Indianapolis GP Named Best Grand Prix by MotoGP

At the conclusion of each GP season, an awards ceremony is held to celebrate the year’s champions, crowning the top riders in each category, the top manufacturers, and even the top venue for the season. This year, the honors of the latter went to familiar locale, as the Red Bull Indianapolis GP round was named the “Best Grand Prix” of the 2014 season, making it the first North American round to receive such an honor. Selection criteria for the award included consideration of the venue, promotion, and overall facility operations. For the 2014 race, Indianapolis Motor Speedway once again repaved its infield section, making alterations to several turns in order to facilitate passing and adding to the track’s overall consistency.

Up-Close with the 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200

If there’s a motorcycle that launched at EICMA that I wish we had given more coverage to, it would be the 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200. The new adventure-sport machine from Ducati is all-new for the next model year, though it would be hard to tell it from the photos. Even our modest collection of “up-close” photos here don’t do justice to the venerable Multistrada. The face of the Multistrada 1200 has been reworked, with the “beak” softened a bit from its falcon-like profile. The intake inlets are larger in appearance, and the headlight housing is noticeably different with its six LED projectors for the Ducati Corner Lights system (on the “S” model). This perhaps makes for an interesting “face” on the motorcycle, and like its predecessor, you will either love it or hate it.

Marco Melandri Returns to MotoGP, with Aprilia

After finishing fifth in the 2014 World Superbike Championship with Aprilia, Marco Melandri will continue with the Italian manufacturer, but switch to the MotoGP paddock for next season. Melandri will join Alvaro Bautista in the Aprilia Racing garage, where they will compete on an updated version of the ART machine, which was originally built to compete under the CRT bike rules. The team, now operated by Gresini Racing, will come up to speed during the 2015 season, and in 2016 they will race with a brand new race bike, which will use the compulsory “open” spec-electronics from Magneti Marelli. For Melandri, the move to MotoGP is a bit of gamble, with Aprilia’s program uncertain.

Up-Close with the Honda RC213V-S Prototype

I can’t decide whether to be elated or disappointed over the Honda RC213V-S prototype, which was debuted this week at the EICMA show in Milan, Italy. On the one hand, the RC213V-S lived up to the hype…literally a MotoGP race bike with lights, mirrors, turn signals, and a license plate. On the other hand, for all the waiting and consternation from Honda, what they brought to Milan was a fairly derivative and obvious design. Rumors of a true MotoGP-derived sport bike from Honda have been circling for several years now (closer to a decade, if you’re a reader of MCN), and the project borrows the ethos found in the Ducati Desmosedici RR project, another exclusive GP-bike-for-the-street motorcycle.

The Ducati Streetfighter 848 Is Spared the Axe for 2015

The Ducati Streetfighter lives for another year, as Ducat is showing off the Ducati Streetfighter 848 as a 2015 model year machine at the EICMA show in Milan. There had been doubts about the Streetfighter 848 continuing to be a part of the Ducati lineup going forth, especially as the Italian company has moved away from the 849cc v-twin platform, favoring the 821cc engine variations for the Hypermotard the Monster lines, and the 899cc Superquadro for the Panigale. The Streetfighter was never a big hit in the world market, becoming more of a cult classic machine amongst riders. Combined sales with the Hypermotard account for roughly 20% of Ducati’s annual sales, with the Hypermotard doing the majority of the heavy-lifting in that regard.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Prototype

Cruisers really aren’t our cup of tea here at Asphalt & Rubber, which might explain the lack of coverage for America’s gift to the two-wheeled world on our website. That being said, it’s hard to pass on the lurid Moto Guzzi MGX-21 prototype that is on display at this year’s EICMA show. A reworked Moto Guzzi California 1400, the MGX-21 is clad in carbon fiber, matte black paint, and red highlights. The carbon fiber disc wheels are a nice touch too (that’s a 21″ wheel up front, by the way), as are the sweeping lines from the front cowl and fenders. We’re finding ourselves a bit smitten with this Moto Guzzi, as true to the brand, it strays from the cruiser norm. We think you’ll like it too, check out the photos after the jump.

Up-Close with the Honda “True Adventure” Prototype

One of the more anticipated motorcycles at the 2014 EICMA show, off-roaders were expecting to see the new Honda Africa Twin in Milan this week. Instead, Honda trotted out what they’re calling the “True Adventure” prototype. Despite not being a production model, the True Adventure prototype looks ready for prime time, and we got a series of “up-close” photos of the machine. Most obvious is the bike’s parallel twin engine, which is rumored to be 1,000cc in displacement. That sizing/weight class seems to jive with the dual front brake discs, which also sports an ABS tone ring. We can expect Honda to have traction control operating off the front and rear wheel speeds as well, and other electronic packages as well.

Money: Motorcycle Racing’s Biggest Problem

What is the biggest problem in motorcycle racing today? Is it the predominant role electronics are playing, ruining the racing? Is it the ever more restrictive rules imposed, killing bike development and the spirit of Grand Prix racing? Is it the lack of competitive machinery, making it impossible for anyone but a factory rider to win a race? Or is it the dominance of the two top manufacturers, driving costs up and discouraging wider manufacturer participation? You can point to all of those and more as being an issue, but they pale in comparison to the real problem the sport of motorcycle racing faces at the moment: Money. Specifically, the lack of it, and the inability of almost everyone involved in the sport to find ways of raising any. All of the ills of both MotoGP and World Superbikes can be traced back to this single failure.

Investcorp Buys 80% of Dainese for €130 Million

A story we have been chasing for some time now, Lino Dainese has finally found a buyer for his namesake company, Dainese. The purchaser is the aptly named private equity firm Investcorp, which is headquartered in Bahrain, and has additional offices in New York, London, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. Buying 80% of the company’s stock for a reported €130 million, Investcorp’s valuation of Dainese would therefore be set at €162.5 million. The other 20% of the company is retained by Lino Dainese, himself. Dainese’s future goals rest heavily on its airbag technology, as Dainese plans on bringing D-Air to markets outside of motorsport and sport in general. The company also has an aggressive plan to grow outside of Italy, making a bigger push into North America and developing markets.

Husqvarna 401 Svartpilen Concept

The second of Husqvarna’s street concepts, the Husqvarna 401 Svartpilen is a scrambler styled machine that uses the same 373cc single-cylinder engine as the Vitpilen concept. Swedish for “Black Arrow”, the Svartpilen continues the idea that less is more, and applies the concept to a more off-road motif. Not all the dissimilar to the Moab and Baja concepts the Husqvarna showed before its acquisition by KTM, clearly the Swedish brand is keen to tap into its lost history of Steve McQueen and the scrambler motif. Perhaps Ducati’s foray into this space is added motivation, but the Husqvarna 401 Svartpilen concept is a bike unique to itself. That might be because the concept machine is based off the KTM 390 Duke, which is an unlikely though budget-friendly donor machine.

Photo of the Week: Forging Ahead

08/30/2011 @ 4:33 pm, by Scott Jones13 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Forging Ahead Casey Stoner Indianapolis GP dirt debris track Scott Jones

While conditions vary from race weekend to race weekend, it is rare that GP riders find themselves with a brand new track surface to deal with when they arrive at a venue. Looking to placate the complaints about the bumpy infield that have been heard at Indy during previous rounds, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway completely resurfaced the interior section of the course, which is used only once a year when the MotoGP circus comes to Indiana.

This meant that Friday practice was held on a track free of any rubber from past sessions, causing all the GP riders to complain loudly about the slippery and dangerous conditions of the ‘green’ surface. Not only was there no old rubber to add grip to the MotoGP machines, but the aggregate used in the resurfacing was still sharp at the surface, which meant tires were shredded in record time by the abrasive macadam, leaving an amazing amount of slag at some corners.

As more sessions were completed, grip improved enough that Casey Stoner was able to set a new track record, and the racing line was defined clearly enough by the dark bits of line running between the fields of rubber marbles. The abrasive nature of the new surface still caused many problems during the race as several riders retired due to front end tire issues. Local hero Nicky Hayden gambled on a softer front tire, and found that while able he was able to chase down and pass the factory Hondas for the first time this season, the softer front tire’s rapid deterioration caused him to come into the pits to assess its condition, much to the dismay of fans attending the Indianapolis GP.

Photo of the Week: Old Grudges Die Hard

08/22/2011 @ 12:42 pm, by Scott Jones18 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Old Grudges Die Hard Dani Pedrosa t shirts Indianapolis GP Scott Jones

Two seasons after Dani Pedrosa knocked Nicky Hayden off the track at Estoril and seemingly derailed his teammate’s championship bid, emotions about the move still ran hot at The Kentucky Kid’s home race. There’s no telling for whom the pair in this photo might have shirts made next weekend, but the odds are on Filippo Preziosi.

Considering that these guys look like they’ve eaten meals that weighed more than Pedrosa, they seem unlikely to care that the father of the career-wrecking Ducati GP concept is in a wheelchair, but certainly the majority of Indy’s great fans will keep it classy. Best of luck to Nicky and Dani and all of those who compete at the highest level of motorcycle racing.

Photo of the Week: Brush Your Shoulders Off

08/15/2011 @ 2:06 pm, by Scott Jones7 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Brush Your Shoulders Off Photo of the week Marco Simoncelli Scott Jones

On the grid at Mugello I watched as seven or eight visiting Japanese gentlemen in matching white Honda shirts smiled, bowed, and shook hands with Simoncelli, and I couldn’t help wondering if they were congratulating him in advance for having knocked out his latest fellow Honda rider. Rumors had been flying around the paddock about the discussions HRC had held with Sic concerning his inability to tame his raw speed, and add the crucial element of sound judgment while in the heat of battle.

While his pace this season was plain to see, the question continued to fascinate us: would Marco ever find a way to be fast and smart? He came in sixth that day, and looked nothing like the Super Sic we’d come to know and fear, in spite of having qualified third. In Germany he was sixth again, and at Laguna Seca he crashed out for the fifth time this season.

At Brno he seemed to have completed a metamorphosis from wild and dangerous to calm and calculating (possible spoiler alert ahead). After a poor start he worked his way through the field until finding himself behind two riders with whom he has a complex past: Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso. Watching the laps tick off with Sic in fourth place, hungry for that first podium but dangerously close to Lorenzo, one couldn’t help but have the feeling of watching a train wreck about to happen. Given all that has occurred with Lorenzo, the sparring in press conferences, the latest rider elimination of JL at Assen, would Sic rush in again and further complicate his history with the reigning world champ?

Photo of the Week: Paddock Etiquette

08/08/2011 @ 9:29 am, by Scott Jones3 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Paddock Etiquette Photo of the Week Cal Crutchlow RV sign Catalunya Scott Jones

Where do the MotoGP riders hang out when they aren’t on track, in the box, or in the team hospitality? Probably in their motor homes if the race is a European round. Most of the riders seem to own or lease their own vehicles, though some seem to rent per event. Like the hospitalities and other paddock amenities, RVs do not join the air freight for fly-away races. But for the rounds to which they can travel over land, they park together in a section of the paddock where the riders can escape the media and fans.

As I walked from the P1 parking area toward the media center I passed the paddock of riders’ RVs and saw this sign. I chose not to ask Cal about this as I did not want to get slammed for asking about a touchy subject, but I like the photo because it shows a seldom-seen side of the GP scene.

We tend to think of MotoGP riders as pampered, top-level athletes with entourages and handlers and so on. But it’s not impossible for one to be sitting in his RV, slowly going mad because people keep coming in and slamming the door. Neither is it impossible for someone to point out a misspelling in his warning, which is a nice reminder that in spite of their ungodly abilities on two wheels, they are still people, at least in some ways, just like the rest of us.

Photo of the Week: The Long Goodbye

08/01/2011 @ 2:07 pm, by Scott Jones7 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: The Long Goodbye Loris Capirossi Qatar test Scott Jones

It looks like 2011 will be Loris Capirossi’s final Grand Prix season, and the end of a remarkable career that has sadly fizzled in the past few years. Capirex’s last win was in 2007, his final season as a factory Ducati rider, and since switching to the Rizla Suzuki team in 2008 he has not had the equipment to show the kind of form that previously garnered both 125cc and 250cc world titles.

This season’s return to a Ducati seat with Pramac has not improved his competitiveness, and crashes have continued to add up to more aches and pains. Approaching 40, Capirossi carries many scars into each session, including hands so frail that he wears specially designed and heavily padded gloves to protect them from further impact.

In person he is friendly and polite, quick to return a smile, though lately he has seemed weary of the challenge of climbing on yet another uncompetitive bike and going out to fight for 10th place. He will always have a place in Ducati history, haven taken the team’s first win at Barcelona in 2003, and in GP history for his world titles.

It would be great to see him manage one more good result this year, but given the difficulties of the GP11, it seems more likely that he will have to be content ending his long GP career in one piece. Considering how many talented riders have come to the premier class for a season or two before disappearing for other grids, Capirossi’s decades-long GP career is quite an accomplishment.

Photo of the Week: Winless

07/26/2011 @ 11:44 am, by Scott Jones10 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Winless photo of the week valentino rossi sunglasses scott jones

Valentino Rossi is the most photographed rider in the MotoGP paddock (and probably the most photographed motorcycle racer in the world), someone who almost always has a crowd of cameras around him. He has the most traffic when trying to ride from the box onto pit lane, the thickest crowd around him on the grid, and when he’s out on track he generates more images than any other rider. All the photographers, regardless of which clients they have and which teams they work with, photograph Rossi.

So it has become quite a challenge to create images of him that many people have not seen many times already. Photographers still do the ‘classic’ Rossi shot of putting a wide angle on the ground, pointed upward as Rossi does his foot peg ceremony before climbing aboard. We still see Rossi superstitiously picking at his butt as he exits pit lane, and so on. Because of his elaborate routine of following the same behaviors over and over, we tend to get the same images of him over and over.

At each race I try to get an image of him that I’ve not seen before. Portraits are usually the best bet, because even though he follows the same routine in the box of chest protector in, ear plugs licked then inserted and held in place with a pistol grip, helmet on with fists to the forehead, and so on, he is still a human being and his expressions are occasionally unguarded and revealing. When you catch one of those, you probably have an interesting portrait of a very interesting subject.

Photo of the Week: Iron Man

07/18/2011 @ 9:53 pm, by Scott Jones3 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Iron Man photo of the week dani pedrosa scott jones

Two operations on the same collarbone in two months, that collarbone being the second one broken this season, and a win in his second race back in action. Remarkable. Though tragically fragile for a motorbike racer, Dani is as tough as old boots and one of few individuals fast enough to challenge for the MotoGP title.

At the beginning of the year I prayed to the speed gods that Dani could finally have a season without injuries, but he didn’t get very far into the schedule in spite of my wishes. Can he now please have half a season with no injuries? If he manages that, he may not win the title, but the racing will certainly be better.

Photo of the Week: Rolling Momentum

07/11/2011 @ 9:54 am, by Scott Jones2 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Rolling Momentum Marco Melandri WSBK Miller Motorsports Park Scott Jones

In 2009, I interviewed Marco Melandri after he’d done seven races on the Hayate Kawasaki, and was impressed by his earnest desperation to show he was still a viable GP rider in spite of the previous season’s debacle on the Ducati GP8. This was, after all, a rider who had finished second in the World Championship in 2005 and 4th & 5th in the following seasons. Since then I’ve always hoped for Melandri to find a good situation, one that allows his talents to shine.

That was not on the Gresini Honda last season, unfortunately, but it appears that he has finally found a position in WSBK where he can again fight for the title. After a win and a second place at Brno, Melandri is 53 points behind Carlos Checa and 30 behind MAx Biaggi, but with some serious momentum for the second half of the season. It’s great to see him at the front where he belongs.

Photo of the Week: Turning Point

07/05/2011 @ 7:12 pm, by Scott Jones3 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: Turning Point photo of the week jorge lorenzo mugello scott jones

As David Emmett and I spoke to Yamaha racing boss Lin Jarvis after Sunday’s GP at Mugello, Mr. Jarvis said “George earned his salary today.” The race at Mugello held several surprises. Rossi managed 6th place thanks to a substantial set up change Sunday morning; Casey Stoner tried to run away, but was caught and passed by two riders, including teammate Andrea Dovizioso; Dovi claimed the home town glory, and was the most impressive Honda rider; and Simoncelli not only finished a race but didn’t crash, and caused no broken bones.

To me, however, the stand out performance was Jorge Lorenzo’s, as JL showed precisely the mental qualities that Sic lacks at the moment. JL was patient, didn’t give up in spite of the early race plot indicating that Casey was as good as gone, and settled in to go the distance as fast as he could, eventually earning the win after several battles to reach the front. Because of the confidence this race must give Lorenzo, Mugello may prove to be a turning point in a season where most expect Casey Stoner to ride into the sunset.

Photo of the Week: The First of Many

06/28/2011 @ 9:09 am, by Scott Jones9 COMMENTS

Photo of the Week: The First of Many photo of the week Ben Spies Dutch TT MotoGP victory Scott Jones

At the 2011 Dutch Grand Prix, American Ben Spies became the only rider other than Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa to win a dry 800cc GP race. Spies led every lap in a fashion reminiscent of his days as 3-time AMA champion, where he was known as a rider so mentally tough from his years of being Mat Mladin’s teammate that once a lead was achieved, he could manage it until the end of the race without mistakes.

Spies also had great timing for his first MotroGP win, as Yamaha was celebrating 50 years of Grand Prix racing with a retro red and white livery and honored guests such as Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read in attendance. Congratulations to Ben and his crew, and to Yamaha for reaching the top of the podium on this historic occasion in the company’s history.