WorldSBK Approves the Use of Winglets*

The World Superbike Championship released the latest decision from the SBK Commission today, which clarified a few rules for the 2018 season, most notably the new rev-limiter and parts cost rules, which have been discussed already at great length here on Asphalt & Rubber (Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3). There was another interesting rule change of note though, which is likely to get over-looked by the racing community, and that is the World Superbike Championship permitting the use of winglets, although there is a catch. In its rules update, the SBK Commission decreed that teams and manufacturers may fit aerodynamic components (e.g. winglets) to their superbikes so long as the winglets are fitted to the homologated motorcycle.

Crunching the Numbers: Rea vs. MotoGP vs. WorldSBK

The start of December marks the beginning of what is rapidly becoming a tradition in the world of motorcycle racing. After the Jerez test in late November, it is now “Why Is Jonathan Rea Faster Than A MotoGP Bike” season. At Jerez, Rea pushed his Kawasaki ZX-10R WorldSBK machine – down 35+ bhp and up 10+ kg – to the fourth fastest overall time of the week, ahead of eleven MotoGP regulars (including two rookies), three MotoGP test riders and Alex Márquez, who the Marc VDS team were using to train up the new crew recruited to look after Tom Luthi’s side of the garage while the Swiss rider is still injured. How is this possible? And what does this mean? Are WorldSBK machines too close to MotoGP bikes?

Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX Priced at $19,000 for the USA

Kawasaki’s newest supercharged motorcycle is also its most affordable supercharged motorcycle, with the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX coming to the USA with an MSRP of $19,000. Even the better-equipped 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE is an “affordable” $22,000, when compared to the more sport-focused H2 models. Featuring a 200hp version of Kawasaki’s supercharged, four-cylinder, 998cc engine, the Ninja H2 SX is a fully faired sport-tourer, with an emphasis on the sport side of the equation. The base model comes in any color you want, so long as it’s black, while the Ninja H2 SX SE comes in the traditional Team Green color scheme of Kawasaki.

Oh Yes, The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE Is USA Bound

Good news sport bike fans, Kawasaki USA in its infinite wisdom has decided to bring the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE to the United States for the 2018 model year. Debuted at this year’s EICMA show, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE takes the potent superbike and most notably adds Showa’s new semi-active suspension to the package. Other perks include the seven-spoke forged aluminum Marchesini wheels, found already on the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR, as well as an up/down quickshifter. Like what you hear? Well brace yourself…If you want a 2018 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE in your garage, you are going to need to shell out $21,899 MSRP for it. That sticker price represents quite the premium over Team Green’s race homologation machine, the ZX-10RR, which goes for $18,899.

PJ Jacobsen Racing in WorldSBK for 2018

Patrick ‘PJ’ Jacobsen will be stepping up to the big show for the 2018 season, with today’s announcement that the American will be riding with the TripleM Honda WSBK Team. Moving off of the World Supersport grid and into the World Superbike Championship, Jacobsen will be riding the Honda CBR1000RR SP2 with the satellite Honda team effort that TripleM has put together. “I’m very excited to be making my World Superbike debut with TripleM Honda WSBK Team,” said PJ. “It’s a great opportunity for me to be finally racing in this class and I want to thank the team and Honda for making this possible. Both the team and I will be rookies in the WorldSBK championship so there’ll surely be a lot to learn, but it’s a challenge that stimulates me and I can’t wait to get started.”

Yamaha Selling Shares in Yamaha Motor to Raise Money

The Yamaha Corporation announced today that it will be selling 8 million shares of its holdings in Yamaha Motor Co., a movement of shares that will see roughly 2.3% of the voting power in the powersports company changing hands. This deal is expected to close on December 4th, and the Yamaha Corporation says that it will be selling its position to various unnamed securities companies, presumably to then be sold on the open market. At the current market price for Yamaha Motor stock, this deal should be worth close to ¥26 billion, and ¥18 billion after tax expenses have been factored. The news means that while the Yamaha Corporation will remain the single largest shareholder in Yamaha Motor Co., its ownership position as a shareholder will drop from 12.22% to 9.93%, as a result of the divestiture.

Valentino Rossi’s Winter Test Helmet Gets Mexican Flair

It is another winter testing period for the MotoGP riders, and that means that Valentino Rossi has another special “Winter Test” AGV helmet design for us. This year, The Doctor takes his inspiration from Huichol bead art, after he visited the region on a recent vacation to Mexico. As such, Rossi’s winter test AGV Pista GP R helmet features a hand-painted bead design that plays on the winter motif, with the Italian’s usual affinity for symbols. “Huichol art immediately intrigued me, because it uses many of my symbols, like the sun and moon or the turtle,” explained Valentino Rossi. “We have tried to recreate the effect of the beads that the Mexicans use to bring color and shape to these objects, but to do so with a Valentino Rossi twist.”

Jonathan Rea Talks About New WorldSBK Rules

Three years of unparalleled success has seen Jonathan Rea notch up 39 victories, 70 podiums, and 3 WorldSBK titles. To put those numbers into context, only Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, and Noriyuki Haga have won more races in their WorldSBK careers. It truly has been a historic run of form for Rea and Kawasaki. For WorldSBK though the achievements have been outweighed by the reaction of fans to these results. Feeling that significant changes were needed to ensure a more competitive balance for the field, WorldSBK has introduced a wide range of new regulations to curtail the Kawasaki dominance. The goal isn’t to stop Rea and Kawasaki winning but simply to allow other manufacturers to get on an even keel.

The “Smart” Approach to Writing the WorldSBK Rulebook

Scott Smart has been tasked with writing and rewriting the rule book for Superbikes around the planet. The FIM Superbike Technical Director has been instrumental in bringing about the recent regulation changes for WorldSBK, and speaking at the season ending Qatar round he explained the philosophy behind the changes. “There’s a lot of benefits to these changes, but the biggest factor is that we want to find a way to have more exciting racing in WorldSBK,” explained Smart. “With the new regulations each team on the grid has the chance to run the same specification as the factory teams or to develop their own parts. This gives a private team the chance to have a bike with development work already having been completed by simply buying the relevant parts for their bike.”

Ben Spies Returns to Motorcycle Racing…On Dirt Bikes

Ben Spies fans will be happy to hear that the Texan is returning to racing motorcycles, announcing the news while talking to Matthew Miles at Cycle World. However, the news might not be as expected, as Spies isn’t returning to the superbike paddock, but instead will compete in the AMA National Enduro series next season. As such, Spies will take part in several rounds on the Full Gas Sprint Enduro calendar, in the mid-level “Pro2” class; as well as an ISDE qualifier, with an eye on making the squad for Team USA. Certainly not the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship bid that was reported earlier, though Spies confirmed that he had been in talks with Ducati about racing a Panigale, and had also spun some laps on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R at a track day in Texas.

The Phillip Island was a high for Moto2’s Ant West, as the Australian rider put his QMMF Racing bike on the second podium spot after the well-fought race. With three Australians on the podium for each of the three GP classes, the Australian GP was highlighted with Casey Stoner’s last ride at Phillip Island, making the event a bittersweet moment for the local crowd.

For Ant West though, it will be his last memory for the 2012 Moto2 season, as the 31-year-old rider from Maryborough has been handed a 30-day ban from the sport, after failing a drug test at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans. Found to have Methylhexaneamine (DMMA), a mild stimulant that is found in dietary supplements, in his system at the French round, West will miss Valencia, the last round of the Moto2 season.

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Official Sketch of the MV Agusta Rivale

10/31/2012 @ 2:01 pm, by Jensen Beeler9 COMMENTS

Ahead of its debut in a couple week at the EICMA show in Milan, the MV Agusta Rivale has broken some of its cover, with the Italian “motorcycle art” manufacturer releasing an official sketch of the upcoming hypermotard-styled motorcycle. Obviously looking to drum-up some buzz about MV Agusta’s third addition to the company’s three-cylinder range, we think the sketch will have the desired effect.

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Jorge Lorenzo + Gangnam Style = Us Crying

10/31/2012 @ 4:44 am, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

At Phillip Island post-race press conference, I thought Jorge Lorenzo singing “We Are the Champions” with Wilco Zeelenberg would top my MotoGP audio/visual experience for the year (I’m still debating whether it is worth losing my MotoGP credentials to post-up that video).

However, I think this clip of the newly crowned World Champion doing a rendition of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” might just even surpass that special moment in my life. Just a warning, some things are burned into the back of your brain, and cannot be unseen. Happy Halloween after the jump.

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250cc Yamaha Sport Bike in the Works

10/30/2012 @ 4:42 pm, by Jensen Beeler32 COMMENTS

News coming out of India and Southeast Asia (which Cycle World is bizarrely taking credit for starting, despite being months late to the party), is that Yamaha is set to debut a 250cc sport bike for the world market. Said to be visually similar to the Yamaha YZF-R6 (concept sketch above), the quarter-liter four-stroke machine is certainly a response to the recent offerings from Honda and Kawasaki.

Expected to be a 2013 or 2014 model, we will almost certainly get our first glimpse of the bike, or its concept, at the upcoming 2012 EICMA motorcycle show in Milan. With details about the “Yamaha YZF-R250” being scarce, we would wager a 2014 launch date, but as always, time will tell. Expect pricing to be sub-$5,000 though, with optional ABS.

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Trackside Tuesday: There’s No Place Like Home

10/30/2012 @ 3:06 pm, by Scott Jones12 COMMENTS

This past weekend at Phillip Island was a memorable experience in two distinct but related ways. It was my first visit to this famous track, and I arrived with high expectations, but figured I’d be at least a little disappointed. For all the hyperbole heaped on Phillip Island’s GP course, how could it be that great?

But as I explored the track, which immediately reminded me of one of my favorite courses in the world, Donington Park, I found that once again, TV fails to deliver the full picture. Phillip Island not only has interesting and exciting turns and elevation changes, but is also set in a gorgeous landscape of green and blue.

It has few of the eyesores than usually adorn race tracks. There are no giant wire fences, very little Armco away from the pit lane, few trackside porta-potties or trailers, and from what I saw, no orange cones. Instead there are lush grasses and dense forests of trees, or blue ocean water with sea birds in the air.

Spectators are allowed close and unobstructed views of the track and we photographers are allowed even closer. If a TV stand or food vendor is spoiling your background, you can often move to a different position and make the distration disappear from the shot. When I first arrived I asked in the Media Center for a map of the Red Zones, places around the track they don’t want us to go.

I got a puzzled look and this reply: “Ummm, I don’t think there are any. Just go where you want unless a marshall objects.” There seems to be only one general rule: if you see a row of tires, don’t stand between the those tires and the track. If you can respect that amount of common sense, pretty much anywhere else is available.

So working there was a pleasure and I seemed to be in a land of nearly endless possibilities for images. I can imagine it would take years of shooting there regularly to be confident you’d found most of the really good perspectives.

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It seems we won’t get through each day of the week without an update on Ducati Corse’s World Superbike plans. After first hearing that Ducati Corse and Althea Racing had parted ways, with Ducati then confirming the news, it seems now the Italian brand is being linked to the Belgian Alstare Team, previously of Suzuki fame.

Talks between Ducati Corse and Team Alstare have been confirmed by Team Principal Francis Batta, with the negotiations between the two parties set to conclude tomorrow. Interestingly enough, the conclusion of the Alstare deal is fresh on the news of Althea Racing’s split from Ducati, which only adds more fuel to the speculation about the two parties.

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Two freshly anointed champions, three impressive winners, and a large crowd of ecstatic and yet wistful fans, come to say goodbye to a departing hero and hope to spot a new one arriving. Even the weather cooperated. That’s how good the Australian Grand Prix was at Phillip Island this year. All three races were a lot less intense than the previous two weekends, but even that didn’t matter, because of the manner in which the winners secured their victories, and because the Australian crowd had something to cheer about in all three categories.

It started in the Moto3 race, where Sandro Cortese rode one of his best races of the year, the title he clinched last weekend at Sepang clearly a weight off his mind, allowing the young German to ride freely. He had Miguel Oliveira to contend with for most of the race, but in the end, he would not be denied. The home crowd still had much to cheer about, as local boy Arthur Sissis, the 17-year-old former Red Bull Rookie, won an intense battle for third, putting an Australian on the podium for the first time on Sunday.

In Moto2, Pol Espargaro gave a display of dominance rarely seen in the intensively competitive class. It was hardly unexpected, Espargaro having stamped his authority on practice for the past two days, but the style in which the Spaniard won was very, very impressive. It took him a couple of laps to get past Marc Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami, but once he did, he put a second or more a lap on most of the field, before cruising home to a spectacular victory. Espargaro could do nothing to prevent Marquez becoming champion, concentrating solely on the task ahead, winning as many races as possible.

The home crowd had something to cheer for as well, Ant West riding an outstanding race to hold off a late charge from Marc Marquez to secure second place, making it two podiums in a row. West’s podium at Sepang last weekend took the weight of the Australian veteran’s shoulders and has given him the confidence boost he needed.

The team have been making slow progress, West had said earlier this weekend, and Sepang was the reward from that hard work. Most of all, though, it had helped him find his belief in himself again; that alone is worth half a second or more a lap. At this level, motorcycle racing is 90% mental.

Marquez finished third, but still took the 2012 Moto2 title with honor. He may not have been able to win – no one had the measure of Espargaro at Phillip Island – but he gave an impressive account of himself and secured the championship with a podium. Marquez is a deserved winner of the championship, despite the criticism sometimes aimed at the young Spaniard. The onboard video of the first lap at Motegi shows one of the most compelling displays of courage, skill and racing sense of recent years, and justifies on its own his ascension to the premier class next season.

There has been much made of Marquez’ backing and support, and of the special treatment he has received. It is true that he has had solid sponsorship and always been in a strong team, but the reason why he has had the backing is because of his extraordinary talent, rather than the other way around. A MotoGP team manager who was at the test where Marquez took his first laps on a Moto2 machine was in awe: “He is a very special talent.”

Winning the title on what is a very ordinary chassis – the massive success of the Kalex bikes compared to the mediocre results of the other Suters – speaks volumes about the ability of Marquez, and the Spaniard will be very fast from the very first MotoGP race at Qatar. HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto has already said that he expects Marquez to be on the podium at that race; it would not surprise me in the slightest.

The main course, however, was the demonstration to be given by Casey Stoner in the MotoGP class. Stoner had almost humiliated the rest of the field during practice, consistently half a second or more quicker than anyone else, the gap often closer to a second. At a track where the lap is usually 90 seconds, that is a massive advantage.

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After the shocking news this weekend that Ducati and Althea Racing would go their separate ways, the Bologna Brand has issued its own press statement about the break-up. Confirming that it has contracted former World Superbike Champion Carlos Checa to its payroll for next season, Ducati Corse also reaffirmed its commitment to race the Ducati 1199 Panigale in the series.

Ducati Corse has yet to release its official plans to race in the series, but the writing on the wall hints towards a factory team for 2013. Citing its strong ties and good relationship with the Althea Racing team, Ducati’s press release mentions the possibility of a “cooperation between Ducati and Team Althea” that could still be “found in the future,” which suggests that Althea could come on as a satellite team for 2013, or again takeover as the factory-backed effort at a later point in time.

While Ducati’s WSBK racing effort is still very much in the air, names like Liberty Racing and Davide Tardozzi are being banded about, and it is certain that Ducati Corse is exploring every option available. What is perhaps most intriguing in the news is Ducati Corse’s reconfirmation of its plan to race the Ducati 1199 Panigale RS13 next season.

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Asphalt & Rubber Turns Four Years Old Today

10/28/2012 @ 7:51 pm, by Jensen Beeler54 COMMENTS

Today is a surreal landmark, as it marks our fourth year of publishing Asphalt & Rubber. If you cannot already tell, I am having a hard time believing that four years have gone by since I started this humble motorcycle blog (in the middle of corporate finance class, no less), but A&R continues to thrive despite my best dyslexic efforts.

It astonishes me that our “little” site is visited throughout the world on a daily basis, and that each month more people read A&R than all three of the major US motorcycle print magazines…combined.

Things keep on growing here, and I am deeply grateful now to be publishing the work of David Emmett on A&R, as he continues to be one of the most insightful writers in motorcycle racing, in both the print and online mediums.

This year, I am also very honored to have had regular written and photo contributions from Scott Jones, Daniel Lo, and Jules Cisek this year — their work has helped Asphalt & Rubber earn a reputation for stunning photography, and I hear compliments about their photography virtually every time I meet a loyal A&R reader in person.

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WSBK: Althea Racing and Ducati Corse Part Ways

10/28/2012 @ 6:29 am, by Jensen Beeler18 COMMENTS

In a surprise move, Althea Racing and Ducati Corse have parted ways in their World Superbike collaboration. The news sees Carlos Checa remaining with Ducati Corse and on the Ducati 1199 Panigale, though the Spaniard has no team behind him. Meanwhile, Althea Racing will retain #2 man Davide Giugliano, but will have to begin a search for a new manufacturer.

The issue under contention is the level of support Ducati Corse was willing to give the team, as Team Principal Genesio Bevilacqua has said to several Italian publications that Ducati was willing to give about as much support in 2013 as it did in 2012, which wasn’t a lot.

Left to develop the Ducati 1199 Panigale on its own, a large feat given the rumors that the Ducati 1199 Panigale RS13 is not up to par for racing duty, Althea Racing is said to have balked at the idea of having to do all the heavy-lifting while Ducati reaps all the reward, and rightfully so.

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