and one-man team it was looking manageable, and I got set to build two more bikes. With three prepped Superstock bikes ready to go, the plug was pulled on the season.”
Fast forward a few months to July, and it’s looking like racing is back on the cards, with MSV announcing a new BSB calendar. With Phil and the team at Crowe Performance ready for a nice, laid-back season ahead, it all changed…“Just a few weeks before we’re set to go racing again, I’m sat on the sofa with a fag, stroking my dog, and I get a phone call from Gabriel, my partner at Crowe Performance, late one night.” Before Crowey could get another word out, Gabriel was on the case to take over the story: “I said I had something to run past him. Chrissy called me – and Phil interrupted straight away and said, ‘this sounds expensive!’. He had just received the news that MSS, his current team, were pulling out, and I said I would see what I could do. I had a bike built for me to do trackdays anyway, so I did have an inkling that we could get him out, and to get my bike prepped as a proper stocker… I didn’t think it would be too much hassle. But then he told me it was an extra £15k for all the bits and extra spares, etc.! I mean, my BMW only really had an exhaust, K-Tech suspension and a flashed ECU. Chrissy tested it on standard electrics, but knew it wasn’t quite good enough, so we had just two weeks to go and we had to source the parts, which were hard to get that close to the start of the year.”
But just how happy was Phil, the man who’d have to do most of the leg work for all of this? “Originally, I said no – I didn’t have the manpower, and there’s a massive financial implication, alongside a lot of work on a race weekend – in reality, we shouldn’t have done it, but we’re bloody glad we did. We just had to adapt and muddle our way through, but it helped that Chrissy was incredibly easy to work with, and is a mega bloke. I mean Chrissy assembled a team to help him for running around, changing tyres and other bits, and we were there to help with electronics and stuff that was serious – like engine issues, or big problems. So at the end of July we put it together, and me and Chrissy did the first round of Thundersport… I kicked his ass, beating him at every race! Once he got set up though, it wasn’t the case.”
“Electronically, we run the MRCK Pro, with a MOTEC dash that is all one kit. At 5000 euros, it’s within the BSB price cap as well. But then again, people think you buy it and that’s it; it couldn’t be more wrong. That’s the basic line. You then need to add an electronic throttle, brake pressure sensor, suspension parts, bracket for the loom, the list goes on, and by the time you’ve finished, it’s £10k; so a bit of a myth when you see the actual price. Oh, and then you need the GPS lap timers. Without them bits, there’s no point in having it. It allows us to calibrate everything: TCS, anti-wheelie, torque reduction, goes on and on, and we can sector map the traction control (not by GPS, but meterage), to be adjustable corner by corner, which is nearly WSBK level. The mapping was never the same from track to track and session to session which made things harder as well. Sure, it was pretty close, but something you need to keep on top of. Every second in every session counts, and then after we’d go through the mapping for hours on end after a session. It’s a constant thing, but after spending that much time, Chrissy got familiar and could do it himself. We were able to bounce ideas off each other – everything from electronics to geometry was similar with me and Chrissy besides the spring rates, whereas Matt was very different but made it work. A lot of people came crying to us for help, struggling with power delivery. Not so much engine-wise, but electronically. It’s funny actually, as there’s a bank of 30 power modes, and when BMW made the software they made an error in the power mode settings – all the ones you select, you have to -1 off the number, or it’s the wrong mode. It would cost millions to rectify, so you just have to remember and minus the software. A lot of people didn’t know little things like that, which meant we were definitely ahead of the game compared with the competition. It’s mad that the ‘stocker has more tech than a British Superbike. We spent more time working on data, than we did on the actual mechanics of the bike…at least two hours after every session. We’d even be bouncing info back to Germany to get their take on things. The engine brake strategy was the biggest thing – the adjustments were constant, and there’s a system that measures the force in Nm, so we were always aiming for the sweet spot. It was good as well, as you can ask the rider what he feels, then confirm with data.”
“The suspension is just your normal K-Tech DDS package, with no factory level stuff in sight – but then again, I’m not sure we need it. The people who did have it maybe struggled a bit more, as ours was simple, we could get it working in a good place, and knew the product inside out… although I would love to back-to-back the two. We didn’t change any internal settings at all – sure, we dropped the oil setting K-Tech gave to get more feel at the bottom of the stroke, but Chrissy had done probably three trackdays, a handful of club races and one BSB, and he was sorted – he barely changed any settings, just little bits and clicks here and there. Wheelbase, ride height, the lot. We then used standard forged wheels and a standard swingarm – in ‘stock, you can’t run aftermarket, but standard is great. It then had a set of Alpha rearsets, Crowe Performance clip-ons, Angus brake pressure sensors and suspension pods.”
“Here we run our very own Crowe Performance fairings.We actually offer two levels: one budget that comes in slightly cheaper and amore expensive set. Funnily enough, what Chrissy ran all year were the cheap ones.”
“For the brakes, we run standard calipers and Alpha racing discs – they’re different composite and slightly thicker, to givemore durability and bite.”
“Originally, these bikes were using standard BMW supplied engines, so essentially what came out of the showroom. We had a look what could be done but didn’t do anything straight away as we wanted to see what level it was at. To be honest though, we saw the advantage of having the factory type one BMW engine (9300 euros + VAT) so went down that route – it’s essentially blueprinted. They come run in as well, so just bolt in and go. We had bad luck from the start though, as one failed almost instantly, with a crack in the engine casing leaving us in the shit. We had to get Chrissy a new engine, which was stock – so we stripped it and built our own type one engine, which was very nearly the same. Essentially, the blueprinting, compression ratios and a few other little bits that we could improve ourselves were worked on, but it’s still very standard. We used a standard air filter, and found that all of this gave us a 7hp increase; but the engine is stronger all round. A stock bike is about 198ish, while a proper engine is about the 205 mark.”
“The pipe is from Arrow. It has stainless steel headers and titanium elsewhere, because they last twice as long and are a cost thing, plus it didn’t need to lose weight as it’s on the limit anyway.”
And from then on, it was looking to be a great season; at the first test, Rouse and Truelove were first and second in the first practice with the posh, expensive type one BMW spec engines. But then again, it wasn’t all plain sailing…“At the first round, we had an engine issue, so Chrissy had to jump off the bike at the very start, at the front of the pack in race one, so got sent to the back of the grid at race start! The BMW wasn’t holding on the clutch, so he panicked like crazy and ran from the front row off the grid… YouTube it, it was mad, but we then found we had a bit of a problem with the clutches, not holding the bike. Somehow, we managed to bodge his together so he could race that weekend! They sent him to the back of the grid, and he managed to get through to fifth, which was mega. He then won race two on a standard engine, with a clutch that wasn’t spot on. I always thought Chrissy was capable, but until there’s a weekend or two under the belt, we never know for sure if things will work out. He even beat Coops from the back of the grid.”
From there, it was to Snetterton and to Silverstone, and in the time since, BMW stepped up and replaced every engine that had the clutch issue… but the BMW lads were to be at a serious speed disadvantage. “When we got to Snet, Matt and Chrissy were both fast on completely stock engines, but that Honda was insanely quick in a straight line. It was almost embarrassing to see our bike ripped up like that, but we still had a good round. Problem was, we didn’t have another type one engine going spare, and an answer for the speed immediately, so we had to go another round in stock trim. Chrissy did race one on the standard engine and still finished second; he said he had nothing else to fight with. Sunday morning in warm-up though, the engine goes pop… with the exact words being ‘it’s f*cked’. You could tell from the noise, and Chrissy said it felt a bit strange so stopped at the side of the track. When we brought it back and switched it on, it had the noise… just three hours before the race. I had a type one engine in my personal bike, so did two engine drops and one engine install in two and a half hours, alongside a dyno test and still got it out for the next race. That was a stroke of luck, but in the race we had another issue, in the form of a little oil leak. It wasn’t major at all, as you couldn’t see any oil coming out, but the O-ring seal on the oil filler cap had been nipped and was seeping a tiny bit, and it was making Chrissy’s boot slip a little – we were absolutely gutted. But with that engine, it was the first time it could match the ’Blade.”
From here, it was to Oulton, where Chrissy and Phil did an endurance race before the BSB race to get properly dialled in with data. Yet even so, there were more issues… “We had some sensors fail that were £500 quid each, and then in the second race, the engine case cracked and there was oil coming out of the type one engine. We didn’t know it until we got the bike back and give it the check over, as he won the race, but it was lucky the oil leak wasn’t big. This meant that we lost a type one, and had to revert back to a standard engine as Matt had the other one. Going into the last couple of rounds, we were leading the championship by 27 points. Front or back, he just needed to stay close to Tom Neave.”
With the next round at Donington, they’d received another standard engine back from BMW (one without fault), that was only four or five hp off the type one – which is strong, for a standard engine. “We had some big issues; first was the massive rain! But the first gear and clutch issue reared their head again as there’s two first gear corners – Oh, and then there was lots of brake fade. This meant that it wasn’t the best weekend for us, but we still managed to bag a couple of top fives, yet we lost a big chunk of points – 17 in total, meaning the championship gap was down to 10 points, with one round to go.
“This meant everything rested on the final round at Brands. Quali was a bit hit and miss with weather, and during the Saturday and Sunday sessions the exhaust was burning red, which meant we had to change the ignition coils, as it was causing a flat spot as well – although it was amazing to pick up such a precise problem. Even on the dyno it was burning like crazy, so we changed everything with the coils and exhaust, and it appeared fine! For that round, we had to be clever, so in qualifying at Brands for example, we didn’t do many laps until Chrissy went out at the last moment for dry tyres which worked. I think we were down in 25th before that! At the race start, two corners in, it was all over when Tom highsided on lap one. Tom needed to win and Chrissy need to finish lower than third for us not to get the title, and our concern was a mechanical one. We were all very nervous, but when Tom went down, it was all done, we were like, ‘what, it’s done!’.
“After all races, test sessions, and everything in 2020, Chrissy won without a single crash. He must have been that scared of the crash damage costs. I think he might have still had a little bit in reserve; you know, in a money-no-object team, he could’ve pushed more but he used his head, and with the reduced year he wanted to finish every race. It’s the best advert for us we could ask for – we’re a workshop with parts sales, so we need to show what we’re capable of doing and there’s no better way. We’re the only BMW consistently on the podium and we won the championship as well, which was very sweet. Especially when it’s a genuine factory supported team taking on a proper private team as well.”
And then Gabriel puts it best: “Yes, the year happened by accident, but we were very lucky in many respects. From the people, to the way the mechanicals worked, it just came together. Could we do it again? In that exact way, of course not. The voluntary people for example may not be able to do it again, and other things. The only way we could continue at that level is with the help of some decent sponsors. I mean, even if we’re just racing, the workshop is out for three or four days to look after the race bike. We’re in the middle ground now, if we end up having serious discussions with people to work with us, we’ll try again. If not, I don’t think we’ll be able to run it in the same way; we could of course build and lease bikes, but it’s different.
“We all know it would be incredibly difficult to replicate this year, it was the perfect storm. We’re just enjoying it now. The season may be over, but the satisfaction isn’t…”