The Class of 2015.
Steady start for the 2014 Moto3 world champion Alex Marquez on his Moto2 debut.
Andrea Dovizioso could be a good outside bet for a podium this weekend.
These are the first images of the 2016 Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP race bike from the Japanese manufacturer, the same machine that is currently lapping around the Sepang International Circuit this week for MotoGP’s first official test of 2016. As you can see, not much has changed visually, though obviously a lot of the development has occurred beneath the fairings of the Suzuki GSX-RR. What we can see though are subtle changes to the twin-spar aluminum frame, which has now been completely filled in on both sides. Also, there is a new and modified air ducts on the side fairings, likely for extra cooling – on the left side, it’s near the top of the bike, while on the right side, the lower ducts has been enlarged to expose the exhaust header more. The shape of the exhaust has also changed, making for a more sweeping design.
Casey Stoner got the first testing miles of his return to Ducati under his belt on Saturday. The Australian started slowly and steadily, doing a lot of short runs to get a feel for the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, on which he spent most of the day, before upping the pace later in the afternoon. Journalists present at the test said Stoner looked a little stiff in his early laps, not getting either elbow or knee down, but soon started to relax, and look more like his old self. He had every reason to be wary: the last time Stoner rode a race bike on the road was during the Suzuka 8 Hours, where a throttle cable malfunction saw him thrown from the bike, injuring his scapula and tibia in the process.
Another more tidbit of news to come from the 2016 MV Agusta Brutale press launch (read the review here), is word from CEO Giovanni Castiglioni that MV Agusta will unveil six new models this year, ahead of the 2016 EICMA show. Castiglioni wouldn’t say which three models it would be, though he made hint with the above slide that three of them would be naked sport bikes, while the other three new models would be fully faired sport bikes. With these hints, it makes the guessing game fairly straight forward. We already broke the news to you that an updated Brutale 675 would debut in Q2 2016, with new Dragster 800 and Brutale 800 RR models soon to follow, with MV Agusta’s updated 798cc three-cylinder engine that now meets Euro4 emission standards.
It seemed when MV Agusta debuted only a solitary machine at the 2015 EICMA show, the MV Agusta Brutale 800, with less power, more weight, and subtle design revision, that the Varese-based company had taken a step backwards from its forward progress. Now that we have had the opportunity to ride the machine in Málaga, Spain – we can see that is not the case. The new Brutale 800 signals an elevation of MV Agusta, from a brand with a shiny veneer and little beneath the surface, to a motorcycle company that can not only tug on the heartstrings of our moto-lust, but can also pique our more reasonable senses into seeing the substance beyond the glossy paint and subtle lines. Quite simply put, the 2016 MV Agusta Brutale 800 is the best machine to come from Varese.
If the Movistar Yamaha launch at Barcelona made one thing clear, it is that the feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez will be just as bitter in 2016 as it was in 2015. In Barcelona, Rossi once again repeated the litany of charges he leveled against Marc Márquez at the end of last season. Márquez had decided early in the season he would try to stop Rossi from winning the title, had played with Rossi at Phillip Island, done far worse at Sepang, then stayed behind Lorenzo at Valencia to hand him the title. For Valentino Rossi, nothing has changed since Valencia 2015.
Ducati is at this year’s Motor Bike Expo in Verona, and it has a bevy of concepts and customs it wants to show the world. The Italian brand’s trio of Sixty2 Scrambler concepts didn’t really spark our engine, but the Ducati draXter Concept is certainly of note and worthy of further scrutiny. The Ducati XDiavel was Bologna’s big reveal at EICMA this year, and while the cruiser model wasn’t our cup of tea, we might have to change our tune with this decked-out version of the machine. Ducati says that the draXter model interprets the XDiavel from a “sports” point-of-view, and the modifications made to the machine certainly do a good job of connoting a bike that leaps from the line.
To put it succinctly, KTM is crushing it. In 2015, the Austrian company posted another banner year, which is nothing terribly new from a European motorcycle brand; but in just a few five short years, KTM has addd over 100,000 motorcycles to its volume of production. As such, the Austrian sold 180,801 KTM and Husqvarna motorcycles in 2015, making €1.02 billion in the process. This is a 14% increase over KTM’s sales in 2014, a 18% increase in revenue, and a 26% in income (€95 million, EBIT). This also makes 2015 the first time that KTM has exceeded a billion euros in revenue, and the fifth year in a row that KTM sales have increased. According to KTM, this makes them the fastest growing motorcycle company in the world.
Yamaha is headed back to the World Superbike paddock, and it is not taking any half-measures in doing so. As such, the Japanese manufacturer has retained the talents of Sylvain Guintoli (World Superbike Champion, 2014) and Alex Lowes (British Superbike Champion, 2013), with the highly regarded Crescent Racing running the factory-backed team. Officially debuting the team today in Spain, along with Yamaha’s other racing programs, the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team should be a potent package for the pinnacle of production motorcycle racing, and we expect strong results from them, right off the bat. This is because the new Yamaha YZF-R1 had an entire year of honing at the national level.
Debuting today in Spain, the Yamaha Racing factory MotoGP team took the wraps up the 2016 Yamaha YZR-M1 race bike, and debuted its team, which features riders Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Seemingly, not much has changed to the Yamaha YZR-M1, though the bike now features 17″ wheels and Michelin tires. Yamaha’s spec-sheet (full listing, after the jump) is sparse on specifics as usual, and thus is vague on its details – horsepower is listed simply as “over 240hp” for instance. Indeed, most of the changes to the Yamaha YZR-M1 reside beneath the fairings, with perhaps the most important changes coming to the M1’s ECU, which is now a spec Magneti Marelli unit that runs the unified team software.
It is no secret that Honda are struggling with the engine for the RC213V MotoGP. HRC have been making the engine ever more aggressive for the past three years, but in 2015, they finally went too far. The power delivery of the RC213V was too difficult to contain, even with Honda’s electronics, and HRC suffered their worst season in MotoGP since 2010. Things had not been looking much better for 2016 either. The engine Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez tested at Valencia and Jerez last November was at best a marginal improvement, with a bit more power at the bottom end, but still delivered in a very aggressive manner. Added to this, HRC have had problems with the new unified software which is compulsory for 2016.
The Class of 2015.
Steady start for the 2014 Moto3 world champion Alex Marquez on his Moto2 debut.
Andrea Dovizioso could be a good outside bet for a podium this weekend.
Who starts the 2015 MotoGP season as favorite for the championship? The final test at Qatar will give us a much clearer picture of where the factories and riders stand than the last two tests in Sepang.
That is in part due to the fact that the factories have had time between the Sepang tests and now to work on further refining their bikes ready for the start of 2015.
But the Qatar test is also a little more representative for the rest of the season than Sepang is. The Malaysian circuit may have a good mix of fast and slow corners, but the tropical heat makes it tough on riders, tough on tires, and the track can lose a lot of grip as the temperatures rise.
In a few hours time, we will know who will be the 2014 World Superbike champion. Tom Sykes leads Sylvain Guintoli by 12 points going into the final two races at Qatar. With 50 points up for grabs, the title race is still completely open, and in a series as close as World Superbikes has been this year, anything could happen.
What both Sykes and Guintoli need are help from their teammates. Guintoli most of all: if the Frenchman is to be champion, he will need someone, such as his Aprilia teammate Marco Melandri, to get in between him and the Kawasaki of Sykes.
Sykes, on the other hand, can wrap up the title by winning both races, or at least finishing ahead of Guintoli. If he can’t finish ahead of the Frenchman, then he will hope that his teammate Loris Baz can assist.
As loyal teammates, surely Melandri and Baz will be happy to help? That was only partially the case at the last round in Magny-Cours. In race one, Melandri theatrically waved Guintoli past and into the lead, making it patently obvious that victory was Melandri’s to dispense as he saw fit, and he was prepared to allow his teammate to win this time.
Further back, Baz did the same same for Sykes, though without making quite as much of a song and dance about it as Melandri did.
Race two was a different affair. Once again, Melandri led, and could grant victory to Guintoli if he wanted to. He chose not to, taking the win – despite his pit board making the feelings of his team very clear indeed, for the second race in a row – and taking 5 precious points from Guintoli.
If Melandri had obeyed team orders and moved over, then Guintoli would have trailed Sykes by 7 points instead of 12. That would put Guintoli’s destiny in his own hands: win both races, and it would not matter what Sykes did.
Now, Guintoli needs help, he needs someone between him and the Englishman. Will his teammate come to his rescue this time? Will the Aprilia WSBK team issue team orders again, commanding Melandri to serve the cause of Guintoli’s championship challenge? At the core of this is a much bigger question: Is motorcycle racing a team sport?
The 2014 World Superbike calendar has been updated once again. The South African round of WSBK has been canceled, after the Phakisa Freeway track failed homologation. Work was being carried out on the circuit to allow it to meet requirements, but the work will not be finished on time.
Dorna and the FIM are looking at finding a replacement for the dropped South African round, but at such short notice, and with attendance at WSBK events being disappointing, that will be difficult.
While the South African round was canceled, the Qatar race was confirmed. The racing at Qatar is to be held at night under the floodlights, just as MotoGP is.
Sometimes one or two photographs can rescue what would otherwise be a wasted session. That was exactly the situation recently when shooting the Moto2 warm up in Qatar.
Unlike the rest of the weekend the Moto2 warm up started in daylight. After a bit of deliberation I left the Media Center with the intention of taking a shuttle to the inside of Turn 2 as the low evening sun would be behind me.
Chatting with a couple of NASCAR fans recently, I was reminded that any competition is boring if you don’t care who wins. But if you do care, then even cars driving around in circles can be very compelling entertainment.
Those NASCAR fans really cared about how their favorite drivers finished, and not only how they finished in the latest race, but what and how those drivers were doing off the track as well.
Those fans had been captured by the personalities of those drivers. One of the things NASCAR does well is sell personalities. All major sports-related businesses do this to some extent, but some organizations do it better than others.
The NASCAR fans loved their drivers and loathed the others, so each race becomes a contest of great emotional importance. Will Good triumph over Evil? Will Justice prevail? This drama is acted out lap after lap, and then continued post-race with interviews, public appearances, blogs, and so on.
Our friend Tony Goldsmith, you have enjoyed his work from last year’s Isle of Man TT, is back with a new column for Asphalt & Rubber.
Finding himself made redundant at his regular job, Tony is currently on an adventure of a lifetime: picking up a camera and becoming a full-time photographer in the MotoGP Championship.
Tony will be sharing with us his journeys, thoughts, and of course his pictures from the 2014 MotoGP season, which we hope will serve to be an inspiration for others hoping to achieve a lifetime goal, as well as providing some insight into what goes on behind the lens in the premier class of motorcycle racing. Enjoy! – Jensen
Imagine if just for once you didn’t have to stick to your usual nine-to-five job. Instead you were able to do the one job you’ve always wanted to do, but any number of things (it’s usually money) have stood in the way.
This is exactly the situation I found myself in six months ago when the company I had worked at, for the last 14 years, decided to close, making everyone redundant.
This decision did not come as a surprise; in fact, I had been hanging around for the last few years hoping that it would happen, as I had a plan. Fast-forward six months and I have just finished photographing the opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship in Qatar. The plan is starting to unfold.
The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks.
Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider.
Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. “Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,” he said cryptically.
Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama, and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same.
Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike.
They had been set by one of Honda’s test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.
In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden – of whom much had been expected, not least by himself – had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry.
Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American’s time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.
By the time the race rolled around, the Hondas had cut the deficit again. Comparing fastest laps of the race, Scott Redding set the quickest lap for production Honda rider, lapping just 0.841 slower than his teammate Alvaro Bautista, who set the quickest lap of the race.
But consistency proved to be the undoing of the Hondas, Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden crossing the line just 0.035 seconds apart, but over 32 seconds down on the winner, Marc Marquez. Where the difference between the fastest and slowest flying laps of Redding and Hayden was nearly 2.4 seconds, for the front runners, that difference was just over a second.
The difference in performance and the big gap to the front has been cause for much speculation. Where are the Honda production racers losing out to the Factory Option bikes? Is it purely top speed, or is it a combination of speed and acceleration? And where does that lack of speed and acceleration come from?
There’s an old racing adage: when the flag drops, the talking stops, though the word ‘talking’ is rarely used. It’s a cliche, but like all cliches, it is a cliche because it reflects such a basic truth.
Without bikes circulating on track in anger, fans and press have nothing to do but engage in idle speculation, and pick over the minutiae of rules, rumors and races long past. As soon as the racing starts again, all is forgotten, and we all lose ourselves in the now. It is the zen which all racing fans aspire to.
So after spending months going round in circles over the 2014 regulations, speculating about who they favor, and expressing outrage at either the perceived injustice of the rules, or the supposed incompetence of those involved in drawing them up at the last minute, the talk stopped at Qatar on Sunday night.
The fans filled their bellies on three outstanding races, all of which went down to the wire. With something once again at stake, all talk of rules was forgotten.
And to be honest, the 2014 rules had none of the negative effects which so many people had feared. The best riders on the day still ended up on the podium, while the gap between the winner and the rest of the pack was much reduced. The gap from the winner to the first Ducati was cut from 22 seconds in 2013 to 12 seconds this year.
The gap from the winner to Aleix Espargaro – first CRT in 2013, first Open class rider in 2014 – was cut from 49 seconds to just 11 seconds. And even ignoring Espargaro’s Yamaha M1, the gap to the first Honda production racer – an outstanding performance by Scott Redding on the Gresini RCV1000R – was slashed to 32 seconds.
Even the cut in fuel did not affect the races as badly as many feared. It appeared that there had been some dissembling going on in both the Yamaha and Honda garages. HRC had been brushing off any suggestions that fuel may be an issue for them, while at Yamaha, there were a number of worried faces.
There was a clue that things were not as serious as feared when Jorge Lorenzo stopped worrying about fuel and focused his ire on the new Bridgestone rubber, but Valentino Rossi kept banging the fuel drum.
On race day, there was no sign of fuel issues for the Italian, Rossi telling the press conference that his engineers had done a great job to fix the fuel issues, and had given him a properly fast bike. “I think Yamaha worked well on the fuel consumption,” he said.