Gallery: Inside Brian Baldwin’s Pro Open R/A SVHO-Powered Yamaha VXR


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“Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” is an old turn-of-phrase that was coined back in the heyday years of NASCAR when stock car racing was actually done with “stock cars.” Since falling out of mode decades later, it was later rehashed with jet skiers during the late ’80s and early ’90s, as so many championship-winning skis and runabouts weren’t very far from the stock craft available on any showroom floor. That, and as jet ski racing was so prevalent, the results of such races actually swung trends in new sales purchases.

Moreover, the manufacturers relied heavily on the research, testing and results acquired by such race teams to help test, prove and develop future components (because what harsher environment is there than competitively racing?). Many would presume that such patterns in research-and-development have gone by the wayside, but not so with Yamaha. The brand continues to rely heavily on the efforts of privateer and sponsored racers to provide feedback and insight on how to improve its product.

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Most recently, Yamaha announced the retirement of the FZR (and FZS) from its 2017 lineup. The news didn’t sit well with many, particularly those who doubted the replacement runabout, the VX-based GP1800, had the handling prowess to fill the FZ’s shoes. Little do they know that Yamaha Factory Racing/Dean’s Team racer Brian Baldwin has been actively campaigning a clandestine GP1800 all this year in Pro Open class. Although the factory product is only slightly altered from Baldwin’s prototype, the GP1800 soon arriving at dealers across the globe is essentially the same as the runabout featured in this article.

Few racers are willing to draw back the curtain and let the powersports media comb through their championship-winning machines, choosing to hold back a few secrets that they can keep to retain their competitive edge. Gratefully, Baldwin’s smooth Southern charm and willingness to let us crawl all over his modified VXR affirms his North Carolina upbringing. While much of our conversation took place at the 2017 Media Press Introduction earlier, WCJ photographer Alie Block caught up with Baldwin between motos at the Lake Hartwell, Georgia stop of the Hidden Trails Pro Watercross Tour a little over a week ago.

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The longtime Dean’s Team, factory Yamaha racer waved at his ski, “You are looking at a stripped-down 2016 Yamaha VXR with a SVHO engine package. The engine is bone stock (other than a set of RIVA valve spring retainers), and it uses the SVHO stock pump with a twin impeller, a modified venturi and stock steering nozzle.” Built strictly for closed course racing and competing in the New Jersey, Georgia and West Virginia stops of the Hidden Trails Pro Watercross Tour, Baldwin did tease that this ski will be racing in Chicago at the Pro Sprint round of AquaX this coming September 10-11.

“The setup is pretty mainstream,” Baldwin shrugged. “It’s all IJSBA Limited class modifications. RIVA Racing and Dean’s Team can supply the parts needed to build a replica of this monster. I built the ski with the help of RIVA parts and a Dean’s Team ECU reflash, that’s it.” Although Baldwin’s modesty is appealing, it belies some other custom work that his racing class allows. He admitted, “We lightened the hull and deck.” Although he wouldn’t disclose the final weight, he did note that it was “close” to what the upcoming GP1800 weighed.

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Grabbing the handlebars, Baldwin noted, “I built my own steering system since nothing was available at the time. RIVA has a killer steering system coming out.” When it came to other handling tweaks, Baldwin was a little more mum. “Sponsons? These are custom sponsons that we made.” Information regarding the ride plate and intake grate was withheld. Final alterations included a Jettrim seat cover fitted to the stock seat, and “stock mats over the custom blue paint.” The new GP1800’s brighter blue caught the racer’s eye at the press intro, vowing, “That’s gonna be next year’s color. I love it.”

In its current form, the ski is blistering fast. “0-to-60 times are well below the 2 second mark and top speed is mid- to high-80s depending on the handling setup,” Baldwin noted. Baldwin’s performance on the SVHO-powered ’16 VXR has been enough to frustrate even Dustin Farthing on his 600-horsepower, all-carbon fiber RXP-X in several motos of the ‘Tour. “If it can keep up with a $60,000 exotic like Dustin’s [Sea-Doo],” Baldwin laughed, noting the considerable cost difference between the two builds. “I think it’s doing great.”

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With the release of the upcoming 2017 GP1800, for which Baldwin’s build was modeled around, the hull getting its origin from the ’15-’16 VXR, Baldwin attests the new GP1800 will be a top contender on any racing circuit. “Just look at my ski if you want to know if the new GP is up to the task.” Baldwin will continue campaigning the VXR SVHO with the support of his sponsors Yamaha Factory Racing, Dean’s Team, RIVA Racing, Champion Powersports, Jet Lift, and Fly Racing throughout the year, and will return next year on a new GP1800.

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – kevin.shaw@shawgroupmedia.com Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

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