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.
Guy Martin’s return to the road racing at the Isle of Man TT continues to draw big headlines, and while we already know that the Lincolnshire man would partner with John McGuinness on the factory Honda Racing team of this year’s TT, that’s not all. Today, we learn that Guy Martin will partner with John McGuinness on another team as well, and he will once again take the seat on an electric bike for the TT Zero class in the process. As such, Martin has been confirmed as Team Mugen’s second rider, replacing Bruce Anstey in the squad. Both McGuinness and Martin will race on the new Mugen Shinden Roku electric superbike – the sixth iteration of the Japanese outfits TT Zero racer – and they will be looking to break the 120 mph barrier for electric motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT.
What conclusions can we draw from the first MotoGP test of 2017 at Sepang? Well, it’s the first test of 2017, and the factories still have the best part of two months to refine their bikes before the season starts in earnest in Qatar. Any conclusions we draw are at risk of crashing headlong into reality at the end of March. But with all that data from the test available, it is hard to resist the temptation to dive into it and read the tea leaves. To make some sense of the timesheets from Sepang, I examined the lap times of the fastest thirteen riders at the end of Wednesday. The reason for selecting Wednesday was simple: as it was the last day of the test, the riders were all fully up to speed, and the teams were putting together the lessons they had learned on the first two days.
When you think of the Piaggio Group, in terms of its two-wheeled creations, your thoughts probably conjure up images of motorcycles made by Aprilia or Moto Guzzi, or maybe a scooter with a Vespa badge on it. Surely, the Gita is not what first comes first to your mind, but it might be the most impactful idea from the Italian brand to-date. Sure, the brightly colored self-balancing rolling cylinder doesn’t seem like much of a novel creation, even with its ability to follow its owner, or autonomously navigate a prescribed route. But then again, you have probably been carrying stuff around in our arms, or on your back, like a big sucker.
We know that we can expect a finalized version of the KTM 790 Duke at this year’s EICMA show in Milan, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the streetfighter model has been caught testing by spy photographers. The bike’s parallel-twin engine can clearly be spotted in the pictures, tipping us to its model, and many of the lines from the prototype machine remain, as further clues. Though, noticeable differences include a new tail section design, different exhaust, as well as a headlight. The headlight is clearly derived from KTM’s new design language, and its shape mimics what we’ve seen already added to the Duke, Super Duke, and Adventure lineup. The KTM 790 Duke prototype hinted that we would see a similar face in the new hoon-machine, so no surprises there.
Race teams continue to debut their 2017 liveries and riders, and this time around we feature the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike squad that will race in the World Superbike Championship. Chaz Davies of course returns to the team, and this season he will be joined by Marco Melandri. The duo will be an interesting pair to watch this season, with Davies holding onto his impressive form from the last-half of the 2016 season, and Melandri making his return to motorcycle racing, after sitting out last season. With 2017 to be the penultimate season for the Ducati Panigale R in the World Superbike Championship, the v-twin superbike has shown itself to be an extremely mature machine on the race track.
It is a tremendous shame that the options for a road legal supermoto for are so limited, with the venerable Suzuki DR-Z400SM being the only offering in the 450cc on-road class. For virtually a decade, Suzuki has left the DR-Z basically unchanged – as it has done with many of its sport models – so we would love to see Suzuki and other manufacturers give this space more attention (a hat tip to Husqvarna for bringing the track-only FS450 to market, long with the 701 Supermoto). Although you can wake-up the DR-Z400 with a few simple modification, and there are a bevy of aftermarket kits that can punch the 398cc machine out in size, what we really want from Suzuki is a proper 450cc street supermoto – one that doesn’t stray too far from the brand’s current strong motocross offering. So, when we saw this little bit of Photoshop work by the folks at the German Suzuki dealership of DSR-Suzuki, we got a little excited.
News out Japan sees Honda and Hitachi starting a joint venture that will focus on providing motors for electric vehicles. The two companies signed today what they call a “memorandum of understanding, which is the Japanese business version of getting a promise ring to start a future company together. The still unnamed joint venture will be located in Hitachinaka City in the Ibaraki Prefecture, and be initially capitalized with ¥5 billion (~$44 million). Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi Automotive Systems hope to finalize this deal by March 2017, and the new company will have subsidiaries in China and the United States – both of which will have sales and production capabilities.
A bill has been presented to the United States House of Representatives that would seek the closure of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) by 2018. Proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R – Florida), HB 861 will likely be a mixed bag for motorcycle enthusiasts, as it will deregulate environmental restrictions set at the federal level, leaving states to draft or adopt their own provisions, which will likely have a fracturing effect on the regulatory market for motorcycles. But, it will also mean the abolition of EPA regulations that many motorcyclists oppose, like the blending of ethanol in our fuel, and restrictions on noise, emissions, and vehicle modifications.
Heads-up display (HUD) company NUVIZ just took a strategic investment from Pierer Industrie AG, the company behind KTM, Husqvarna, WP Suspension, and others. Today’s news is quite a catch for the San Diego based technology startup, and it bodes well for NUVIZ to bring its heads-up display technology to market. As such, NUVIZ hopes to have a heads-up display unit and connected rider system available in the first half of 2017. NUVIZ has raised roughly $9 million to date, via equity and debt, and our sources tell us that KTM’s purchase into the company has contributed to the lions’s share of that amount – upwards of $5 million, along with a seat on NUVIZ’s board of directors.
In an airplane hangar in Austria, Honda’s World Superbike team unveiled its wings…that is to say, the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team debuted in the energy drink’s Hangar-7 facility in Salzburg today. As the name implies, Red Bull will be the title sponsor for Nicky Hayden’s and Stefan Bradl’s World Superbike title bid this year, on the updated 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP2. This is the first time that Red Bull has been a title sponsor in the WorldSBK paddock, though the energy drink company’s livery can be seen on variety of bodywork throughout motorsport. “It’s a new year with a new bike, new title partner and new teammate, so there are definitely many changes ahead and a lot of things to look forward to,” said former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden.
The prospect of a new MotoGP season always leaves fans giddy with anticipation. Their appetites keenly whetted by winter testing, and speculation over the times set at those tests, they boldly predict that this season is going to be the best MotoGP season ever. Though the racing is often good, all too often, it never quite lives up to the preseason hype.
There is every reason to believe that this year, it will be different. The bikes, the riders, the teams, the motivation, it all points to 2015 being an exceptionally exciting season in MotoGP.
At the last day of winter testing at Qatar just over a week ago, less than a second covered the top fourteen riders, and two seconds covered all but four of the MotoGP field.
A similar pattern emerged at Sepang: with the exception of the occasional hot lap by Marc Márquez, there were ten or more riders within a second of each other. Things haven’t been this close for a while.
Once upon a time, Grand Prix racing rules were fairly simple: bikes had to have two wheels, weigh 130kg, have a maximum capacity of 500cc and a maximum of four cylinders. The switch to four strokes in 2002 added a lot of complexity to the rules, and things have been getting slowly worse since then.
MotoGP now has two different categories with three different rule sets covering a single class, depending on entry type and results in recent years.
With Suzuki and Aprilia entering the series in 2015, and another rule change on the horizon for 2016, it’s time to take a quick look at the rules for this season, and see what has changed since last year.
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.
One of the main complaints aimed at the last-minute rule changes in MotoGP is that they made it impossible to explain to the casual viewer exactly who is riding what, and why.
How many categories are there exactly in MotoGP? Who has more fuel and who doesn’t? And who loses what privileges if they win or podium? To clear up some of the confusion, here is our simple guide to the categories in MotoGP.