At the AMA Supermoto Season-Opener in Bakersfield

It all started with the Superbikers. As a young man growing up in the late 70s, there were only three network TV stations for me to watch, and unlike today, motorsports programs were few and far between. Other than the Indy 500 and the occasional airing of stock car racing, motorsports just weren’t on the air very often. During one serendipitous Saturday, I happened upon ABC’s Wide World of Sports. And on that particular day, they were airing the Superbikers. Looking back, the influence that program had on the rest of my motorcycling life is immeasurable. An unusual combination of road racing, dirt track, and motocross, the Superbikers showcased racers I had only read about in the motorcycle magazines.

The WorldSBK Season So Far: Yamaha & Honda

While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK, the battle for best-of-the-rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017. Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign, the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front-row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws and looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series. This year has seen their roles have reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best-of-the-rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.

Investors Leveraging MotoGP for Sizable Payout

According to several reports in the financial sector, the investors behind Dorna Sports S.L. are readying themselves for another sizable payout from the media rights holder for the MotoGP and WorldSBK Championships. Using a bit of financial finesse, the move would see Bridgepoint Capital and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – the two major investors in Dorna Sports – taking roughly €889 million off the books of the Spanish media company, according to Reuters. As such, today’s news would make this the third time that Bridgepoint and the CPPIB have raided the piggy bank for motorcycling’s premier racing series, having done similar deals in 2011 (€420 million) and 2014 (€715 million).

Norton Gets £3 Million to Increase V4 Production

If you have had your eye on a Norton V4 superbike recently, you might not have to wait as long for it to arrive, as the British marque has secured £3 million from the Santander Corporate & Commercial bank. The debt investment will allow Norton to triple its production rate on the V4 SS and V4 RR models, and also allow for the company to hire 40 new employees for the job. Additionally, according to Norton this will allow the company to increase its production volume to 1,500 motorcycles per year. “Having developed and pre-sold a huge number of bikes, we needed the funding to be readily available to pay for tooling, stock and people to allow production to move from 40 bikes per month to in excess of 130 bikes with effect from summer 2017,” said Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles.

Is The 2018 BMW HP4 Race About to Debut in China?

After this year’s April Fools hijinks, we have a whole new respect for the cunning that resides at BMW Motorrad, and the Germans seem to be honing that trait even further today. Announcing its plans for the upcoming Auto Shanghai 2017 later this month, BMW lists a number of four-wheeled news items for the Chinese auto show, and then casually slips-in at the end of the press release that we should expect a big unveil from BMW Motorrad. The statement reads that “the highlight of the BMW Motorrad stand is the world premiere of one of the most exclusive models ever offered by BMW Motorrad,” which is terse, though given what we know about the Bavarian brand, it should be easy to guess what they are hinting at.

Vyrus 986 M2 Street Bike Now Priced at €38,000

It is apparently more difficult to sell a kidney than I had previously thought (type o- / non-smoker / non-drinker…if you happen to be in the market), which isn’t good news when you are trying to get together some scratch for a Vyrus 986 M2 – the hottest supersport we have ever seen. Making matters worse is that Vyrus got in touch with A&R, updating us with their latest pricing structure for their Honda-powered hub-center steering masterpiece, which now comes with a price tag of €37,940 for the street bike, and €27,930 for the street bike kit. That is quite the change from the originally quoted €25,000 street bike model and €16,000 kit, and there is good reason for that, say the folks at Vyrus.

You Didn’t Know You Missed It, But the Honda NM4 Is Back

You probably didn’t even realize that the Honda NM4 was missing from Honda America’s model list for 2017, but the polarizing motorcycle is back for the 2018 model year. The first 2018 motorcycle to be announced so far this year from Honda, it probably helps that the Honda NM4 is featured in the Ghost in the Shell movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson. Laugh if you want, but the NM4 is a surprisingly pleasant to ride, even if you aren’t dressed like the Caped Crusader. As such, the Honda NM4 represents a tradition of motorcycles from Big Red that have pushed that boundaries of not only what we visually accept a motorcycle to look like, but it also blurs the distinctions we make between different motorcycle segments.

US Senate Establishes Motorcycle Caucus

The motorcycle industry has found more allies on Capital Hill this week, with the creation of the first “motorcycle caucus” in the United States Senate. Established so motorcycle manufacturers and motorcyclists would have a greater voice in the upper chamber of the American legislature, the Senate Motorcycle Caucus is the work of Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan). Motorcyclists typically aren’t single-issue voter – not for issues pertaining to motorcycles, at least – but with several important political issues currently affecting the motorcycle industry, the formation of the Senate Motorcycle Caucus comes at an advantageous time.

Husqvarna Two-Strokes Get Fuel-Injection Too

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Husqvarna will be following suit with its Austrian sibling, and adding fuel-injection to several of its two-strokes enduro motorcycle for the 2018 model year. After a long history of rumors and development, KTM finally debuted fuel injection for a production two-stroke model just a few weeks ago, using the technology on two of its upcoming enduro models, the KTM 250 EXC TPI and KTM 300 EXC TPI. Husqvarna will use the same technology for its own motorcycles in the same segments, announcing today the the all-new 2018 Husqvarna TE 250i and 2018 Husqvarna TE 300i enduro models with transfer port injection.

Opinion: The Danger of Expanding the MotoGP Calendar

It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict. This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world.

2017 MotoGP Qatar Test Preview

03/09/2017 @ 8:24 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

The testing season is nearly done. The MotoGP grid assembles in Qatar for three final days of testing, in preparation for the season ahead. Much has already been done, but there is still a lot of work to get through.

Every factory, every team, every rider has things they want to try, in the hope of improving their chances in 2017. In most cases, those are just minor details, the nuances and finesses that will give hundredths of a second, not tenths. But not always.

There are always a couple of last-minute gambles to take, big ticket items that need one last decision. At Qatar this year, it is Honda’s turn to make a big decision, on which spec of engine to use for the season.

They tested one spec at Valencia, then another one at Sepang and Phillip Island, and at a one-day private test at Jerez.

It looks like they have made their decision, to go with the revised big bang engine tested for the first time at Sepang. But the cool air and hard acceleration of Qatar will be the deciding factor.

To double check, they will be bringing an extra engine to give to Jack Miller, the Marc VDS Honda rider, who has so far only used the Valencia engine.

If the Repsol riders, LCR’s Cal Crutchlow, and Jack Miller all agree, then HRC will pull the trigger on their latest engine, and race with it in 2017.

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The 2017 Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP Race Bike Debuts

03/03/2017 @ 5:26 am, by Jensen Beeler23 COMMENTS

The final factory MotoGP to debut its 2017 MotoGP Championship race bike, Aprilia has finally debuted the 2017 Aprilia RS-GP that Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes will campaign this year.

The Italian outfit continues to make quiet strides in its development with the RS-GP, though the efforts from Suzuki and KTM tend to dominate the headlines. For the 2017 season, Aprilia looks ready to take another step forward, especially with Aleix Espargaro at the helm.

The biggest task for the 2017 will be to bring more horsepower to the Aprilia RS-GP. The machine reportedly handles quite well, though that is often an item of praise that changes as the power increases.

Still, the elder Espargaro brother has shown an impressive pace on the Aprilia RS-GP during the pre-season tests, while his teammate Sam Lowes continues to simply learn and adapt his riding style to suit the more powerful machinery found in the MotoGP Championship.

Noticeably absent from the team’s livery launch photos are the new aerodynamic fairings that the Noale factory was testing in Phillip Island.

This might be due to Aprilia not wanting high-resolution photos of its aero work circulating on the internet, or it is simply nod to the fact that the aerodynamics for the 2017 season are still under development.

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Paddock Pass Podcast #46 – Phillip Island MotoGP Test

02/26/2017 @ 4:31 pm, by Jensen BeelerComments Off on Paddock Pass Podcast #46 – Phillip Island MotoGP Test

Episode 46 of the Paddock Pass Podcast covers the MotoGP test at Phillip Island, with David Emmett and Neil Morrison covering the second-to-last pre-season test before the start of the 2017 Grand Prix Championship.

Of course the talk of the test is the brewing rivalry between Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales, with the Yamaha factory riders showing impressive speed in Australia. Unsurprisingly, the mind games have already started for the season.

Aerodynamics is of course a topic of interest, with Aprilia, Suzuki, and Yamaha showing their aero packages already. We will still have to wait and see what the remaining factories come up with…or don’t, as the case might be.

KTM might be one of the factory teams without advanced aerodynamics this season, with the Austrian brand having bigger fish to fry in order to get the KTM RC16 better prepared for Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. 

David and Neil also shed some much needed light on the satellite riders, especially the rookie riders, as the bevy of factory teams has made the competition for the private teams much closer and more difficult. 

The show wraps up with the various development efforts Dorna is undertaking to bring in new riders, from different nationalities, into Grand Prix racing, which will be something for fans to keep an eye on as the fruits of that labor ripen.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

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The Winglet Loophole in MotoGP

02/16/2017 @ 12:54 pm, by David Emmett19 COMMENTS

Winglets may have been banned for 2017, but the drive for aerodynamics development continues. This time, however, winglet development will continue on the inside of the fairing, rather than the outside. The development ban applies solely to the exterior surface of the fairing, and not the interior. 

What this means in practice is that while the shape of the fairing must be homologated at Qatar, with one update allowed during the season, that only applies to the outer surface of the ducts, and not to the vanes (the small struts or winglets inside the ducts which control the airflow and can be used to alter downforce) inside those ducts.

Development of aerodynamic control surfaces will still be allowed, as long as the changes remain on the inside of the fairing.

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Could Milwaukee Aprilia Be the Dark Horse of WorldSBK?

02/09/2017 @ 2:17 pm, by Kent Brockman8 COMMENTS

Eugene Laverty was second on the timesheets for both days in Portimao, and afterwards the Irishman declared that he was happy, confident, and aiming for wins from the opening round of the WorldSBK season.

“I feel a lot more confidence ahead of Phillip Island after this test,” said Laverty. “We’ve had six days on the bike now. The November test was just to get used to the Pirelli tyres again, and by the end of that test I was feeling ok with them.”

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What We Learned at the Sepang MotoGP Test, Part 2

02/03/2017 @ 10:15 am, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

While Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez emerged from the Sepang tests as clear favorites, with Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso close behind, Andrea Iannone established himself as a genuine dark horse. The Italian was fastest on Tuesday, and left the test as second quickest behind Viñales.

Iannone has inherited a bike that is already well developed, and Suzuki brought engine upgrades to Sepang, which got them even closer to the front.

It was telling that Iannone did not spend much time testing parts, but rather focusing on race setup and working on extracting maximum performance from a used tire.

Tires were a bit of a problem for Iannone on the last day of the test. He crashed three times, including once as he was attempting a long run, the front washing out at Turn 1. The issue proved to be a vibration in low speed corners.

“I have a small vibration in the slow corners,” Iannone said. “In the fast corner the bike is perfect. There is no vibration, no chattering. But in the slow corner, especially in turns four, nine, 14 and the last corner, we have a small vibration at maximum lean angle.” That vibration got worse as the tires became more worn.

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Sepang MotoGP Test Tuesday Summary

01/31/2017 @ 12:58 pm, by David Emmett10 COMMENTS

What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening’s torrential rain.

Sepang’s weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.

Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.

Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.

How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco’s name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second.

The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.

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Sepang MotoGP Test Monday Summary

01/30/2017 @ 2:09 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

On a normal day, the fastest rider at the end of a day of testing is paraded proudly in front of the press, and given his chance to explain what a good job the team and manufacturer was doing, how they were not really pushing for a lap time, and feign a certain modesty while privately gloating at how they crushed their rivals.

But this was not a normal day. The fastest man in Sepang on Monday slipped out of the circuit in virtual anonymity. After all, he is merely a test rider, and test riders don’t usually talk to the media. We journalists, snobs that we are, don’t waste our precious time on test riders.

In this case, however, it was not the media not wanting to talk to the test rider, it was the test rider not wanting to speak to the media.

One of the reasons Casey Stoner retired from racing was because he was sick of the media circus, of spending his life living out of a suitcase and answering stupid and prying questions from idiots like me.

But he still loves challenging himself on a MotoGP bike, and trying to see just how fast he can go. And Ducati are happy to pay him handsomely for the privilege. After Monday, who can blame them?

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2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Preview

01/30/2017 @ 1:39 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

In a few hours time, the grandstands at the Sepang International Circuit will echo with the booming assault of MotoGP machines being pushed to their limits. The entire MotoGP grid has assembled for the first test of the preseason, meaning that the 2017 MotoGP season is about to get underway, at last.

That, at least, is the plan. The reality is that the grandstands may echo only to the sporadic rasp of a MotoGP bike being warmed up, and the occasional intrepid test rider being sent out to test conditions.

The resurfaced Sepang continues to be plagued by drainage problems, water remaining on the track for a long time. In high humidity, relatively low track temperatures and without the burning tropical sun, the water left by unusually heavy rains is not evaporating.

Parts of the track remain wet all day, making it impossible to push the bikes to the limit, and very risky to try.

Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio expressed the concerns shared by most teams.

“You never know how many hours you can test, because the track remains wet for a long time. And if it rains a lot in the evening, maybe you have to wait a long time in the morning. So it’s a little bit of a question mark now, how much you can test.”

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Eugene Laverty Talks About Aprilia’s New Factory Effort

01/26/2017 @ 12:02 pm, by Kent Brockman8 COMMENTS

It’s been a turbulent 12 months for Shaun Muir Racing. Their much touted move to World Superbike in 2016, as reigning British Superbike champions, proved to be an exceptionally trying campaign that ended with infighting between the team and its lead rider, Josh Brookes.

Armed with the BMW S1000RR, expectations were high for the British squad, but ultimately they struggled to find a consistent balance during the season, and their relations with the German manufacturer petered out.

For many teams that would have brought dark clouds, but instead SMR may have hit the jackpot. The team launched their 2017 project this week at Jerez, and while beautiful sunshine flooded the Jerez circuit, the team lifted their garage doors to a genuine belief that they can win races.

Their partnership with Aprilia began at the November tests last year, but it was this week that the real fruits of that relationship came to bear.

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