Only a select few men in the world can say they have defeated Valentino Rossi in a last lap duel in a MotoGP race. On that very short list is one Toni Elias, who bested the Italian legend to the checkered flag for his first and only premier class victory at Estoril in 2006, on a satellite machine no less. Championship-deciding repercussions aside, the win granted Elias a contract extension at a time when his GP career was in doubt.
However, the onset of the 800cc era, coupled with the introduction of control tires the following year, would prove to be the start of a rough roller coaster ride for Tiger Toni. Five seasons, a Moto2 World Championship title, and two MotoGP exits later, Elias was given an extremely rare third shot at a premier class ride this past weekend as a replacement rider for the Pramac Ducati’s Hector Barbera. True to the up and down nature of his career in recent years, this opportunity came just a week after he parted ways with the Mapfre Apspar Moto2 team at the previous round in Mugello, after being unable to replicate his title-winning form back in the GP middleweight class.
Unfortunately, his latest attempt at challenging the fastest motorcycle racers in the world came to an abrupt and disappointing end after crashing out of the US GP on only his second lap. With no further confirmed top class appearances on the horizon, Toni’s tenure at the pinnacle of the sport appears to have ended in the gravel trap at Laguna Seca. However, a MotoGP race win will always be on his curriculum vitae, and that’s no small feat.
The concept that motorcyclists define themselves by the motorcycles that they ride seems like a fairly obvious notion to us, but you wouldn’t know it by most of the advertisements you currently see in the motorcycle industry. Some brands get the whole lifestyle approach to motorcycle marketing, with Harley-Davidson & Ducati being the two prime examples in the industry of how a motorcycle brand can mean more than just traveling from Point A to Point B.
An integral component to demand generation, the business side of this kind of branding is where marketing becomes less objective and more subjective. To be frank, the reason we have a scarcity of good ad campaigns in the motorcycle industry is because few motorcycle companies are a) willing to recognize the importance of lifestyle branding (for some, it’s a four-letter word), b) willing to acknowledge the craftsmanship that is involved with that kind of marketing campaign (or worse, recognize it if they saw it), and c) are willing to pay for marketing managers with that skill set (they aren’t cheap).
Unsurprisingly, the brands that do see the value in running these kind of campaigns are seeing it payoff in dividends. Have you heard of Russian sidecar maker Ural? How about MV Agusta? Yeah, we thought so. But yet, here are two companies that continually struggle to reach five-digit unit volume figures, yet have a cult following of owners and non-owners alike. I’ve waxed on about how larger OEMs like Honda need to create a more personal link with their product to consumers, so I won’t get into it again.
Instead, after jump find a small selection of Royal Enfield ads from the company’s Tripping campaign. Someone should have checked the international usage of the slogan “tripping ever since” — but that oversight aside, it is a pretty flawlessly executed demand generation campaign. Enjoy, and thanks for the tip ??!
Just one more week, and the biggest open piece of MotoGP’s puzzle should be slotted into place. On Saturday night, Valentino Rossi met with Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio, to discuss the details of the offer Ducati have for Rossi, and on Sunday morning, Del Torchio told French journalist Michel Turco that he expected to know Rossi’s answer within the next seven days. The money from Ducati is generous, some 17 million euros a season (this figure has since been denied by Rossi — Ed.), if the rumors are to be believed, but the money will not be the important part of the deal.
The biggest item will be what help Ducati will get from Audi, and whether the rate of progress at Borgo Panigale can be ramped up to start rolling out updates faster, and start to change some of the things which Rossi and Burgess believe are vital before the bike can even begin to become competitive. Ducati is not Rossi’s only option, of course.
The second seat at the Factory Yamaha team awaits, though that ride is not so richly rewarded, financially at least. The offer from Yamaha is rumored to be around the 3-4 million euro mark, a pay cut Rossi may be willing to take if it leaves him capable of winning and challenging for championships again. But here, too, conditions will be key: Rossi will return as the #2 rider, Lorenzo already having clinched a two-year deal with the factory, and Yamaha having made it clear to Rossi that they saw Lorenzo as the future back in 2010, which caused Rossi to pick-up sticks and go to Ducati.
Even worse, though, Rossi may have to return alone; his crew will not automatically be rehired by Yamaha, the cost of flying them around the world being a major cost factor in the equation. What’s more, Rossi will have to bring sponsorship to the table, much more than just the amount needed to cover his salary.
Honda’s Q2 report is out (the report is technically Honda’s Q1 fiscal report), and Big Red is showing some positive gains in 2012 thus far. With unit sales up 12% in Q2 2012 over Q2 2011, Honda is also posting a tidy revenue increase of 42% (¥2,435.9 billion, or $31 billion), while net income is also up 315% to ¥131.7 billion ($405 million). Honda doesn’t breakout its consolidated financial report into regional figures, though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to note that these gains are likely being made primarily in Southeast Asia, and other developing markets.
Closer to home though, things are still on the up-and-up. Honda America reports 59,000 units sold in Q2 2012, up 28% from the 46,000 units it sold during the same time period last year. It should be noted of course that when reading reports from this past quarter that Q2 2011 was weighed-down heavily by the effects of the T?hoku earthquake and following tsunami.
Photo: © 2012 Rick Grayston – All Rights Reserved
Laguna Seca has a habit of throwing the Championship a curveball. The epic race between Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi in 2008 was a prime example, a turning point in the Championship when Rossi halted what looked like the inexorable rise of Casey Stoner. Last year, too, Laguna proved to be key moment in the Championship, when Stoner stopped Jorge Lorenzo’s resurgence with one of the bravest passes in racing for a long time, through the ultra-fast Turn 1. With Laguna Seca the last race going into the summer break, winning or losing at the US GP can have a dramatic effect on the momentum of the Championship.
Whether the same will be said of Laguna Seca in 2012 will only be clear at the end of the season. But it has all the signs of being a significant moment, for more than just the five points Casey Stoner clawed back from Jorge Lorenzo. The race, if not thrilling, was at least tense: there was little between the two men for most of the race, Stoner shadowing Lorenzo closely, snapping at his heels but not quite able to attempt a pass. The turning point came on lap 18. As the leading pair plunged down the Corkscrew, Lorenzo’s sliding rear tire almost threw him out of the saddle. “I closed my eyes during the highside,” the Yamaha man said afterwards, “and I was happy to still be in the seat when I opened them again.”
Another foggy Californian morning, another sunny Californian afternoon. MotoGP is in Laguna Seca this weekend for the US GP, which started off with the surprise announcement that Ben Spies would not be returning to the factory Yamaha squad next season. With Spies’ departure from Yamaha, his seat at the factory team is officially up for grabs now, which has lead to increase in speculation that Rossi could return to the Japanese factory.
Whether that is wishful thinking by loyal fans, or a prudent insight into the Italian’s options and future remains to be seen, but the topic has certainly dominated this weekend at the coastal Californian track. One thing is for certain, fans want to see Rossi be more competitive on race Sundays, and the thought process by many is that this means a more sorted motorcycle for the nine-time World Champion.
Right now, that motorcycle is the 2012 Yamaha YZR-M1, which Jorge Lorenzo put on the pole-position during Saturday’s qualifying. Followed by the Hondas of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, all three riders had a race pace that was vastly superior to the rest of the field, though Stoner cited lapped traffic as the cause for his diminished qualifying time. Sunday’s race would prove whether that statement was excuse or reality.
Despite dominating the Championship so far, Jorge Lorenzo does not get a lot of pole positions. Except at Laguna: though this was only his third of the season, Saturday’s pole position was Lorenzo’s fourth in a row at the circuit, and he secured it in convincing style. The circuit record tumbled – it had stood since 2008, set by Casey Stoner when he looked on his way to dominating the US GP at Laguna, before his run in with Valentino Rossi of course. There has been much complaining about the Bridgestone tires of late, yet both Lorenzo and Stoner beat the pole record on the tire they will probably race on, a pole record set on super-soft special qualifiers, which at a track like Laguna Seca you could just about eke two laps out of before they were finished. In reality, there is not so much wrong with these tires.
The pole record could have been beaten by a lot more, but Casey Stoner kept running into traffic each time he went for a fast lap. Up by a tenth or more at each split a number of times, he would suddenly run into a rider cruising, or a CRT machine on a hot lap, and lose out. On his last attempt, he ran into Danilo Petrucci just before the final corner, working his way swiftly past to take pole from Lorenzo with a couple of minutes to go. But Lorenzo would not be denied, pushing hard in the final sector to get pole back from Stoner in the dying moments.
For those that are not familiar with the weather patterns of Northern California’s coastal areas, Saturday at Laguna Seca was a good example of the foggy morning gloom we natives must endure in order to be showered with the Golden State’s eternal afternoon sunshine. With FP3 nearly delayed because of low cloud cover, qualifying for the US GP at Laguna Seca couldn’t have conditions more opposite than this morning. Click past the jump for full-of-sunshine qualifying results.