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December 2014

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It will be a new year soon, and for some of Asphalt & Rubber‘s more international readers, New Year’s Eve may have already given way to New Year’s Day (Happy New Year, if that’s already the case). Going through my various feeds, it seems obligatory that we make some sort of Happy New Year proclamation, summarize the stories the site has covered, and share some insight on the inner-workings of our operation here at A&R. The Dude abides, but bear with me first. It’s hard to believe that Asphalt & Rubber has been going at things for six years now, and the site stands at an interesting crossroad — both in terms of its own growth and progression, but also where the industry stands.

Think the Harley-Davidson LiveWire project was just a stunt for shareholders? No one can say for certain, of course, but the Bar & Shield brand is continuing its search for experts in electric vehicle production…which we doubt anyone would have believed 10 years ago. Right now Harley-Davidson has two positions posted on its career portal — a Staff Technical Engineer and a Advanced Manufacturing Project Engineer — both of which refer to an EV/Electrical project at Harley-Davidson. This isn’t the first time Harley-Davidson has posted job openings for EV projects, and it makes you wonder what other projects Harley-Davidson could be considering beyond Project LiveWire.

The third part of our review of the 2014 season, in which we take a look at the top 10 finishers in MotoGP, sees us turn to Jorge Lorenzo, the man who took the final spot on the 2014 MotoGP podium:

3rd – 263 points –  Jorge Lorenzo

If Marc Márquez’s season was one of two halves, then Jorge Lorenzo’s 2014 was doubly so. The 2010 and 2012 world champion ended the first half of the season in fifth place overall, 128 points down on the leader Marc Márquez. By season’s end, Lorenzo was third, having outscored Márquez by 29 points.

If Lorenzo hadn’t gambled on a tire change at the last race at Valencia, the difference would have been even greater: in the eight races before Valencia, Lorenzo had outscored Márquez by 54 points in total.

It all went wrong for Jorge Lorenzo during the winter. The Movistar Yamaha rider was under the surgeon’s knife three times during the winter break to fix some minor problems and remove old metalwork, most notably from the collarbone he broke in 2013.

That made putting together a training schedule more difficult than usual, and Lorenzo’s fitness, usually his strong point, took a nosedive.

For the next part of our review of the 2014 season, we continue our count down of the top 10 finishers in MotoGP. After yesterday’s look at Marc Marquez, today we turn our attention to the runner up in the 2014 MotoGP championship, Valentino Rossi: 

2nd – 295 points – Valentino Rossi

Six races. That was the deadline Valentino Rossi had given himself. After the first six races, he would make a decision on whether he was still fast enough, or it was time to hang up his leathers.

The goal was to be fighting for podiums and wins. If he could not do that, he felt he did not want to be racing. The fact that the sixth race of the season was at Mugello was ominous. If you had to choose a place for Valentino Rossi to announce his retirement, that would be it.

The season started off well, with a second place at Qatar, but with Marc Márquez just back from a broken leg, Jorge Lorenzo crashing out, and Dani Pedrosa struggling for grip, that didn’t quite feel like a true measure of his ability.

Texas was a disaster, with severe tire wear, then at Argentina, Rossi came home in fourth, just as he had done so often last year. His string of fourth places in 2013 were what had prompted Rossi’s doubts about carrying on, so many journalists and fans feared his mind was made up.

One of the more surprising things to come from MV Agusta USA’s price sheet for its 2015 models is the confirmation of the MV Agusta F4 RC superbike — a bike that had been leaked ahead of the 2014 EICMA show. MV Agusta hasn’t publicly released details on the F4 RC yet, though leaked information points to a homologation special styled superbike with over 200hp. Expected to cost €40,000 in the European market (the price cap for WSBK racing machines), American enthusiasts will enjoy the MV Agusta F4 RC’s $46,000 price tag in the United States. If rumors are true, we can expected a 210hp machine that weighs 386 lbs dry.

One of the highlights for me this year was getting to travel to Malaysia, for the Malaysian Grand Prix. A tremendously diverse country, Malaysians come together for many things, but one of the biggest is motorcycle racing.

The Malaysian economy hasn’t quite caught up with the country’s appetite though, so large-displacement machines are more of a rarity than a norm on the city streets.

Instead, you will see Malaysians riding these small-displacement bike that no matter the manufacturer, looks suspciously like the iconic Honda Cub.

Naturally the racing desire conquers all, and these “cubs” are raced, en masse, on Malaysian “race courses” — some of which are more professionally put together than others.

The speeds might not be MotoGP-level, but the riders are going 10/10ths, and the crashes are just as intense. For your cringing pleasure, here are the biggest crashes from the 2014 Malaysian Cub Prix, after the jump.

MV Agusta USA has released the pricing info for its 2015 model year motorcycles, after the Italian company had re-evaluated its pricing strategy in the USA. Accordingly, MV Agusta has gotten very aggressive with its US pricing, with several models seeing a modest price decrease, or ABS added for free.

The biggest price drop is the MV Agusta Rivale, which has been made more affordable and to give room for the touring-oriented MV Agusta Stradale. The MV Agusta Turismo Veloce has been added to the 2015 model year list, as expected.

But, perhaps most surprising is the announcement of the MV Agusta F4 RC — a motorcycle that was leaked ahead of the EICMA show, but was not shown at the Italian motorcycle fair. No details on the machine exist on MV Agusta’s public or press sites, but we can expect a 200+hp superbike that’s ready for racing homologation.

As 2014 draws to a close and 2015 approaches, it is time to take a look back at the 2014 season. Over the next few days, we’ll be reviewing the performances of the top 10 riders in the 2014 MotoGP championship, commenting on notable riders outside the top 10, and discussing the cream of Moto2 and Moto3. First, the top 10 MotoGP men, starting with with the 2014 champion:

1st – 362 points – Marc Márquez

By the end of 2013, Marc Márquez had convinced just about everyone that he was the real deal. The doubters who remained held on to a single argument: first, let’s see if he can repeat.

Winning a championship may be incredibly hard, defending it is doubly so. In the past twenty years, on Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi have done so.

Things started inauspiciously, Márquez breaking a leg while training at the dirt track oval in Rufea, near where he lives. With five weeks to recover before the first race at Qatar, and forced to miss testing at Sepang and Phillip Island, this was far from ideal preparation.

It did not matter, though: Márquez held off a resurgent Valentino Rossi while others crashed out, and won an exciting first race of the season. As his injured leg recovered, so Márquez got better, winning by comfortable margins at Austin, Argentina, Jerez and Le Mans.

The fans and media talked of records, by Doohan and Agostini, and the prospect of a perfect season – winning all eighteen races – started to be discussed.

At 586 lbs curb-ready, the Suzuki Hayabusa is not what we in the sport bike community would call a “light” motorcycle. The mighty bird was once the straight-line king — enter the Kawasaki Ninja H2R — but its aerodynamic curves hide a bulky underbelly of excess living.

Of course, in the hands of the right rider, even the hefty Hayabusa can prove itself to be as nimble as a ballerina. Watch this gymkhana racer put the Hayabusa through its paces, and think twice before you complain about the handling of a 500+ lbs motorcycle ever again.

The start of the 2015 Dakar Rally is just about a week away now, and already we have news of a retirement: local favorite Francisco “Chaleco” López. The Chilean rider has been one of the top contenders at The Dakar, but he has clarified his intentions to switch from two-wheels to four, after his name was found missing from the 2015 entry list. As such, Chaleco plans on returning to the Dakar rally-raid come 2016, though he will be with the Rally Mobile car team, which he will race with the rest of this season as well. The move by Chaleco is not without precedent, as many top riders have gone on to continue their rally-raid careers behind a steering wheel.

After 13 races, 4 continents, 10 countries, 48 flights, 4 ferry journeys, and a train ride. It was time to pack my bag for the last time and take my final four flights of the 2014 MotoGP season.

I had been looking forward to the Valencia weekend. Despite it being the final race of the year. I was sharing a house with friends, and it promised to be an enjoyable weekend.