Katja and Miracle Mike (the Nitrous-breathing Indian Scout named after a headless chicken)
Former Grand Prix rider Katja Poensgen only signed on to ride for the resurrected Indian brand on June 10, but in the following week she has taken two spectacular wins and generated more race-winning publicity than the brand has had in Europe for a century. And just to add flavor to the story, the 39-year-old's Nitrous-Oxide-burning 185-hp Indian Scout motorcycle is named "Miracle Mike", after a headless chicken. You couldn't make this stuff up.
Poensgen is no stranger to two-wheeled success, being the only female to ever qualify to race in the 250cc World Championships and the only female ever to score points in the class.
That's the official timesheet from Poensgen's point scoring effort in the 2001 Italian 250cc Grand Prix above right, with Poensgen on the Dark Dog 250cc Aprilia she campaigned that year at left.
In 2004, Poensgen ended her Grand Prix racing career and became a television presenter in Germany. The following year, she gave birth to a daughter, Hollie Emma Poensgen. In 2012, she returned to international racing with the German Münch Racing Team, finishing second in the FIM e-Power International Championship race series. Indeed, Poensgen led the points table for the title at one stage of the season after winning the Hungaroring round in June 2012 (above top left). Though it didn't have official world championship status, the series was the most important electric motorcycle racing championship in the world at the time.
On June 10, 2017, Indian Motorcycle company issued a press release announcing that Poensgen would race a new Indian Scout sprint bike at the Essenza sprint races to be held the following day at the famous Montlhéry Autodrome in France.
The bike in question, named "Miracle Mike", had been displayed for the first time in Basel, Switzerland on May 13, drawing quite a reaction. European custom motorcycles have evolved into an art form over the last few decades and custom motorcycle shows, such as the Art & Wheels show where the recreated Indian Scout debuted, celebrate this ongoing movement.
Built by Nik Heer and Fabian Witzig of The Young Guns Speed Shop in Switzerland, Miracle Mike began life as a standard 1133cc Indian Scout. But with over 700 hours of labour lavished on it, it was far from standard by the time it reached Basel.
Miracle Mike may be perfectly honed for sprint racing, but it equally comes from the art school – something the bike's name and logo pay homage to. The Young Guns are developing a theme of naming their motorcycles after birds, with one previous performance motorcycle designed for top speed runs at Bonneville named "Ferdinand the Sparrow", while Miracle Mike was named after a famous headless chicken that had its head removed with an axe, but miraculously lived on for another 18 months. That's the original Miracle Mike above. Nik Heer says the name was chosen because, "we can't think about anything that's scarier to compete against than something you can chop the head off and it is still going strong!"
A standard Indian Scout weighs 245 kg (540 lb), but as the covers were ripped off for the maiden exhibition in Basel, Miracle Mike weighed in at 197 kg (434 lb), indicating the extent to which every single component had been examined and its performance optimized.
The most significant aspect of the build from a horsepower viewpoint was the fitting of a nitrous oxide injection system from Wizards of NOS. This was one of the key factors in increasing the stock engine's 100 hp, to Miracle Mike's 185 hp at the rear wheel. In the final week before the competition debut, Indian provided access to the engineers who had developed the race-winning Scout FTR750 engine and two days were spent sorting the power delivery on a dyno at Polaris Swissauto.
For those who aren't aware of the Indian heritage, the company's first incarnation began in 1901 and ended in 1953, and in the years prior to WW1 and again between the wars, Indian was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Several attempts were made to resurrect the brand, each of them failing to gather momentum, until recreational vehicle giant Polaris Industries purchased the rights in 2011 and finally gave the coveted marque the financial backing it needed for a sustainable revival to match the glory days.
Followers of our auction coverage will be aware that Indian is one of the most valuable motorcycle marques on the auction block, along with Brough Superior, Vincent, Crocker, Harley-Davidson and BMW. That's also how Miracle Mike found its way onto the Polaris Swissauto dyno.
Young Guns enrolled several major performance companies in creating Miracle Mike, with Öhlins Racing providing the suspension, Akrapovič the custom muffler, Metzeler tires and Brembo offering the best stoppers available.
"The front caliper is the Brembo GP4-RX, which represents a significant development in brake caliper design, thanks to the use of software derived from Brembo's racing experience," explains Brembo's Roberto Pellegrini. "This new solution has enabled Brembo to optimize the shape of the brake caliper machining and marks a radical change from standard racing caliper shapes. The braking surface of the SuperSport brake disc is drilled and connected with 10 floating aluminum bushes, the same used in top racing machines."
The first race: Essenza Sprint Races at Cafe Racer Festival
Following the June 10 announcement that Katja Poensgen would race Miracle Mike, the next day saw the bike's competition debut at the Essenza Sprint Races held at Autodrome Linas-Montlhéry as part of the popular Café Racer Festival. Poensgen had not seen the bike prior to entering the pits at the famous French proving ground, and admitted after the event that she wasn't sure what to expect.
The Essenza sprint races involved 16 bikes facing off in pairs down the chute, with each race a knock-out, so that winning the event meant winning four consecutive races. In the end, Miracle Mike's power delivery and Poensgen's race-honed reflexes won the day as she defeated German Mai Lin Senf on a Yamaha XV950 named "Dragger", Mathie Menard on a Triumph Street Twin named "Alienor", Amir Brajan on a Suzuki V-strom named "V-Track 1000" and found herself in the final against Jérome Savary on a Triumph Thruxton R named "The Thruster" entered by French magazine Café Racer.
You can see all the very spectacular custom builds that competed in detail at the official Essenza site, where you can also vote for the best looking motorcycle. The build quality on all these bikes is off-the-charts. At the time of writing, a Valvoline BMW RnineT held a narrow lead, but if you are into custom motorcycles, you'll love all the contenders.
The second race: Punk's Peak
Less than a week after her success at the Essenza Sprint Races, Poensgen again turned out on Miracle Mike at the Punk's Peak races that are part of the growing Wheels and Waves Festival in Biarritz, France.
Billed as a festival of motorcycling, music, surfing and skateboarding, the ninth running of the festival has seen it grow from humble beginnings in 2009 to attracting around 15,000 people this year, with support from most of the major motorcycle manufacturers.
One of the highlights of the weekend festival is the "Punk's Peak" sprints held on a closed-road course across the top of Mount Jaizbikel near San Sebastian.
A similar format to the Essenza Sprint races saw Poensgen win her first three runs against other competitors, to find herself pitched against one of the competitors she hadn't faced at Essenza in the final: the BMW R nine T Valvoline Special produced by Workhorse Speed Shop. In a close run event, Miracle Mike crossed the line first and once more the Indian name was making headlines in newspapers across Europe, just as it has done in winning the Senior TT race at the 1911 Isle of Man.
At that time the Isle of Man was the world's most important race and to put things in perspective, neither the Essenza Sprint Races or the Punk's Peak races are of any great importance in the grand scheme of motorcycle competition.
Both races were very casual affairs, but with the evolution of motorcycling into more "feel good" than "go fast" at the umbrella events that staged them, those wins may indeed sell more motorcycles ... and Katja Poensgen may become better known and more popular as the 39-year-old mum who can ride the wheels off a motorcycle, than she did as the Grand Prix racer with supermodel looks.