At the AMA Supermoto Season-Opener in Bakersfield

It all started with the Superbikers. As a young man growing up in the late 70s, there were only three network TV stations for me to watch, and unlike today, motorsports programs were few and far between. Other than the Indy 500 and the occasional airing of stock car racing, motorsports just weren’t on the air very often. During one serendipitous Saturday, I happened upon ABC’s Wide World of Sports. And on that particular day, they were airing the Superbikers. Looking back, the influence that program had on the rest of my motorcycling life is immeasurable. An unusual combination of road racing, dirt track, and motocross, the Superbikers showcased racers I had only read about in the motorcycle magazines.

The WorldSBK Season So Far: Yamaha & Honda

While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK, the battle for best-of-the-rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017. Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign, the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front-row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws and looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series. This year has seen their roles have reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best-of-the-rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.

Investors Leveraging MotoGP for Sizable Payout

According to several reports in the financial sector, the investors behind Dorna Sports S.L. are readying themselves for another sizable payout from the media rights holder for the MotoGP and WorldSBK Championships. Using a bit of financial finesse, the move would see Bridgepoint Capital and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – the two major investors in Dorna Sports – taking roughly €889 million off the books of the Spanish media company, according to Reuters. As such, today’s news would make this the third time that Bridgepoint and the CPPIB have raided the piggy bank for motorcycling’s premier racing series, having done similar deals in 2011 (€420 million) and 2014 (€715 million).

Norton Gets £3 Million to Increase V4 Production

If you have had your eye on a Norton V4 superbike recently, you might not have to wait as long for it to arrive, as the British marque has secured £3 million from the Santander Corporate & Commercial bank. The debt investment will allow Norton to triple its production rate on the V4 SS and V4 RR models, and also allow for the company to hire 40 new employees for the job. Additionally, according to Norton this will allow the company to increase its production volume to 1,500 motorcycles per year. “Having developed and pre-sold a huge number of bikes, we needed the funding to be readily available to pay for tooling, stock and people to allow production to move from 40 bikes per month to in excess of 130 bikes with effect from summer 2017,” said Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles.

Is The 2018 BMW HP4 Race About to Debut in China?

After this year’s April Fools hijinks, we have a whole new respect for the cunning that resides at BMW Motorrad, and the Germans seem to be honing that trait even further today. Announcing its plans for the upcoming Auto Shanghai 2017 later this month, BMW lists a number of four-wheeled news items for the Chinese auto show, and then casually slips-in at the end of the press release that we should expect a big unveil from BMW Motorrad. The statement reads that “the highlight of the BMW Motorrad stand is the world premiere of one of the most exclusive models ever offered by BMW Motorrad,” which is terse, though given what we know about the Bavarian brand, it should be easy to guess what they are hinting at.

Vyrus 986 M2 Street Bike Now Priced at €38,000

It is apparently more difficult to sell a kidney than I had previously thought (type o- / non-smoker / non-drinker…if you happen to be in the market), which isn’t good news when you are trying to get together some scratch for a Vyrus 986 M2 – the hottest supersport we have ever seen. Making matters worse is that Vyrus got in touch with A&R, updating us with their latest pricing structure for their Honda-powered hub-center steering masterpiece, which now comes with a price tag of €37,940 for the street bike, and €27,930 for the street bike kit. That is quite the change from the originally quoted €25,000 street bike model and €16,000 kit, and there is good reason for that, say the folks at Vyrus.

You Didn’t Know You Missed It, But the Honda NM4 Is Back

You probably didn’t even realize that the Honda NM4 was missing from Honda America’s model list for 2017, but the polarizing motorcycle is back for the 2018 model year. The first 2018 motorcycle to be announced so far this year from Honda, it probably helps that the Honda NM4 is featured in the Ghost in the Shell movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson. Laugh if you want, but the NM4 is a surprisingly pleasant to ride, even if you aren’t dressed like the Caped Crusader. As such, the Honda NM4 represents a tradition of motorcycles from Big Red that have pushed that boundaries of not only what we visually accept a motorcycle to look like, but it also blurs the distinctions we make between different motorcycle segments.

US Senate Establishes Motorcycle Caucus

The motorcycle industry has found more allies on Capital Hill this week, with the creation of the first “motorcycle caucus” in the United States Senate. Established so motorcycle manufacturers and motorcyclists would have a greater voice in the upper chamber of the American legislature, the Senate Motorcycle Caucus is the work of Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan). Motorcyclists typically aren’t single-issue voter – not for issues pertaining to motorcycles, at least – but with several important political issues currently affecting the motorcycle industry, the formation of the Senate Motorcycle Caucus comes at an advantageous time.

Husqvarna Two-Strokes Get Fuel-Injection Too

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Husqvarna will be following suit with its Austrian sibling, and adding fuel-injection to several of its two-strokes enduro motorcycle for the 2018 model year. After a long history of rumors and development, KTM finally debuted fuel injection for a production two-stroke model just a few weeks ago, using the technology on two of its upcoming enduro models, the KTM 250 EXC TPI and KTM 300 EXC TPI. Husqvarna will use the same technology for its own motorcycles in the same segments, announcing today the the all-new 2018 Husqvarna TE 250i and 2018 Husqvarna TE 300i enduro models with transfer port injection.

Opinion: The Danger of Expanding the MotoGP Calendar

It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict. This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world.

More Bits & Bobs: Racing News Post-Argentina GP

04/17/2017 @ 10:42 am, by David Emmett7 COMMENTS

If the two MotoGP races so far this year have had the kind of internal logic more commonly associated with a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, the Moto2 and Moto3 classes have been rational seas of serenity.

Which, come to think of it, also makes them more than a little like the more pious parts of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. These are topsy turvy times indeed.

When Moto2 first started, it brought the most harrowing and raucous parts of Bosch’ work to mind, voracious insanity unleashed on two wheels, which sensible people feared to look at. Fortunately, motorcycle racing fans are anything but sensible. It is one of their better traits.

But those days are now long gone, and the intermediate class has become processional, races decided almost before they are begun.

A nostalgia for the madness of the past keeps us watching, hoping to see a revival of the old ways. From time to time, the series livens up again, and we start to dream that our prayers have been answered, though such thoughts are usually dashed as soon as they arise.

The Moto2 race in Argentina was very much a case in point. It started out processional, then grew tense, then the tension frayed, then renewed, only to end with bang.

Literally, in the case of Alex Márquez, who ended a long way up in the air before coming down to earth with a solid thump.

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Investors Leveraging MotoGP for Sizable Payout

04/12/2017 @ 2:09 pm, by Jensen Beeler17 COMMENTS

According to several reports in the financial sector, the investors behind Dorna Sports S.L. are readying themselves for another sizable payout from the media rights holder for the MotoGP and WorldSBK Championships.

Using a bit of financial finesse, the move would see Bridgepoint Capital and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – the two major investors in Dorna Sports – taking roughly €889 million off the books of the Spanish media company, according to Reuters.

As such, today’s news would make this the third time that Bridgepoint and the CPPIB have raided the piggy bank for motorcycling’s premier racing series, having done similar deals in 2011 (€420 million) and 2014 (€715 million).

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Bits & Bobs: Racing News Post-Argentina GP

04/11/2017 @ 9:59 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

Along with a thrilling weekend of racing, several interesting items of news emerged in Argentina. Brad Binder and Remy Gardner were injured, and face surgery.

Also, discussions were held in the Safety Commission regarding who progresses to Q1 and Q2. And at a press conference, Dorna announced that the WorldSBK championship will be racing in Argentina in 2018, at a new circuit in the west of the country.

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Dorna Starting An Electric Motorcycle Race Series

03/13/2017 @ 12:26 pm, by Jensen Beeler21 COMMENTS

Dorna Sports, the media rights holder to the MotoGP and World Superbike Championships, wants to start its own race series for electric motorcycles, so said Carmelo Ezpeleta while talking to Spain’s respected AS publication.

Hoping to begin racing by 2019, Dorna’s electric motorcycle racing series would pick up where the now defunct FIM e-Power Championship left off, though it would come with some major differences from its predecessor.

As such, Ezpeleta outlined a plan that would see a five-round format, which piggybacks off existing rounds on the Grand Prix calendar, and operates as a support class to the usual Grand Prix weekend.

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How Dorna Is Ending the Spanish Armada in MotoGP

03/06/2017 @ 12:19 pm, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

It is terribly fashionable in some circles to regard Dorna as a blight on the face of motorcycle racing. Their alleged crimes are both heinous and manifold. They have dumbed down the sport by exerting an ever tighter grip over the technical regulations.

They killed off the two-strokes in favor of four-strokes. They have aggressively pursued copyright and trademark claims, at the cost of broadening the appeal of the sport. They have been relentless in their pursuit of financial gain over the spirit of the sport. They have meddled in the sport to favor one rider, or one nationality over the rest.

Most of these complaints are either baseless, or an expression of anger at how the sport has changed over the years. Some points are valid: the death of the 250cc two-strokes, however understandable from a financial point of view, was a tragedy, as a 250cc two-stroke was perhaps the most perfect expression of a racing motorcycle.

In the past, as I found myself on occasion, Dorna was slow to embrace change online, and wasted energy chasing down YouTube clips of MotoGP, rather than controlling them by providing them to fans in an easy-to-share way. (Fortunately for the fans, they have learned and bettered their ways in this regard.)

Yet it is hard to argue with results. This season, six factories – three Japanese, three European – will line up on the MotoGP grid. 23 riders from seven different countries will take the start, with a grand total of 31 world championship titles between them.

The bikes they will rider are extremely close in performance, with technical differences limited. For the past two years, riders from three different countries have won the three Grand Prix titles.

The MotoGP series has emerged from global financial crisis in rude health, despite some major challenges along the way.

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Saturday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: Dealing with Danger, Data-Driven Design, & the Right to Complain

06/05/2016 @ 1:01 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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What does the MotoGP paddock do the day after a rider dies? Carry on as normal. Or nearly normal: bikes circulate, riders compete, but conversations are more hushed, the mood muted. The whole paddock is a quieter place, bar the bellowing of racing four-stroke engines.

Heartless? That is putting it a little strongly. It is in part a coping mechanism, immersing yourself in your work to avoid dwelling on tragedy, and thinking too much about danger.

But it is also a response to the request of Luis Salom’s family and team. When Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta asked them what they wanted to do, they said they wanted the race to go ahead.

Their wishes would be respected, but it was not the first choice of everyone in the paddock. Danilo Petrucci told the Italian press he would have preferred to have packed up and gone home, and he was not alone.

“Yesterday I was crying together with my brother because [Luis Salom] was really young,” Aleix Espargaro told us. “This is a disaster. With Pol we were thinking that the best thing was to not race because actually now I feel empty inside.” We all felt empty inside, and still do.

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Saturday MotoGP Summary at Qatar: On Unpredictable Racing, and the Futility of Mind Games

03/20/2016 @ 12:21 am, by David Emmett16 COMMENTS

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Practice, like testing, doesn’t really count for much, riders will tell you. When you talk to the afterwards, they will tell you that they didn’t set a really fast lap because they were working on setup, trying to figure out which tire will be best in the race, or working on race pace rather than one lap pace.

Maybe they were saving tires, maybe they ran into traffic, or maybe there wasn’t enough time left in the session to go for a fast lap. Even the rider who is fastest will tell you they were surprised, they were not really pushing for a time, but it just came naturally.

All valid explanations, but not necessarily true, of course. After all, free practice is just free practice, and as long as you are inside the top ten, with a good chance of advancing straight to Q2, then there is no reason not to dip into your Bumper Book of Excuses to fob off journalists with.

They are unlikely to challenge you on such excuses, because as long as your explanations are plausible, they have no way of countering them. It is impossible to know the mind of Man.

Qualifying is different. Qualifying matters, because there is something at stake. Not as much as on Sunday, and the forty-five minutes for which motorcycle racers sacrifice everything, the only forty-five minutes during which they feel truly alive.

But still, riders know the excuses afterwards will sound a little hollow. Qualifying is not the time to be laying all of your cards on the table, but you do have to be able to ante up, and to maybe call for a card or two.

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Opinion: More Knee-Jerk Rule Changes Come to MotoGP in Response to the Sepang Clash

03/03/2016 @ 5:49 pm, by David Emmett19 COMMENTS

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Farewell, MotoGP penalty point system, we barely knew you. In a press release issued today (and rather bizarrely, leaked to a Spanish journalist two days ago) the FIM announced that the Grand Prix Commission had decided to modify the penalty point system.

From now on, the only penalty to be imposed will happen once a rider accrues a total of ten points, at which point they will be disqualified for one race. The penalties for four (starting from the back of the grid) and seven points (starting from pit lane) have been dropped.

At a stroke, the penalty point system has been emasculated.

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Dorna Sports Fined For Tax Evasion

03/01/2016 @ 3:36 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

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The Spanish Supreme Court has imposed multi-million dollar fines on Dorna Sports and its executives for tax offenses arising out of the sale of shares in 2003 and 2004.

The court found that Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and COO & CFO Enrique Aldama had simulated the sale of shares in order to avoid paying income tax and to receive undeclared dividends from the shares the two men hold.

The ruling of the Division of Administrative Litigation of the Supreme Court was that Dorna Sports S.L. sold shares to a separate company owned by the same partners (including Ezpeleta and Aldama) who were selling the shares.

The share purchase was financed using debt held in part by the partners who owned the company buying the shares. Dorna claimed that this was a form of leveraged recapitalization, but the Supreme court disagreed with that assessment.

In reality, the Supreme Court ruled, Dorna and its executives were pursuing a means of receiving hidden dividends.

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Sunday Summary at Valencia: How Championships Are Won, Lost, & Destroyed

11/08/2015 @ 9:53 pm, by David Emmett80 COMMENTS

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They say that truth is stranger than fiction. The more pressing question is how to distinguish between the two.

Narratives are easily created – it is my stock in trade, and the trade which every sports writer plies – but where does stringing together a collection of related facts move from being a factual reconstruction into the realms of invented fantasy?

When different individuals view the same facts and draw radically opposite conclusions, are we to believe that one is delusional and the other is sane and objective?

Most of all, how much value should we attach to the opinions of each side? Do we change our opinion of the facts based on our sympathy or antipathy for the messenger?

That is the confusion which the final round of MotoGP has thrust the world of Grand Prix racing into. What should have been a celebration of the greatest season of racing in the premier class in recent years, and possibly ever, was rendered farcical, as two competing interpretations of a single set of facts clashed, exploded, then dragged the series down into the abyss.

Bitterness, anger, suspicion, fear, all of these overshadowed some astonishing performances, by both winners and losers. Looked at impartially, the Valencia round of MotoGP was a great day of fantastic racing. But who now can look at it impartially?

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