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.

Trackside Tuesday: The Dunlop Dynasty Rides On

06/04/2013 @ 12:42 pm, by Richard Mushet3 COMMENTS

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After three increasingly impressive performances in the first three solo races at this year’s Isle Of Man TT, the Michael Dunlop we have been watching tackle the Mountain Course this week seems to be signalling a clear message of intent to the rest of the road racing field.

Following in the footsteps of his father Robert and his uncle Joey, who achieved a combined record of 31 wins and 54 podiums at the TT, and an astronomical amount of wins on road circuits across the world, Michael had already won three races on the island before this year’s event.

Despite this already impressive record on the Island, his frustration (and clear intent) was always apparent when it came to the Superbike class, as his two wins in Supersport and one in the Superstock class might have been perceived as “easier” wins by more cynical men than myself.

Trackside Tuesday: The Silly Suzuki Season

05/21/2013 @ 11:06 pm, by Scott Jones19 COMMENTS

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As Randy de Puniet heads to Japan to test Suzuki’s 2014 MotoGP bike, the possible availability (some won’t be convinced it’s a reality until a pair of Suzuki motorcycles appear on the grid in Qatar next April) of two new factory seats has spawned a Silly Season unto itself.

If that possibility entailed another satellite prototype team, the furor would be considerable, but that it’s a new factory team means reason and rationality are running for their lives.

So once again we have the chance to observe the unique mindset of the top level motorbike racer. To that mindset, at least in this modern era, the factory ride is the Holy Grail of motorcycle racing. It’s easy to see why this has happened.

After the days of the 500cc two-strokes, when a highly-developed formula meant a privateer team could compete with the deep-pocket teams, the four-stroke era has seen costs skyrocket, and factory-deep pockets dominate the win column. It’s for very good reasons that riders feel you have to be on a factory bike to win races. But the thing is, not all factories are equal.

Trackside Tuesday: Is COTA Tilke’s American Masterpiece?

04/30/2013 @ 10:25 pm, by Jules Cisek23 COMMENTS

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On the Thursday before the Americas GP, I stood at the top of T1 looking down onto the straight from the height of 13 stories. Feeling more than a touch of vertigo, and thinking, that if anything, Hermann Tilke captured the unwritten law that everything in Texas has to be big.

From the massive elevation changes, to the one kilometer back-straight leading to the massive stadium section, to the 77 meter observation tower…the track and the entire facility is breathtaking in its hugeness and character.

Trackside Tuesday: An Embarrassment of Riches

04/23/2013 @ 1:53 pm, by Scott Jones23 COMMENTS

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Marc Marquez stole several things this past weekend at the Circuit of the Americas. Freddie Spencer lost two records (youngest rider to set pole and youngest rider to win a premie-class GP race), and Cal Crutchlow lost a great deal of attention he deserved for a fantastic performance, in some ways his best since coming to MotoGP.

So many members of the media were focussed on Marquez’s record setting that few of us gave due attention to how remarkable a job Crutchlow was doing on his first visit to this new facility. Marquez, Pedrosa, and Lorenzo were fastest in qualifying, helped by the experience at COTA that was gained during the pre-season test in March — also along for that test were Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl.

But, Crutchlow did not make that trip, and thus put in his first laps at Circuit of the Americas on Friday. Those first laps were after a garage fire had dealt Tech 3 the wild cards of drenched equipment that, though thoroughly dried by the hard-working crew, remained of questionable reliability given the soaking they had received Wednesday night.

While Marquez rightly had the majority of our attention, consider the performance of a satellite rider on his first weekend at a new track.

Trackside Tuesday: The Calm Before the Storm

04/16/2013 @ 3:14 pm, by Scott Jones27 COMMENTS

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The second half of the 2012 MotoGP season generated a tale of sound and fury: Casey Stoner’s retirement, Valentino Rossi’s pending return to Yamaha, Dani Pedrosa’s late season charge to threaten for the premier-class title, and the coming of Marc Marquez to Repsol Honda, all seemed to add up to a 2013 that would make for one of the most interesting MotoGP seasons of the modern era.

But as the storm raged around him, Jorge Lorenzo got quietly down the the business of being a fast, and perhaps more importantly, consistent, points claiming machine, that fended off a revitalized Pedrosa and claimed the 2012 crown.

Trackside Tuesday: The Story Begins

04/09/2013 @ 4:21 pm, by Scott Jones8 COMMENTS

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When I photograph a race, I get only portions of the story: the beginning, snippets of the middle, and the end. It’s something like reading a novel by skimming every third or fourth chapter until arriving at the last page and having someone summarize it. (I get the end if, that is, I can see the results on the tower as in Qatar. At some tracks I don’t know for sure who won until I get back to the media center.)

Each January we say “This season is going to be great!” and for 2013 there seems to be more reason to believe that than ever, which is how the weekend’s story began. When we arrived at Losail, there was more anticipation in the paddock for a great season of racing ahead than I can remember.

Even with Casey Stoner gone, pre-season testing had raised expectations for Marc Marquez even higher than they had been at the end of 2012. We knew Pedrosa would be fast and win races. And we knew Lorenzo would be the man to beat.

What we didn’t know was how competitve Valentino Rossi would be after his two years at Ducati. There seemed to be a visceral need in the paddock for him to return to form, to be Valentino again. After ups and downs in the practice and qualifying sessions, he would start from seventh place on the grid, with Lorenzo on pole and likely to run away into the night.

Would we see a return of the Rossi flair that has inspired millions of fans around the world? Or would the fairy tale turn out to be a tragedy?

One thing was for sure as we stood on the grid after a very long winter break, waiting to find out the answer to this question: The crowd, even though largely Spanish and there to support top riders in all three classes, was even more ready to see Rossi go fast again than those in the paddock.

The track announcer introduced the various riders, and when he came to Rossi, the sudden rise in enthusiasm hit like a wall of sound. Official attendance for Sunday was a paltry 9,704 fans, but it sounded like all of them were on their feet cheering as Rossi turned and waved.

Trackside Tuesday: The One That Got Away

12/18/2012 @ 2:20 pm, by Daniel Lo4 COMMENTS

Other than the profound experience of being at the TT for the first time, my time on the Isle of Man was also unique in that I knew the photographs I was taking were for the express purpose of being used in a book. Throughout the fortnight, there was a fair amount of photos that I would mentally earmark to make an appearance in ink and paper form. The above image was one of them.

As I have mentioned before, the premise of my book project was originally centered on Guy Martin. Even after four events of no podium finishes and the Senior TT getting canceled, I still loosely held onto the original topic and continued to document Guy as much as I could which included his post-TT interviews.

Trackside Tuesday: Growing Expectations

12/11/2012 @ 10:45 am, by Scott Jones29 COMMENTS

Valentino Rossi’s amazing run of nine world titles was aided, in some part, by the level of those whom he had to fight for wins. With all credit given to Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, his two main rivals until the modern class of “aliens” arrived in MotoGP, neither of these two riders was on the same level as Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo.

My colleague David Emmett has commented several times that these three riders came up through their development years knowing that to win they would have to beat Rossi. They alone managed to elevate their skills to a level that could challenge him over the course of a season, where as Biaggi and Gibernau, as good as they were, could not manage the same growth as mature riders.

I’ve often considered how, to win as many titles as Rossi and Agostini have done, you need some help in the opponent department. Agostini benefitted from Mike Hailwood’s career choices and own bad luck when it came to finding a good fit on a competitive bike.

Rossi benefitted from arriving in MotoGP long before riders as good as Stoner, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa were around to fight him. If those three had been present in 2001 and riding at their full potential, it’s a safe bet Rossi would not have seven premier class titles in his pocket.

Trackside Tuesday: Casinos, Armco, and Road Racing

11/27/2012 @ 10:55 am, by Tony Goldsmith4 COMMENTS

Take the Monaco F1 without the glitz and glamor, throw in a Vegas casino or two, add some Chinese culture, with a nod to Portugal, and you have got a rough picture of Macau and the Macau Grand Prix. A former Portuguese colony with gambling revenue that surpasses Las Vegas, Macau remains an anomaly in this area of the world, where conformity to the Chinese central Government is more the norm.

The racing takes place on the 3.8 mile armco lined Guia Circuit, a street circuit with long wide fast straights leading into tight corners that snake past casinos and high-rise buildings. Part of the thrill of watching real road racing is the ability to get up close to the action, sadly that is not possible at Macau mainly due to the tight nature of the track. Spectating is therefore pretty much limited to three large grandstands all within the first mile of the track, unless of course you are fortunate enough to have a media pass.

Given the obvious dangers, it takes a certain breed of motorcycle racer to race at Macau. A glance through the list of past winners reads as a recent who’s who of road racing legends, who between them boast more wins at the Isle of Man TT and North West 200 than I can count. There is even a former World 500cc Champion and multiple World Superbike Champion included in the list.

Trackside Tuesday: Our Most Precious Resource

11/20/2012 @ 1:08 pm, by Scott Jones5 COMMENTS

It’s easy to forget that motorcycle racing is a sport for children. Their courage on track is remarkable, and even more so because of their young age. They start at five, four, sometimes three, riding their tiny motorbikes around the paddock or on dirt tracks in rural towns and lonely desert spaces and sometimes in organized series such as the Cuna Campeones Bankia.

At this moment there are thousands of kids either on their little machines or wishing they were riding, counting the minutes until they get to put the helmet back on and ride, perhaps just for the joy or perhaps with dreams of a world championship.

They have various levels of support from adults, ranging from the tolerant, to the indulging, to the demanding. As in all endeavors, most of the individuals either don’t reach their potential due to other demands on their time, energy or budget, or they approach that potential, and are judged to have too little talent in their bodies and minds to warrant moving to the next level.

Those who have the talent and desire, and are lucky enough to be recognized as such, might receive the support to compete at higher and higher levels. And sometimes by the onset of adolescence these kids are worldly and experienced in the ways of competition, travel, sponsorship, and so on.