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.

Q&A: Jorge Lorenzo on Developing the Ducati

04/22/2017 @ 9:25 pm, by Andrew Kohn9 COMMENTS

This has been a challenging year for Ducati Corse, Jorge Lorenzo, and Andrea Dovizioso. The Desmosedici GP17 is a new platform with a new aerodynamic package, sans winglets, and there have been development challenges along the way.

With a double DNF at Argentina, Ducati was definitely looking for some good news in Austin.

As it turns out, qualifying went better than expected. Lorenzo seemed quite pleased at the end of qualifying, pumping his fist in the air as he entered his garage.

This afternoon, Asphalt & Rubber had a chance to sit down with Lorenzo for a few minutes to discuss the challenges of switching from Yamaha to Ducati, and the difficulty of developing a new MotoGP machine.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

The Aki Ajo Monster Interview, Part 2: On Moto2

12/15/2016 @ 11:20 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on The Aki Ajo Monster Interview, Part 2: On Moto2

Aki Ajo is one of the most significant figures in the Grand Prix paddock. The Finnish manager has seen a long string of talent pass through his team on their way to greater success.

Ajo explained how he goes about identifying talent in the first part of this two-part interview. In the second part, he gives more insight into the process of building a winning team.

Ajo talks about how he nearly ended up working with Romano Fenati in 2017, and some of the factors which prevented it. Ajo also explains why he believes Moto2 is the toughest category in motorcycle racing, and the daunting challenge stepping up to the intermediate category can be.

The Finnish team manager also dives more deeply into the importance of a team, and surrounding a rider with the right pieces to help him get the best out of himself. 

Continue Reading

The Aki Ajo Monster Interview, Part 1: On Identifying Talent

12/15/2016 @ 10:19 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

Aki Ajo is one of the most significant figures in the Grand Prix paddock. The Finnish manager has seen a long string of talent pass through his team on their way to greater success.

The list of champions and great riders he has produced is almost endless: Marc Marquez, Johann Zarco, Jack Miller, Sandro Cortese, Luis Salom, Danny Kent to name just a few. 

To find out how he does it, I sat down with Aki Ajo at Valencia and spoke for nearly half an hour. The results of this interview were fascinating, and offer a great insight into the how to get the best out of a rider, to help them achieve success.

In the first part of this interview, he shares his philosophy of racing and team management, of motivation, and what keeps him going. He also talks about the difference it makes working with a rider the second time around, and why he is happy with his current crop of riders in Moto2 and Moto3.

Continue Reading

Q&A: Dani Pedrosa – Media & Changes from 990/800/1000

11/09/2016 @ 10:17 am, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

MotoGP-2016-Brno-Rnd-11-Tony-Goldsmith-1450

Dani Pedrosa is in his eleventh season in MotoGP. Throughout that period, he has seen many changes in the premier class. He raced in the last year of the 990s, then throughout the 800 era, and saw the return of the 1000cc machines.

Only Valentino Rossi has been in MotoGP for longer, or raced, and won on, a greater variety of machines.

Pedrosa arrived in MotoGP being heralded as the next big thing, the prime candidate to challenge Valentino Rossi for the title. He started strongly, winning races in his first season, and clearly being competitive.

But the focus would shift in his second year to his former 250cc rival Casey Stoner, who took the factory Ducati ride and blew the competition out of the water in 2007.

In 2008, Jorge Lorenzo came to strengthen the top of MotoGP, creating the narrative of the four MotoGP Aliens. When Stoner hung up his helmet at the end of 2012, Marc Márquez stepped into his boots and upped the level of competition even further.

The level of competition Pedrosa has faced has meant he has not received the recognition he deserves for his incredible record. In eleven seasons, Pedrosa has won 29 races in MotoGP, putting him in 8th place on the all time winners list.

His win at Misano, after a very difficult start to the season, laid any doubts to rest over his motivation, and his ability. Pedrosa remains capable of winning any race he lines up on the grid for.

I spoke to Pedrosa at Misano, intending to look back at his time in MotoGP, and to discuss how things had changed. But the conversation took a slightly different tack than I was expecting.

In our conversation, Pedrosa talked about his relationship with the press, and how that had colored his time in the class.

Pedrosa has not always been the most talkative of riders – questions are sometimes answered with a tiny nod or shake of the head, where another rider might explain in great detail – but when he does talk, it is always worth listening carefully.

Continue Reading

Q&A: Michelin’s Nicolas Gouber – On MotoGP Tire Technology & Michelin’s Development Direction

10/10/2016 @ 2:27 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

nicolas-goubert-michelin-motogp

Three quarters of the way through their first season back in MotoGP, and their first as a spec tire supplier, Michelin took the unique decision to start holding regular debriefs for the media at each race.

Aragon was the first of such debriefs, and was therefore a lengthy affair. In it, Michelin’s Racing Technical Director, faced some very broad-ranging questions about the development of the French firm’s tires throughout the season.

But he also covered more general questions, such as the R&D and marketing benefits of going racing, the direction Michelin are following, and how they are trying to accommodate of so many different riders.

Goubert offered a fascinating insight into where Michelin stands at the moment, and how they intend to move forward.

Continue Reading

Safe or Unsafe? Riders & Michelin Talk Tires at Brno

08/24/2016 @ 11:18 am, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

MotoGP-2016-Brno-Rnd-11-Tony-Goldsmith-1120

The tire degradation during the MotoGP race at Brno was still a hot topic on the test on Monday, after so many riders suffered problems during the race on Sunday.

We asked most of the riders who tested on Monday what they felt about the tires, and whether they were safe. We also spoke to Nicolas Goubert, Michelin’s technical director, and he explained why he felt that some riders had suffered problems, while others had been able to finish the race.

The comments below are offered without any further commentary. I do not wish to cloud the judgment of those reading the comments by first setting out my own theory of what happened. The comments stand on their own, and should be read as such.

Continue Reading

Q&A: KTM On-Road Technical Director Sebastian Risse – The Development of the KTM RC16 MotoGP Bike

08/16/2016 @ 12:29 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

Sebastian-Risse-KTM-On-Road-Technical-Director

Sebastian Risse is the man behind the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike which was presented on Saturday at the Red Bull Ring. An automotive engineer by training, Risse has been with KTM since 2008.

He started out as a crew chief and chassis analyst on KTM’s now defunct RC8 Superbike project, but when KTM returned to Grand Prix racing in 2012, Risse took charge of the Moto3 project, which has gone on to be the benchmark in the class.

Risse is currently head of all of KTM’s roadracing activities, and has overseen and led development of the RC16 MotoGP bike.

That machine has both interesting parallels and major differences with the other machines on the MotoGP grid: the bike uses a 1,000cc, 90°, V4 engine housed in a tubular steel trellis frame, and a fairing that looks like an oversize version of the Moto3 bike’s, and sits somewhere between the Honda RC213V and Kalex Moto2 designs.

The bike will also use WP suspension, though as WP is a wholly owned subsidiary of KTM, it will basically be a dedicated factory suspension effort.

After the KTM RC16 was presented, we spoke to Sebastian Risse about the differences and design choices which went into the bike.

Continue Reading

Q&A: Jonathan Rea – The WSBK Season, So Far

07/25/2016 @ 12:45 pm, by Kent Brockman4 COMMENTS

WSBK-2016-Laguna-Seca-Jonathan-Rea-track

Our man Kent Brockman (possibly his real name), sat down with Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea, to ask him how his World Superbike season is going so far.

Rea gives an account of his season, what’s been going on inside the Kawasaki Racing Team. He talks not only about the development of the current model Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R race bike, but also about himself as a racer.

The interview is a frank and detailed insight to one of the fastest riders in the World Superbike Championship right now, and sheds a great deal about who Jonathan Rea actually is. We think you will find the interview extremely interesting. -JB

Continue Reading

Interview: John McGuinness and the Isle of Man TT

06/10/2016 @ 12:58 am, by Tony Goldsmith7 COMMENTS

John McGuinness is the winningest active TT racer at the Isle of Man, and has been competing at the iconic race for the past 20 years. Once a teammate to Joey Dunlop, McGuinness is creeping up on the legend’s overall TT race wins, with just three more needed to tie Dunlop’s mark.

This makes him a formidable rider in any of the TT’s solo-class races, and it also makes him a walking encyclopedia of the Manx circuit.

At the end of the Isle of Man TT practice week, our man Tony Goldsmith managed to grab some time with 23-time TT winner John McGuinness, who gave us some insight into how he prepares for the challenges of riding the Snaefell Mountain Course, and what the TT is like from his eyes.

We think you’ll enjoy what McGuinness has to say about racing at the Isle of Man, and gain some insight into what it like to compete at this iconic event. Enjoy! -JB

Continue Reading