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.

Opinion: The Danger of Expanding the MotoGP Calendar

03/30/2017 @ 5:18 pm, by David Emmett37 COMMENTS

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.

From India, through Southeast Asia, motorcycle racing in general and MotoGP in particular has a huge following. But the only country in the region that has a race is Malaysia, hosting its Grand Prix at Sepang.

So expanding the calendar to include Thailand is a welcome addition for fans in the region. If the financial and logistical problems with organizing a race in Indonesia ever get sorted, then there might even be a third race in the region, at the Palembang circuit in South Sumatra.

Given the massive interest in MotoGP from that country, it is a racing certainty that any race there will be a complete sell out.

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Paddock Pass Podcast #49 – Qatar GP

03/30/2017 @ 11:52 am, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Episode 49 of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees David Emmett and Neil Morrison covering the opening round of the MotoGP Championship, the Qatar GP at Losail International Circuit.

The race weekend was a tumultuous affair, with the rain in the desert throwing huge wrenches into the plans of the race organizers. With the qualifying sessions cancelled because of standing water on the track, Sunday’s race was marked with question marks.

Thankfully, the weather gods spared us a rescheduled race, and allowed for some excellent on-track action. As such, the guys catch us up on everything that happened in Qatar for the MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 riders.

They also finish the show with a new segment, picking their “winners” and “losers” from the season-opener. With some interesting picks, it makes for some good debate between David and Neil. We think you will enjoy the show, and enjoy more that the GP season is finally upon us.

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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Extra Notes from the Qatar GP: Zarco’s Exceptionalism, Morbidelli’s Maturity, & Moto3 Madness

03/28/2017 @ 5:04 pm, by David Emmett10 COMMENTS

We need to talk about Johann Zarco. For a rookie to lead his very first race on a MotoGP bike is not just unusual, it has never been done before. To do so for six laps is beyond remarkable, and a sign that something rather special is happening.

To put this into perspective, it is worth noting that not only did Zarco lead the race, but he also set the fastest lap in his first race. The last rookie to set the fastest lap during their first race? Marc Márquez, Qatar 2013. Before that? Valentino Rossi, Welkom 2000. And before that, Max Biaggi, Suzuka 1998.

Zarco’s downfall came at Turn 2 on Lap 7. Quite literally: he got a little off line, hit a dirtier part of the track, and down he went. There is no shame in crashing out of your first MotoGP race.

Valentino Rossi crashed out of his first premier class Grand Prix too. On the other hand, Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa all finished on the podium in their MotoGP debut race. Max Biaggi actually won his first 500cc race at Suzuka.

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Sunday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: Worth the Wait

03/27/2017 @ 1:28 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

Race day in Qatar would turn into a microcosm of the entire weekend. The hopes and fears of fans and riders alike were both realized and averted.

The idea that any kind of plan could be made to deal with this weekend went out the window pretty quickly. And yet at the end, three great races (or rather, two fantastic races and one interesting race) happened, and everyone got out more or less in one piece.

Stars were born on Sunday, some prophesied, some appearing out of the blue. It felt like the beginning of the new era we had been hoping for. MotoGP – once it got underway – was as topsy-turvy as expected.

In Moto2, favorites performed as they needed to, while new stars emerged from behind. And in the Moto3 class, last year’s rookies matured, and produced a heady brew of thrilling racing.

The weather conditioned it all. Spots of rain ahead of the Asia Talent Cup – like the Red Bull Rookies Cup at European races, the most frenetic racing of the weekend – soon dissipated, the sun soon breaking through.

Fine weather prevailed for most of the evening, but as the Moto2 bikes rolled back into pit lane at the end of the race, the rain once again made its presence felt. Lightly at first, and quickly disregarded, but a little heavier as 9pm, the scheduled start of the MotoGP race, approached.

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Paddock Pass Podcast #47 – Qatar MotoGP Test

03/20/2017 @ 8:42 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

Episode 47 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is our last episode from the MotoGP pre-season, and it sees David Emmett and Neil Morrison covering the recent Qatar MotoGP test.

Unsurprisingly, a hot topic of that conversation was about Ducati’s aerodynamic unveil – what is lovingly being called the “hammerhead” fairing for the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. The guys also talked about Honda’s pre-season testing strategy, as HRC searches for its 2017 engine setup.

The MotoGP conversation ends with a long discussion about the progress and state of all the top MotoGP riders, before the attention is turned on the Moto2 and Moto3 championships.

Of course with the pre-season now over, David and Neil can’t resist picking their riders for who will win the 2017 season, and whether they will be placing any bets for yours truly, by proxy.

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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Q&A: Miguel Oliveira – On KTM’s Moto2 Bike, Encouraging Young Talent, & Life as a Dentist

03/14/2017 @ 1:55 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

Miguel Oliveira is one of the brightest minds in the Grand Prix paddock. A quiet, calm presence, the Portuguese rider is widely admired throughout the paddock. His modesty and his down-to-earth attitude mean that he does not garner a great deal of attention off track, nor does he seek it. 

His performance on track does, though. Oliveira came very close to winning the 2015 Moto3 championship, staging a remarkable comeback that saw him recover from a 110-point deficit with six races to go to close to within 6 points of Danny Kent at Valencia.

At the Jerez Moto2 tests, Oliveira was similarly impressive, finishing regularly in the top three. 

That success is in no small part due to his return to Aki Ajo’s Red Bull KTM Ajo Motorsport team. At Jerez, the Finnish team manager spoke glowingly of his return to the fold, and Oliveira returned the compliments.

We spoke to Oliveira at some length at Jerez, covering a vast range of subjects. Oliveira spoke of the KTM Moto2 bike, and of its development. He told us why he went endurance racing last year, and what he is doing to help develop young Portuguese talent.

And he talks about his other career, studying to be a dentist. That study, and his approach to it and to racing, gives a fascinating insight into a very intelligent and grounded young man.

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How Dorna Is Ending the Spanish Armada in MotoGP

03/06/2017 @ 12:19 pm, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

It is terribly fashionable in some circles to regard Dorna as a blight on the face of motorcycle racing. Their alleged crimes are both heinous and manifold. They have dumbed down the sport by exerting an ever tighter grip over the technical regulations.

They killed off the two-strokes in favor of four-strokes. They have aggressively pursued copyright and trademark claims, at the cost of broadening the appeal of the sport. They have been relentless in their pursuit of financial gain over the spirit of the sport. They have meddled in the sport to favor one rider, or one nationality over the rest.

Most of these complaints are either baseless, or an expression of anger at how the sport has changed over the years. Some points are valid: the death of the 250cc two-strokes, however understandable from a financial point of view, was a tragedy, as a 250cc two-stroke was perhaps the most perfect expression of a racing motorcycle.

In the past, as I found myself on occasion, Dorna was slow to embrace change online, and wasted energy chasing down YouTube clips of MotoGP, rather than controlling them by providing them to fans in an easy-to-share way. (Fortunately for the fans, they have learned and bettered their ways in this regard.)

Yet it is hard to argue with results. This season, six factories – three Japanese, three European – will line up on the MotoGP grid. 23 riders from seven different countries will take the start, with a grand total of 31 world championship titles between them.

The bikes they will rider are extremely close in performance, with technical differences limited. For the past two years, riders from three different countries have won the three Grand Prix titles.

The MotoGP series has emerged from global financial crisis in rude health, despite some major challenges along the way.

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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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“Our Most Hated Rival” – KTM’s Long Feud with Honda

02/22/2017 @ 1:49 am, by David Emmett72 COMMENTS

Team launches are always a little combative. They are, after all, the places where factory bosses, team managers, and riders stake out their intentions for the coming season.

They loudly proclaim that they are in it to win it, that their goal is to be champions sooner rather than later, and that they are plainly superior to their competition, both in talent and in engineering prowess and ingenuity. Team launches are a place for hyperbole.

Even by normal standards, though, the words spoken at KTM’s team launch were more than ordinarily abrasive. In an interview with Austrian broadcaster Servus TV, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer took plenty of potshots at his rivals.

He boasted of KTM passing BMW in terms of sales, adding that beating them in racing would be hard, “because they don’t race any more”. He spoke of competing against the Japanese manufacturers. “We love racing, and we love beating the Japanese manufacturers.” But Pierer reserved his sharpest ire for Honda.

Speaking of the surprise decision to compete in Moto2, he joked that the spec Moto2 engine was supplied by “our most hated rival Honda”.

He also noted that KTM’s entry into MotoGP brought balance to the MSMA, the manufacturers’ group that has a vote in the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule making body.

With three European manufacturers against three Japanese manufacturers, they were in a position to prevent Honda from bulldozing through proposals.

“Honda tries everything,” Pierer told Servus TV. On the one hand with money, they shower the promoter with cash, and if that doesn’t help, they pull all sorts of tricks. Now there’s a balance in the Grand Prix Commission. That’s important.”

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Paddock Pass Podcast #44 – MotoGP Season Review

01/03/2017 @ 12:13 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Episode 44 of the Paddock Pass Podcast finishes up the 2016 racing season, and takes a look back on what last year had to offer from the MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 classes.

As such, hosts Neil MorrisonSteve English, and David Emmett discuss their favorite moments from the 2016 MotoGP Championship, which riders stood out from the rest, which races they will remember for the ages, and how met or failed their expectations. 

If the winter doldrums have you down, this is a great way to remember that the racing season starts back up in only a couple months’ time. We think you will enjoy this special episode immensely.

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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