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.

Friday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: Wild Weather, Viñales Crashing, Real Race Pace, & Decoding Lorenzo

03/24/2017 @ 11:58 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

A growing sense of, not panic, perhaps, but certainly concern is enveloping the MotoGP paddock in Qatar. The ever unstable weather is forcing the series organizers to make contingency plans for every possible scenario the conditions in the desert may throw up.

Heavy rains that have been sweeping across the peninsula have made it uncertain how and when the race is to be held. It could be Sunday night in the wet, it could be Sunday afternoon, it could even be Monday.

Despite the bizarre weather – hailstones fell in the afternoon, then a downpour flooded the country in the night – practice has been pretty much unaffected. The advantage of rain in the desert is that it dries up pretty quickly when it stops.

The track was a little dirtier when the MotoGP bikes took to the track for FP2 at 6pm, but it was still dry when FP3 ended, nearly four hours later.

The downpour only started at 1am, and stopped an hour later. Which suggests that the weather is weird enough for all of the emergency planning being made to be in vain, and qualifying and the race will take place as planned, in the dry, with no disruption.

Still, not preparing for the possibility is a sure-fire guarantee that it will rain.

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Thursday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: Rain, An Unbeatable Viñales, And Weird Aero

03/24/2017 @ 1:09 am, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

Racing is back. No more messing about trying to extrapolate data points from testing to hypothetical performance on race weekends. This is a race weekend. Now, we have actual data from free practice to extrapolate data points from to hypothetical performance during the actual race.

Yes, it sounds identical, yet it is subtly different. There are only three more sessions of free practice, qualifying, and then the warm up before the race. No more engine updates, no time to test new parts.

Only time to nail down a decent set up and give it everything you’ve got, or “my 100%”, as non-native English speakers like to say.

The MotoGP field were lucky to get a session of free practice in. The weather in Qatar has been extremely unstable, and storms keep blowing in and out of the peninsula. The possibility of rain has caused a bevy of emergency measures to be taken.

Previously, racing in the wet had been regarded as impossible, due to the reflection of the floodlights on the wet surface, but last month, FIM and Dorna safety representatives Franco Uncini and Loris Capirossi did some laps of the track at night.

Capirossi and Uncini decided that the track is safe enough to ride, even in the wet. But the race would only happen if the riders had all had time on a wet track under the floodlights, to judge the situation for themselves. “[Capirossi] has been behind a car,” Cal Crutchlow said on Wednesday. “But it’s different when there are 23 people on the grid. A lot more can happen.”

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2017 MotoGP Season Preview: Part 1 – The Five Aliens

03/21/2017 @ 6:29 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

And then there were five. Should that statement have a question mark after it? On the evidence of pre-season testing, definitely not. Maverick Viñales earned the right to add his name to last year’s list, dominating testing and finishing fastest in all four.

Marc Márquez demonstrated why he is reigning world champion, and why his rivals have reason to fear him even more this year. Dani Pedrosa finished fifth at Valencia and Sepang, then third at Phillip Island and Qatar.

Jorge Lorenzo found the process of adapting to the Ducati tougher than expected, but was third quickest on his first day on the bike, and fourth fastest at Qatar.

And the man with the worst pre-season results of the lot, Valentino Rossi is, well, Valentino Rossi. You only ever write off Valentino Rossi after the final race at Valencia is done and dusted. And not a millisecond before.

So we head into the first race in Qatar with five Aliens, all of whom are likely to win at least one race this year. Some, like Viñales, will win a lot more this year than they have in the past. Others, like Lorenzo, will win far fewer, but will surely end up on the top step at one race, at the very least.

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Qatar MotoGP Test Summary – Day 3

03/13/2017 @ 12:46 am, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

Testing is over. Sunday was the last chance for the MotoGP field to work on preparing for the 2017 season, to tweak, refine, and experiment.

The next time bikes take to the track, in two weeks time, there will be much more at stake than pride and a little bit of psychological advantage. There will no longer be anywhere to hide.

The last day of the test meant a busy schedule, though that is a relative thing at the Losail International circuit. For the best part of two hours, nothing stirred on track bar the bored chatter of riders, mechanics, and photographers as they waited for the sun to go down, and the track to cool off enough to go testing.

Once testing started, riders started grinding out the laps. Temperatures stayed high enough to stave off the dew, and it was possible to ride until the track closed at 11pm, without the risk of crashing on an invisible patch of moisture.

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Qatar MotoGP Test Summary – Day 2

03/12/2017 @ 9:22 pm, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

As veteran MotoGP journalist Dennis Noyes pointed out on Twitter late on Saturday night, on Sunday, we will start to see some of the real truth of where everyone stands.

Sunday is the last chance for the MotoGP field to do a full race simulation, putting together everything they have learned during winter testing. The last day of the test at Qatar will serve as a dress rehearsal for the race.

But Saturday gave us a quick peek at everyone’s hands. The work now is more about refinement than revolution, and genuine speed is coming to the fore. The final timesheets from Saturday do not tell the whole story, but a general picture is starting to form.

It is looking increasingly like the 2017 MotoGP championship is going to be fought out between Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez. And while they focus on each other – which they are doing more and more – other riders, primarily Valentino Rossi, are waiting in the wings to strike.

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Qatar MotoGP Test Summary – Day 1

03/11/2017 @ 1:42 am, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

At Sepang, after losing so much time to the weather during the shakedown test ahead of the official test, Ducati boss Gigi Dall’Igna said that there was no point in using Sepang as a test circuit, if the surface was not going to dry. “Maybe we have to test somewhere else,” he said.

Now MotoGP is somewhere else. At Qatar, where the rain is never a concern (well, almost never), and the teams don’t have to worry about the track not drying up. But arguably, the teams get even less track time at Qatar than they do at Sepang, even when it rains.

The test starts at 4pm, with the fierce Arabian sun still beating down on the track. Sunset is two hours later, and it takes a while for the track to cool to the normal temperatures that will be found at the race.

Track temperatures are fine after dark, at least for a few hours. Around 10pm, an hour before the track closes, the dew starts to form. The time at which it starts tends to vary, depending on temperature and humidity, but it is very rarely before 11pm.

Invisible damp patches on the track mean riders start to crash without warning. The sensible riders wait for the unlucky riders to crash, then take that as a signal to scurry back to their garages and call it a day.

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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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MotoGP Phillip Island MotoGP Test Summary – Day 3

02/17/2017 @ 10:51 pm, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

On Friday at Phillip Island, shortly after a quarter to four in the afternoon, local time, a new chapter started in the annals of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Maverick Viñales had just passed the halfway mark of what was supposed to be a full race simulation when Marc Márquez entered the track. The reigning champion latched onto the back of the Movistar Yamaha, following him around the track.

After a couple of laps, Viñales lost his patience, and aborted his race simulation.

Viñales was not best pleased. “I don’t know what to say, because sure I don’t want to gain nothing, because there is nothing. But it’s not normal. You are doing your race simulation. Someone pulls out… you cannot stop. After five laps that he was behind, finally I needed to abort the race simulation. Anyway the track is 4 kilometers. Strange that he was there, where I was.”

Márquez played the innocent. “Today there was one run that I go out and I saw that he passed. Then there was some gap, but I was able to recover this gap. Then I followed him two laps and it was interesting to see a different bike.”

The Repsol Honda rider then commented that he had also followed a Ducati and a Suzuki, to see where they were strong.

He gave the game away when asked whether he expected Maverick Viñales to be his main rival this year. “When you arrive in the first race you see because the race weekend is completely different to here,” Márquez said.

He spoke only in general terms: both Yamaha riders would be strong. Ducati may be struggling here, but they will be in the mix in Qatar. Dani Pedrosa will be stronger than most expect. Yes, Viñales was fast, but the Yamaha is such a stable bike, so what do you expect?

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MotoGP Phillip Island MotoGP Test Summary – Day 2

02/16/2017 @ 11:30 pm, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

Scouring through the timesheets after the second day of the MotoGP test at Phillip Island, and reading through everything the riders have said, a picture emerges, not just of what happened on Thursday, but also how history has affected them.

Seeing Marc Márquez’s workload, his approach, the things he is working on, and it is hard not to think back to his past three seasons in MotoGP. The lessons learned in each of those seasons color everything he is working at Phillip Island, and give us a glimpse of his objective for 2017.

On Thursday, Márquez put in 107 laps around Phillip Island. That is 20% more than most of his rivals, and nearly double the amount that some of them rode.

Asked if he was playing games in suggesting the 2017 Honda RC213V was not ready, Márquez was curt. “I don’t play games, because if I’m ready I would not make 107 laps! Because my hands are destroyed.”

Why put in so many laps? A look at the past three seasons offers an insight. In 2014, Márquez destroyed the field in the first part of the season, winning ten races in a row, and a total of thirteen.

For a man with a thirst for victory matched perhaps only by Valentino Rossi, this was an ecstatic period. It also lured him into a false sense of security, the bike suffering as a result. This was not helped by Honda’s insistence on building a bike as powerful as possible, with no view of making it easy to use.

2015 was a watershed year for Márquez. He crashed out of so many races trying to win them that he threw away any chance of defending his title. He put the lessons learned into 2016, and won the title last year by learning to settle for points.

Sometimes, after the race, you could see from the expression on his face that not winning races had caused him something approaching physical pain.

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MotoGP Phillip Island MotoGP Test Summary – Day 1

02/15/2017 @ 4:57 pm, by David Emmett11 COMMENTS

There’s this thing called sandbagging in motorcycle racing. You’ve probably heard about it. It’s where a rider doesn’t show his hand completely ahead of the season, doesn’t smile in public, hangs a tale of woe on the media, about how he is struggling with the bike, and how much work they have to do.

Then, when the flag drops and the racing starts for real, the rider goes out and completely destroys the opposition.

The key to sandbagging is not to give too much away on the timesheets. Riders find all sorts of smart ways of doing this. Working on one sector at a time, perhaps. Pushing for the first half of the lap, then backing off for the second half.

On the next run, they back off in the second half of the lap, and push for the second half. The bare lap time shows up as unimpressive, but put the two halves together and you have something very impressive indeed.

Marc Márquez appears to be trying to sandbag at Phillip Island, but he is not doing a very good job of it.

He has the act down just fine: lots of criticism of the bike, a lot of concerns about which areas still need work, pointing out that Phillip Island tends to hide the weak point of the Honda RC213V. The point where he is falling down on is hiding it out on track.

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