Riding Indian’s Championship-Winning Super Hooligan FTR
Production-based racing prioritizes one goal: selling motorcycles. As soon as a race bike ascends the rostrum’s top step, manufacturers waste no time trumpeting the merits of its showroom counterpart. Yet, what do all race teams immediately do when taking delivery of these street-legal models? Change every possible part, of course.
To steer clear of that Ship of Theseus mentality, former AMA Pro 250cc GP champion and designer Roland Sands founded the Super Hooligan National Championship (SHNC) in 2017. The grassroots series originally courted the growing flat track scene, but it’s gravitated toward road racing in recent years. SHNC made the full-time jump to paved circuits in 2022, prompting Indian Motorcycle to send Tyler O’Hara and Jeremy McWilliams back into battle—this time aboard the firm’s FTR streetfighter.
The two King of the Baggers riders couldn’t just throw their weight around, though, thanks to SHNC Rules and Regulations. Those standards call for 750cc+ twin-cylinder street bikes producing a maximum of 125 horsepower. Competitors also need to retain top-mounted risers and upright handlebars. No bubble fairings, windscreens, or clip-ons are allowed.
Sometimes, constraints spur creativity, and the team still pushed the FTR to a new performance peak despite the restriction. In turn, O’Hara claimed the SHNC title to complete Indian’s 2022 Triple Crown. As a post-season victory lap, the American OEM invited us to California’s Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to try out the race-prepped FTR for ourselves. Newsflash: it brought the ruckus.
Down to Bedrock
To the naked eye, the SHNC FTR largely resembles its production form. The stock fuel tank panels, front fender, and side shrouds root those cosmetic similarities. Behind the scenes, the OE radiator still ensures the FTR’s 1,203cc, 60-degree V-twin operates at optimal temperatures. That liquid-cooled mill maintains its factory finish, with the exception of new cams and a custom-built exhaust system.
That means no big-bore pistons or CNC ported heads; just a set of cams to enhance the usable powerband and new pipes to open the engine’s airways. Those may seem like modest modifications by silhouette-class standards, but the tweaks completely transform the platform into a fire-breathing (quite literally) race rig.
Hit the starter button and the SC-Project muffler emits a sound only comparable to a baritone buzzsaw. With its throaty idle lope and thrashing on-throttle roar, the exhaust note even dwarfs that of Indian’s King of the Baggers Challenger. The auditory onslaught is just a prelude to the race-ready FTR’s teeth-clenching performance.
Rolling out of pit lane and onto Chuckwalla’s 2.68-mile track, the throttle response remained obedient yet direct. That all changed when giving it gas in earnest. Indian afforded us the opportunity to ride the stock FTR Sport prior to our encounter with the SHNC-developed version. Pitted against the road-legal rendition, the race bike picked up the pep with the slightest flick of the wrist. Wring the throttle off the corner and the FTR replies in kind.
The rowdy roadster poured on the torque and horsepower with little concern for linearity or affability. At 125 ponies, the SHNC FTR didn’t border on face-melting top speeds, but it’s never short on thrills nevertheless. The visceral tactile experience only complemented the race bike’s raucous ways. In full throat, the SC-Project end can raised the commotion of a mini–Submarine Spitfire. However, the ear-splitting exhaust didn’t always issue a pleasing tone.
Upon upshifts and downshifts, the FTR regularly backfired. I can only liken the startling decel pops to a series of M-80s detonating under my boot heel. The effect’s irregularity only upheld my emotional response. Whether banging down the gearbox in the upper register or short-shifting onto the straight, there was little rhyme or reason to the engine’s unruly blasts—like stepping on rev-range land mines.
Blanche or blush, the SHNC FTR doesn’t tone down its attitude for anyone. Indian executes every upgrade with one objective in mind: Super Hooligan supremacy. Whether the rider’s comfort is sacrificed in the process is beside the point. For that reason, the uncompromising naked mostly appeals to racers and avid track riders. On the other hand, the machine’s agile handling is an attribute nearly all motorcyclists can agree upon.
In compliance with SHNC regulations, Indian Motorcycle (IMC) Racing preserves the stock FTR’s main frame and swingarm plates. From there, the team bolts on a Roland Sands Design (RSD) X C&J swingarm and suspends the lot with an Öhlins shock and inverted fork legs from Indian’s accessories catalog. Dymag forged wheels chisel away unsprung mass for even snappier tip-in, while Dunlop race slicks maximize grip at full lean.
When it’s time for the FTR to shed speed, a Brembo Corsa Corta master cylinder sends fluid through custom Spiegler brake lines to twin Brembo Stylema calipers. Those superbike-bred binders bite down on Brembo supersport floating rotors, nearly stopping the bike dead in its tracks. Even with the SHNC FTR upholding much of its showroom styling, it keeps up racing appearances. A Saddlemen tail and seat kit delivers that classic road racer silhouette while an RSD aluminum fuel cell lightens the load both physically and visually.
That series of changes amounted to a world of difference in the lean angle department. After two sessions aboard the stock FTR Sport, I dragged knee at practically all of Chuckwalla’s 17 corners. That was far from the case with the Super Hooligan racer, however. Despite running similar lean angles, my puck bushed the tarmac not once.
Aside from injuring my ego, the track session clearly indicated the platform’s handling potential. With adjustable rear sets unlocking additional footpeg clearance and top-shelf suspenders altering the geometry, dragging knee became a moving target that I just couldn’t tag. Unfortunately, one five-lap session didn’t promote repetition learning, and I sure wasn’t going to push my limits aboard Indian’s championship-winning roadster.
Indian Super Hooligan FTR
Still, the purpose-built FTR impressed at every turn. From the powerful yet communicative brakes to the effortless side-to-side transitions, the revised chassis lived up to the billing. Where the FTR Sport dove under heavy braking and squatted under acceleration, the SHNC FTR stood firm, pairing apex-nailing maneuverability with straight-line stability.
Even with the FTR racer outshining its production model relative, the team continues to chase the performance dragon. According to O’Hara, “[Indian] lengthened the forks a little bit to get more trail. That was a big one that [they’re] still chasing—to get more trail.” IMC Racing may have the SHNC title tucked under its belt for the time being, but that won’t stop its rivals—including Harley-Davidson—from attempting to usurp the throne in 2023.
Heavy is the Head…
When the green flag waves on the 2023 Super Hooligan National Championship, the reigning champs will share the grid with air-cooled V-twin and electric motorcycles. The two additional divisions may draw more fans to the raceway, but all liquid-cooled contenders will gun for O’Hara’s number one plate. Thanks to new eligibility rules, Harley-Davidson’s Pan America adventure bike could rank as one such foe.
SHNC announced the model’s inclusion on December 22, 2022. However, with the Pan Am pumping out 150 horsepower in stock form, teams will need to adopt two velocity stacks and the Sportster S’s airbox to comply with the series’ 125-horsepower limit. The Motor Company has yet to field a rider in the series, but whether it’s a factory operation or a privateer effort, we hope to see the two brands clash yet again. After all, if Harley doesn’t challenge its long-time adversary, we get the impression that the race-proven FTR will enjoy another victory lap in 2023.