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.

Wednesday MotoGP Summary at the Valencia Test

11/15/2017 @ 11:41 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The moment the bikes fell silent at Valencia, at 5pm on Wednesday, officially marked the end of the beginning. The 2018 season is now well underway, the initial outlines of next year’s bikes being revealed.

There is still a long way to go to Qatar, but the first step has been taken, the first few hundred terabytes of data downloaded to laptops and uploaded to factory servers for analysis.

The new season began in much the same vein as the old season ended: with Marc Márquez fastest, and on a tear.

The Repsol Honda rider was fastest on the second day of the test, and fastest overall, four tenths quicker than his teammate on Wednesday, and a tenth quicker than Maverick Viñales, who had topped the timesheets on Tuesday.

The timesheets had a familiar look to them. The top five overall consisted of the two Repsol Hondas and three Yamahas – the two Movistar factory bikes and Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 machine – followed by a couple of Ducatis, Jorge Lorenzo on the factory bike and Jack Miller on the Pramac machine.

Whether the timesheets will stay like that when Qatar rolls around is another question entirely.

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Tuesday MotoGP Summary at the Valencia Test

11/14/2017 @ 5:00 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The first day of 2018 raised more questions than answers. Two days after not featuring at all in the race, the Movistar Yamaha riders finished first and fourth.

A satellite Ducati – Jack Miller, on his first outing on the bike – was quicker than the factory riders. The only constants were Marc Márquez and Johann Zarco, who finished in exactly the same positions as they did on Sunday.

Confusion reigns at Yamaha, as they search for the cure to the problems which plagued them all through 2017. There were four bikes in Maverick Viñales’ garage, three in Valentino Rossi’s garage, and two different ones in Johann Zarco’s pit box.

They were testing all sorts of combinations of machinery: a 2016 bike with 2017 engine, and a full 2017 bike for Maverick Viñales; a 2016 bike with 2017 engine, a full 2017 bike, and a 2017 bike with a 2018 engine for Valentino Rossi; and a 2016 bike and a full 2017 bike for Johann Zarco.

The results? Pretty much identical, no matter what bike the riders were on. Viñales and Rossi were fastest on the 2016 bike, Zarco was fastest on the 2017 bike, and Rossi managed to throw the 2018-engined bike up the road after just two laps. The crash looked huge, but Rossi came away relatively unscathed.

The problem was entering a fast right corner with a new cold tire. “Turn ten,” Rossi explained. “Maybe a cold tire. I was already with two and a half laps so I push. I lost the front. I don’t know if I was a little bit off the line or it was cold.” Rossi may have been okay, but the bike was completely totaled.

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Phillip Island always delivers. If you came to the track on the edge of the world hoping for a spectacle, you got more than your money’s worth.

Three stunning races at arguably the greatest racetrack in the world. Three races which really mattered: with just two rounds left after Phillip Island, the results had a significant impact on all three championships.

And to cap the day off, one of the best MotoGP races of all time, the second here in the space of three seasons. The sun even shone. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Is it a coincidence that two of the greatest Grand Prix races, perhaps of all time, have happened at Phillip Island in the last three seasons? I don’t think so. This place, and this time, have conspired to create the perfect conditions for motorcycle racing.

Firstly, there has never been a greater concentration of riding talent on the grid at the same time in the premier class. Secondly, performance parity between the different factories, and between factories and privateers, has never been so great.

And thirdly, the Phillip Island circuit is simply made for motorcycle racing. A flowing track in a stunning setting, where brave and skilled riders can make passes at nearly half of the corners on the track.

The 2015 MotoGP race at Phillip Island was a four-way dust up which saw Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, and Valentino Rossi pass each other a grand total of 52 times in 27 laps.

The 2017 race saw seven riders slug it out over the same distance, passing and repassing each other a total of 73 times. Blink, and you missed a change of the lead.

But you had to blink, just to catch your breath. It is a good job the assiduous Tammy Gorali was willing to go back and tally up the action.

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There are many fine racing circuits on the MotoGP calendar, but two of them are genuinely glorious. The reasons Mugello and Phillip Island are so glorious are pretty much the same.

First, the setting: Mugello sits amidst the stunning hills, woods, and farmland of Tuscany, while Phillip Island is perched atop a granite cliff overlooking the wild and windy Bass Strait.

They are both tests of courage and skill, fast, flowing tracks which require a deep understanding of what the motorcycle is doing, the bravery to let it do what it’s doing at that speed, and the reflexes and talent to manage the bike within the confines of its performance envelope.

Like Mugello, Phillip Island flows across the terrain, following the natural slopes, dips, and hollows of the rock it is built on. The speed and the location provide a spectacular backdrop for motorcycle racing, and a terrifying challenge for the riders.

That speed also makes them dangerous, though the two tracks are dangerous in different ways. At Mugello, the walls are a little too close in places, meaning that a crash can leave you to slam into an airfence.

At Phillip Island, the problem is not so much the walls, as the sheer speed at which you crash. There are only really two slow corners at Phillip Island, meaning that if you fall off, your momentum is going to carry you a long way.

Two things make Phillip Island unique. First, there’s the weather. With only Tasmania between the Island and the Antarctic, and the vast Southern Ocean beyond, the westerlies batter and blast the Island, bringing harsh squalls in one moment then carrying them away the next.

Four seasons in one day, the locals say, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. The one constant in October is the cold, however. Though the sun be out, the icy Antarctic wind can suck the heat out of tires, brakes, and bodies. The weather there is a treacherous thing.

Secondly, the fact that the track is so fast and flowing, with only really one corner where hard acceleration is needed, means that machinery is secondary. Faith in your front end will take you a long way, allowing you carry corner speed to launch yourself onto the straights.

If elsewhere, being a few horsepower down leaves you incapable of putting up a fight, at Phillip Island, you need simply ride the front as hard as you dare through Turns 11 and 12, then tuck in behind the faster bikes and try to slingshot past them down the Gardner Straight.

Phillip Island is far more a test of the rider, rather than the bike.

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The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes that don’t, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.

The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. “Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble,” Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso.

“We don’t understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange.”

The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. “We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip,” Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate.

“We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive.”

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Sunday MotoGP Summary at Silverstone: Unscripted

08/28/2017 @ 10:32 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

If there is one thing that makes real life much more interesting than fiction, it is that real life is no respecter of plausible plot lines. If you were to take a script of the 2017 MotoGP season so far to a movie producer or a fiction publisher, they would reject it 30 seconds into your pitch. It is all a little too implausible.

Five riders battling for the championship after 12 rounds? Never happens. A championship leader with a record low number of points? A ridiculous notion. Riders winning races one weekend, then struggling to make the top five, or even top ten the next?

A horribly transparent plot device to create tension. Championship leaders conveniently crashing, struggling with tires, or suffering bike problems? A little too convenient to be credible.

How about the supposedly colorless second rider in a team suddenly blossoming into a championship contender? The most trite of clichés, like the mousy librarian who transforms into a babe once she takes her glasses off.

The struggle of a rider swapping bikes to become competitive, making up and down progress, and a big step forward when handed a technological MacGuffin? So blatant it’s obscene. No professional writer of fiction would stoop to such depths.

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Is it going to be Argentina or Austin on Sunday at Silverstone? Two of the bumpiest circuits of the first half of the season had very different outcomes.

At the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit, Marc Márquez took off like a scalded cat to try to take the win, and claw back the valuable points from Maverick Viñales he had handed him at Qatar.

In undulating Austin, Márquez rode his usual imperious race to take victory, while it was Viñales’ turn to make a silly mistake.

The perils of a American bumps were rather bike-specific. It wasn’t just Marc Márquez who crashed out of the lead in Argentina, Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa managed the same feat.

Cal Crutchlow rode cautiously to finish third, while there were four Yamahas in the top six. At Austin, Márquez won, Pedrosa finished third, Crutchlow fourth. Valentino Rossi’s charge came too late, and he finished well behind Márquez. A year earlier, it had been Rossi making a silly mistake in Texas, and slipping off.

So how does Silverstone compare to the two American tracks (North and South)? In Austin, the bumps were on corner exit, Maverick Viñales explained, whereas at Silverstone, the bumps are on corner entry.

“So it seems more difficult to ride,” the Movistar Yamaha rider said. In Argentina, it wasn’t so much bumps as massive undulations which were causing the problems.

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MotoGP Qualifying Results from Silverstone

08/26/2017 @ 5:23 pm, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

Silverstone was its glorious best on Friday. The sun shone, fans wandered round in t-shirts and shorts, and bikes bellowed their way around a magnificent circuit. It was a good day for motorcycle racing.

“First of all, riding the MotoGP at Silverstone with this incredible weather is great,” Valentino Rossi summed up his day. “I enjoy it a lot, because this track is fantastic and this weather is a big surprise for everybody.”

So good has the weather been that it has given the small contingent of British journalists in the MotoGP paddock a new hobby.

A conversation overheard on Friday afternoon: “I’ve just been over to taunt some Italians about the sunny weather.” “Ah yes, I was just doing the same to an Australian.”

Two weeks ago, we English speakers were getting stick about having to pack winter coats and rain gear for Silverstone. Revenge is all the sweeter when served up under blue skies and radiant sunshine.

The good weather complicated tire selection for the MotoGP teams. Many a rider was out trying the hard rear much earlier than expected, trying to judge how it would hold up over race distance.

The warm weather has pushed the temperatures to the upper range of the Michelins’ operating window. The tires are still working, but everyone is having to go a step harder than expected.

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The weather is looking up at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, and that is a good thing. First of all, it provided a fascinating day of practice and qualifying, with more than a few surprises and plenty of data to chew over.

But secondly, and far more importantly, it meant that riders were out on track riding, and returning to the pits safely after doing so. If the weather had turned, and rain had fallen, that might not have been the case.

The reason for that is simple. The Red Bull Ring is not safe in the wet. That was the consensus of the riders at Friday night’s Safety Commission. It is not particularly safe in the dry either, but in the wet, it is so bad that everyone said they would not ride if it rained.

“Everybody yesterday in the Safety Commission said they would not ride in the wet,” Aleix Espargaro said. It was a point which Cal Crutchlow had made on Thursday, even before practice began. He reiterated it on Saturday. “If it rains I ain’t riding,” he told the media.

“I have no interest, because there are barriers everywhere. As you saw, everyone was crashing in a complete straight line and they were going to the left at a right hand corner. It was just ridiculous. Until they move the barriers back, I have no interest to ride here in the wet.”

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