Has Ducati’s Success Flat-Lined?

The saying goes that one time is a fluke, two times is a coincidence, but three times…three times is a trend. Looking at Ducati’s last three years of sales (2012-2014), which spans only a 2% margin of growth, by definition one has to conclude that the Italian company is experiencing sales stagnation. Granted each of the last three years have been record years for the Italian motorcycle company’s sales figures, but each year has been a nudging over the last. Is all of this a sign that Ducati has lost its magic, seemingly during the leadership transition from Gabriele del Torchio to Claudio Domenicali? Or is there growth to be had from the Italian brand, now that it is owned by Audi AG? We examine that thought in more detail, after the jump.

Analyzing the MotoGP Michelin Tire Test

The departure of Bridgestone and the arrival of Michelin as the official tire supplier to MotoGP is an extremely delicate operation, in terms of marketing, tire development, and motorcycle set up. This posed problems for the Michelin test, held on the fourth day of the Sepang MotoGP test. After the factory test riders had tried the Michelins at the first Sepang test, it was the turn of the MotoGP regulars. With major money on the line, the PR gag-order was enforced rigidly, and observed religiously. No official times were released, nor made unofficially available by the teams. A range of times have seeped out from journalists present, but given that only a few laps were timed by a few people out of practice with using a stopwatch, those times can be taken as guidelines only.

Colin Edwards Part of MotoAmerica’s TV Team

MotoAmerica has announced its lineup of TV announcers for the series’ telecast on CBS Sports Network, and the trio is a mix of familiar faces. Motorcycle racing veteran Jonanthan Green will be calling the races from the booth (many World Superbike fans will recognize his voice), and the man helping Green analyze the race should sound familiar as well, as it will be MotoGP star and two-time WSBK Champion Colin Edwards. While the boys are in the booth, Crisy Lee will continue her role as pit lane reporter, something she did with AMA Pro Road Racing under the DMG administration. While CBS may have to hold its hand over the censor button on Colin’s microphone, we think that fans will be pleased with the Texas Tornado’s addition, and the insight he will bring as a veteran racer.

Ride Review: 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 & R1M

The original R1 design focus was primarily for the street, however that has all changed for 2015, with Yamaha’s Engineer’s instructed to design a bike mainly for the track.
Thus, the 4.5km Brabham circuit provided a world-class test track for the 100 journos who descended from all over the globe to experience the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 and R1M for the first time. The diverse range of 18 corners, including one of the fastest turns in Australia, approached at nearly 300kmh, was perfect to test all the attributes of a new motorcycle. Our test group had some quick guys including Josh Brookes, Steve Martin, and Cam Donald, so there was no hanging about.

2015 Suzuki GSX-R1000 ABS Comes to America for $14,399

A late announcement to the Suzuki motorcycle lineup, the 2015 Suzuki GSX-R1000 comes with the banner headline of adding anti-locking brake system (ABS) and a bold new “Suzuki Racing Blue” graphics package (BNG) to the venerable superbike. The added safety of ABS is at least a welcomed change to the now seven-year-old model version of the Suzuki GSX-R1000. Meanwhile, the graphics package is designed to make a link between the GSX-R1000 and Suzuki’s MotoGP race bike, the Suzuki GSX-RR — even though the street bike pre-dates its racing counterpart all the way back to when Suzuki was last entered in the premier class.

Would You Buy This $280,000 Motorcycle?

We have seen a lot of limited-run motorcycles here at Asphalt & Rubber — some have been intriguing, and some have been…well, not. With exclusivity of course comes a price tag of sizable proportions, but it is rare that we see a motorcycle break into six-figures, let alone pass the quarter-million dollar mark. But here we are with the Yacouba Feline. We have featured the work of Yacouba Galle before, as the French designer has done a bit of work in the industry, including a bolt-on design kit for the MV Agusta Brutale, which he calls the Bestiale (a name that might make Anglophones cringe a little). Unlike the Bestiale though, the Feline is a full-on motorcycle, not just a kit…and if you like what you see, it is going to cost you a mint.

XXX: The 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 World Endurance Race Bike is Pure Sex…with a Headlight

The long-winded “Yamaha France GMT 94 Michelin Racing” team is ready for FIM Endurance World Championship action this year, especially with the all-new 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 motorcycle. The new R1 offers state-of-the-art electronics, as well as near-200hp from its crossplane four-cylinder engine, and the French team is looking to capitalize on those improvements in the EWC for 2015. Yamaha France took the 2014 title in a convincing fashion, so it will be interesting to see what riders David Checa, Kenny Foray, and Mathieu Gines can accomplish with their new toy. We’ve got a bevy of high-resolution photos for you, after the jump.

Not-A-Review: 2015 MV Agusta Motorcycles

As promised, here is the second part of our trip down to Fontana, California to meet with MV Agusta USA, go over the company’s new business plan for not only America, but also worldwide, and to ride the current crop of their 2015 machinery. I should preface right out of the gate that this is not a review in regards as to what you’ve come to expect from Asphalt & Rubber. I am not-so-cleverly calling this a “not-a-review” assessment of MV Agusta’s 2015 models. I say this because we had a very limited amount of time on each bike, as there was roughly 10 machines to divide our attention amongst. Think of this article as not far from someone test riding a bunch of motorcycles at a dealership, with similar duration and limits put in place…except that this someone rides motorcycles for a living.

Analyzing The Ducati Desmosedici GP15

Anyone watching the presentation of Ducati’s 2015 MotoGP bike will have learned two Italian phrases: “Emozionante” and “tanto lavoro”. Both were extremely apt. Getting from where Ducati was to where it is now with the Desmosedici GP15 had needed “tanto lavoro”, a lot of hard work, and they still have “tanto lavoro” ahead of them. The results were “emozionante”, a fantastic word nearer to exciting than emotional. But both exciting and emotional were apt phrases. The sense of eagerness was palpable among Ducati staff at Bologna on Monday. For good reason, the GP15 presented in a long, loud, and rather meandering show is radically different from what came before.

Some Thoughts on MV Agusta & A Story About Two Letters

MV Agusta USA recently invited a slew of journalists down to Fontana, California in order to talk about the company’s new business plan, and to ride its current lineup of motorcycles on the infield course. This article is “Part 1″ of that experience, as I wanted to separate my thoughts on MV Agusta, MV Agusta USA, and the general motorcycling climate into one story, and then have my “not-a-review” of the machines for another article. Got it? Ok, let’s go. It is probably easiest to start with where MV Agusta is as a company. MV Agusta has a started a new three-year business plan, which sees the company pushing into a full-range of motorcycles, pushing outside of its Italian boundaries, and pushing out of the “luxury” brand segment.

MotoGP Sepang (2) Test – Day 3 Summary: Pedrosa Dominates & The Rest Fight Over the Spoils

02/28/2014 @ 6:26 pm, by David Emmett19 COMMENTS

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The big news on the final day of testing at Sepang was not what was happening on track, but rather what was happening off track. The announcement – trailed here and all around the media since early January – that Ducati would switch to the Open category was the talk of the paddock…and social media…and bike racing forums…and biking bars around the world, I expect.

Even though we knew this was coming, it is only now becoming clear just how much of a game changer this decision is.

The announcement was timed curiously, made at the end of the day when the bosses of Yamaha and Honda had already left the circuit and were unavailable to the press. Likewise, the press room had largely emptied out. It appeared to have been made to minimize the impact, especially on the other manufacturers.

Honda and Yamaha now have a couple of days to gather their PR might and put together a carefully worded position on the move by Ducati, which will both give the impression they are entirely disinterested in what Ducati have decided to do, while at the same time exuding a vague air of disapproval. Expect to see the verb ‘to disappoint’ in various conjugations.

On track, however, the situation was largely unchanged from the last couple of days of testing: interesting names at the top of the timesheet, belying the utter dominance of the Repsol Hondas, in the person of Dani Pedrosa. Valentino Rossi was the fastest man on the day, and leaves as the fastest rider of the test, pleased with the progress they have made.

But dig deeper, examine the times set during the long race simulations, and Dani Pedrosa comes out streets ahead, half a second or more quicker than the competition. Pedrosa’s average pace is faster than any other riders best lap on their long run.

MotoGP Rules Primer: Open vs. Factory, The Short Version

02/28/2014 @ 1:47 pm, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

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With Ducati having elected to switch to racing as an Open entry in the MotoGP class, it is time for a quick refresher course on the rules. Below is a primer on the key differences between racing as an Open entry and racing as a Factory Option entry, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Ducati Will Compete in MotoGP under the Open Option

02/28/2014 @ 2:51 am, by Jensen Beeler11 COMMENTS

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After assessing its position during the two Sepang tests, Ducati Corse has decided to enter the 2014 MotoGP Championship under the “Open Class” rules, which means the factory Ducati team will have more fuel, more engines, and more importantly no engine development freeze for the 2014 season.

In exchange for those advantages, Ducati Corse will be forced to use the Magneti Marelli ECU package supplied by Dorna, rather than the company’s factory-developed electronics.

Explaining its decision, Ducati says that “after carefully considering the two options, [Ducati] has decided that the most suitable one for the current needs of the Bologna-based manufacturer is the Open one, which gives the possibility to the race department to continue the development of the bike and the engine throughout the entire season.”

MotoGP Sepang (2) Test – Day 2 Summary: The Old New Tire, Lorenzo’s Lamentations, & Ducati’s Future (Again)

02/28/2014 @ 1:37 am, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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A cleaner track made for better times at the second MotoGP test at Sepang on Thursday, but conditions remain far from ideal. The track was still greasy, and the added heat made the situation worse. That meant the track remained empty for large parts of the day, the riders waiting for temperatures to come down at the end of the day.

When the riders did go for their fast laps, the usual suspects raised their heads. Aleix Espargaro was quick, Alvaro Bautista was quick, but if anyone was in any doubt about where the real power lies on the MotoGP grid, Dani Pedrosa quickly disabused them of their misconceptions.

The Repsol Honda man posted two scorching laps, faster than anyone else was capable of riding. At nearly three tenths of a second, the gap was convincing. When Dani Pedrosa decides to exert his authority, the world listens. Especially when his teammate is absent.

Pedrosa spent the day working on the front of the Repsol Honda, and deciding on which of the two chassis to use for the rest of the year.

The quicker of the two options was also less forgiving under braking, meaning Pedrosa elected to pursue the slower of the two frames. Sacrificing a little bit of speed for more stability and less effort to ride seemed like a suitable trade off.

But the talk of the second day of the test was not Pedrosa’s speed; that is taken as a given. The biggest talking point of day two was the lack of speed from Jorge Lorenzo. The factory Yamaha rider ended the day down in ninth spot, sandwiched between the two Tech 3 bikes of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith.

He was over a second slower than Pedrosa, the biggest gap since the rain-hit race at Le Mans last May. Worse still, he was the fourth-fastest Yamaha, with the Open Yamaha of Aleix Espargaro and the factory bikes of his teammate Valentino Rossi and Tech 3’s Pol Espargaro ahead of him.

His problem is simple: he cannot get the new rear tire to work. Whatever they do to the bike, Lorenzo simply has no grip, and no confidence.

Q&A: Herve Poncharal on the Open Yamaha of Aleix Espargaro, The Future of MotoGP, & Seamless Gearboxes

02/24/2014 @ 9:34 am, by David Emmett17 COMMENTS

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Perhaps the biggest surprise after the first day of testing at Sepang was the sheer, unadulterated speed of Aleix Espargaro on the Forward Yamaha, racing in the Open category.

Seventh fastest, half a second off the fastest factory Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, and ahead of the two Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. By lunchtime on the second day, Aleix was closer still, just two tenths off the best Yamaha.

Naturally, all eyes turned to the Tech 3 garage, and the response of team boss Herve Poncharal. How would the otherwise charming Frenchman react to being beaten by a bike which Yamaha was supplying to a rival team for a third of the price he is paying to lease the Tech 3 Yamaha M1 machines, entered under the Factory Option rules in MotoGP?

A long line of journalists beat a path to his door, including us, to put those questions to him.

Poncharal spoke at length about the Open class, the issue of fuel consumption, and the performance of Aleix Espargaro. First of all, though, he emphasized the strength of his relationship with Yamaha.

MotoGP Sepang Test – Day 3 Summary: Marquez’s Consistency, Lorenzo’s Speed, & Ducati’s Open Dilemma

02/06/2014 @ 1:37 pm, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

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On Thursday, the riders opted almost unanimously to go out first thing in the morning. It was a wise choice, conditions proving ideal to see the fastest ever lap around the circuit set, beating Casey Stoner’s time from 2011.

The name of the rider that took Stoner’s record from him? Marc Marquez, the man brought in by Honda to replace the departing Australian.

Marquez’s time was impressive, but he was not the only man to get under the two minute mark. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, and the continually surprising Aleix Espargaro also cracked the barrier, though none were quite capable of getting under Stoner’s old record.

The first 30 minutes of testing had produced a scintillating start to the day, whetting the appetite of all in the paddock for more.

While Marquez’s time is without doubt a fantastic lap, perhaps the most impressive time was set by Jorge Lorenzo. His fastest time, and the fastest time of the test up until that point, was set on his flying lap of the day.

It was, if you like, a simulation of the start of the race: firing off the line from pit lane exit, getting up to speed immediately, and then going on to set a lap record.

Normal fare for Lorenzo, whose flying starts have become something of a trademark. What made it truly incredible was the fact that this was done on new tires, on his very first laps of the day.

On race day, Lorenzo has the morning warm up to get up to speed, but not today. Fast straight out of the starting blocks, then following it up with another 1’59.9. If you ever needed proof of Lorenzo’s metronomic ability, this was surely it.

MotoGP Sepang Test – Day 2 Summary: Fuel And Tires Favor Honda, Ducati Improves, & Hayden Suffers

02/05/2014 @ 10:13 am, by David Emmett12 COMMENTS

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Motorcycle racing championships are like a pendulum, flowing back and forth between one rider and another, between one manufacturer and another. One year, Yamaha is on top, the next, it’s Honda. One year, Yamaha manages to exploit the rules best, the next year it’s Honda.

On the evidence of the first two days of testing – scant evidence indeed, but all we have to go on at the moment – conditions appear to favor Honda. With a liter less fuel to play with, and the new tires being introduced by Bridgestone, it looks like the tide is flowing Honda’s way, while Yamaha is set to suffer.

For the Factory Option entries at least; in the Open category, the tide is flowing very firmly in the other direction, with Aleix Espargaro and the NGM Forward Yamaha blowing Honda’s production racer out of the water.

That the fuel reduction would favor the Honda was expected, but the advantage might be bigger than Yamaha would like to admit. After a tough first day of testing, Jorge Lorenzo spent all of Wednesday trying to recover his confidence in the bike, as his crew searched for a setup that would smooth power delivery and give him the precise throttle control his high-lean-angle – and high risk – strategy demands. They were successful, at least in renewing Lorenzo’s confidence in the bike, he told the press.

A change to the electronics gave him the feeling he had with last year’s machine, and he was able to ride more freely. With that change made, he went in search of a fast lap, setting it at around 3:30pm, in the hottest part of the day.

MotoGP Sepang Test – Day 1 Summary: A Fast Rossi, A Fast Open Yamaha, & A Slow Black Honda

02/04/2014 @ 12:15 pm, by David Emmett6 COMMENTS

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It has been a fascinating first day of testing at Sepang. And like all fascinating days, it has been long, tiring, and utterly inspiring. There were surprises, disappointments, and rumors confirmed and denied. It was, in short, a good day at the office.

Marc Marquez was fastest – it barely goes without saying – the 2013 World Champion picking up where he left off. He was quick from the off, and put in a final burst of speed at the end of the day to open the gap on the rest, finishing with half a second advantage.

Braking stability was the watchword for the Repsol Honda team, especially rear grip on braking and corner entry, with both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa working on a slightly revised version of the 2014 RC213V which both men had tested at Valencia last year.

Their main focus – like those of everyone on their first day back on a MotoGP – was just to get used to the speed again. The switchover had been toughest for Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman claimed. He had ridden a motocross bike for exactly one day, he said, spending the rest of his winter training on his bicycle. The speed differential between a 20-speed racing bicycle and a 6-speed Ducati Desmosedici is nothing if not cavernous.

The happiest faces were at Yamaha, though in different garages and on unexpected faces. Valentino Rossi took the second fastest time, had led for a large part of the test, and looked a much happier rider all round. The rapport with new crew chief Silvano Galbusera was good, the atmosphere in the team was good, but above all, a few small changes which Yamaha had made to the YZR-M1 had proven to be significant.

Sepang MotoGP Test Preview – Honda vs. Yamaha, Open vs. Factory, & What Will Ducati Do?

02/03/2014 @ 11:28 am, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The test ban is over, and the MotoGP season is about to get underway. Bikes are already circulating, as the test riders put the first versions of the 2014 models through a shakedown to ensure that everything is in place, and working the way the engineers intended. In a few hours, we get the first glimpse of what the 2014 season could hold.

The rule changes for 2014, though at first glance are relatively small, could have a major impact. For the front runners, the fuel allowance is dropped from 21 to 20 liters, a change requested by the manufacturers to give them the engineering challenge they demand to justify their involvement.

All of the Factory Option (the designation for the bikes which have been referred to as factory prototypes for the last two seasons) entries must now use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but they retain the ability to develop their own software for the computer which sits at the heart of every modern vehicle.

That reduced fuel allowance will place a premium on fuel conservation, meaning the manufacturer who can reduce friction, thermal efficiency and combustion efficiency will hold the upper hand.

It’s not just the factory bikes that have a new designation. The CRT category has disappeared, replaced by the Open class. The change is not as big as the renaming would appear. Like the CRT bikes, they have 12 engines instead of 5 to last the season, and 24 liters of fuel to last each race. And like the Factory Option bikes, they must also use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU.

The difference, with both the Factory Option bike and last year’s CRT machines, is that now they must use the Dorna-controlled software, written by Magneti Marelli to Dorna specifications. The switch to control software means that the claiming rule, which defined the CRT class, has been dropped. Anyone can enter anything in the class, from modified Superbike (as long as, like Aprilia’s ART machine, it uses a prototype chassis) to full-fat factory engine, as long as they use the spec software.

What effect will the new rules have on the racing? Less fuel is rarely a positive factor in any form of racing. Of the various ways of limiting performance – engine capacity, rev limits, and fuel flow – fuel limits are invariably the most expensive, both in terms of engine development and in terms of the price riders pay to keep their weight down.

Tuesday Summary at Valencia: Hayden’s Honda, Edwards On The FTR, & The Brothers Espargaro

11/13/2013 @ 7:09 am, by David Emmett12 COMMENTS

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The track was a lot busier on Tuesday at Valencia, after the halfhearted beginning to MotoGP testing on Monday afternoon. A group of well-rested riders took to the track to get prepared for the 2014 onslaught, and take the first steps on the road to a new season.

Some familiar faces, some new faces, but also a couple of new bikes, with the Yamaha FTR machines run by Forward Racing making their debut on the track, and Nicky Hayden getting his first taste of the Honda RCV1000R.

The times set by the brand new Open class bikes hardly set the world on fire, but that was to be expected given the fact that this was the first time either of them had seen serious use in the hands of Grand Prix riders. “Don’t forget that Casey [Stoner] did just five laps in Motegi with that bike,” Honda principal Livio Suppo told me. “It’s really just a first shakedown with the riders.”

That point was illustrated by Scott Redding, who has a problem with the wiring loom on Gresini’s Honda RCV1000R, and had to wait while they fixed that problem.