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January 2017

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The battle for who would manage Laguna Seca going forward has finally been put to rest, for at least the next three years, as the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, better known as SCRAMP, has signed a three-year agreement with Monterey County to manage the historic Californian race track.

To get to this point has been a tumultuous process, with SCRAMP’s now 60-year role at Laguna Seca challenged by NASCAR’s International Speedway Corporation (ISC), and other local groups like the Friends of Laguna Seca.

Ultimately though, SCRAMP’s bid for the management agreement with Monterey County won out, and the non-profit organization will continue to operate the venue, which plays host to the World Superbike Championship’s only stop on US soil, among other racing events and activities.

What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening’s torrential rain.

Sepang’s weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.

Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.

Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.

How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco’s name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second.

The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.

As motorcycle manufacturers report their 2016 numbers, we see the continued trend that last year was a tough year for OEMs in the USA. Harley-Davidson reports that its sales dropped 1.6% overall (262,221 units) in 2016, but that number doesn’t paint the full picture for the Bar & Shield brand.

Harley-Davidson sales were down 3.9% in the USA for the 2016 sales cycle (161,658 units), which is a stark contrast to the 2.3% growth Harley-Davidson saw abroad with its international sales.

These losses translated to Harley-Davidson’s balance sheet, with the company posting an 8% decrease in net income, making $692.2 million in 2016. Consolidated revenue remained steady however, at $6 billion.

They say you should never underestimate the fight in a dirt-tracker, but after Portimao the dirt-tracker isn’t underestimating the fight ahead of him. After four days on the new Honda Fireblade, Nicky Hayden cast a downbeat figure at times, but the American is digging deep.

Armed with his renowned work ethic, the Ten Kate rider will be leaving no stone unturned in finding a solution, but after a troubled opening test, it went from bad to worse for the Dutch team.

“The first day was not a good day for us,” admitted Hayden. “I really don’t know how to sugar coat it any better. We’re really struggling with edge grip, the bike pumping, and not being stable on the exit of the corners. We never found a direction to go in and nothing really helped the problem.”

Debuting this weekend in Malaysia, the ECSTAR Suzuki MotoGP team has unveiled its team and livery for the 2017 season, which will see Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins riding the update Suzuki GSX-RR race bike. Suzuki has already shown that it has a bike capable of hunting for podiums; and on its best days, it can be a race-winner as well. For the 2017 season though, the Japanese brand hopes to build upon its success in 2016. As such, the ECSTAR Suzuki team has high hopes with the arrival Andrea Iannone, hoping that “Maniac Joe” can add some more wins to Suzuki’s tally. Looking long-term too, the addition of Alex Rins could be strong investment by Team Manager Davide Brivio, with Rins being one of Moto2’s top talents.

On a normal day, the fastest rider at the end of a day of testing is paraded proudly in front of the press, and given his chance to explain what a good job the team and manufacturer was doing, how they were not really pushing for a lap time, and feign a certain modesty while privately gloating at how they crushed their rivals.

But this was not a normal day. The fastest man in Sepang on Monday slipped out of the circuit in virtual anonymity. After all, he is merely a test rider, and test riders don’t usually talk to the media. We journalists, snobs that we are, don’t waste our precious time on test riders.

In this case, however, it was not the media not wanting to talk to the test rider, it was the test rider not wanting to speak to the media.

One of the reasons Casey Stoner retired from racing was because he was sick of the media circus, of spending his life living out of a suitcase and answering stupid and prying questions from idiots like me.

But he still loves challenging himself on a MotoGP bike, and trying to see just how fast he can go. And Ducati are happy to pay him handsomely for the privilege. After Monday, who can blame them?

If you own a Triumph Bonneville T120, and have heated grips, this recall from Triumph Motorcycles America should be on your radar.

The British marque is recalling 1,390 units from the 2016 and 2017 model years because the heated grips might expand, which can then cause the throttle to stick open.

Obviously, being unable to close the throttle can create a serious safety issue, so it is not surprising to see the motorcycles recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In a few hours time, the grandstands at the Sepang International Circuit will echo with the booming assault of MotoGP machines being pushed to their limits. The entire MotoGP grid has assembled for the first test of the preseason, meaning that the 2017 MotoGP season is about to get underway, at last.

That, at least, is the plan. The reality is that the grandstands may echo only to the sporadic rasp of a MotoGP bike being warmed up, and the occasional intrepid test rider being sent out to test conditions.

The resurfaced Sepang continues to be plagued by drainage problems, water remaining on the track for a long time. In high humidity, relatively low track temperatures and without the burning tropical sun, the water left by unusually heavy rains is not evaporating.

Parts of the track remain wet all day, making it impossible to push the bikes to the limit, and very risky to try.

Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio expressed the concerns shared by most teams.

“You never know how many hours you can test, because the track remains wet for a long time. And if it rains a lot in the evening, maybe you have to wait a long time in the morning. So it’s a little bit of a question mark now, how much you can test.”

After their return to World Superbike in 2016, Yamaha did not shy away from admitting that there is plenty of work to be done to turn the YZF-R1 into a front-runner.

That work was certainly being undertaken at this week’s Jerez test, with Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes the busiest riders on track over the two days.

The pair completed a total of 283 laps of the Spanish circuit, and with a host of new parts on the bikes, it’s clear that the R1 should be more competitive in 2017.

Asphalt & Rubber readers should be familiar with how attempts have been made to use the Digital Millennium Right Act (DMCA) as means of limiting how you can work on your vehicles, including your motorcycle. These attempts first started in 2015, and were pushed heavily by John Deere and the automobile lobby. Thankfully, last year the the Librarian of Congress allowed exemptions for vehicles to be applied to the DMCA, which will be in effect for the next two years. Now, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) – a group that represents the interests of motorcycle manufacturers in the United States – is putting pressure on state legislatures and encouraging them to block “Right to Repair” bills that would codify the exemptions made to the DMCA.