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.

MotoGP Qualifying Results from Motegi

10/14/2017 @ 12:56 am, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

Will MotoGP survive the loss of Valentino Rossi? From the evidence of Misano, the answer is yes. According to the official figures released by Dorna, the attendance over all three days was down just 133 fans.

Not bad, when the three-day attendance was over 158,000. The Sunday numbers – a better measure, as the three-day figures are mostly derived by double and triple counting – were down a little, from 100,000 to 96,000.

Disregarding the official numbers (justifiably, as there are plenty of good reasons to suspect the books are well and truly cooked at some circuits), judging visually, the grandstands and grass banks were pretty full, almost as full as last year.

Despite the horrendous rain, which was heaviest as the fans were making their way to the circuit, and continued all the way up until the flag dropped.

Valentino Rossi is irreplaceable as an icon of the sport, known both inside and outside motorcycle racing. But the cast of characters, heroes and villains, which the sport now has, and the intense and close racing we see is enough to keep the overwhelming majority of the fans watching.

There will undoubtedly be a drop in attendance and TV figures, but on the evidence of Misano, it will be nearer a survivable 10%, not a disastrous 40%. MotoGP will survive the loss of Valentino Rossi, once he goes.

All three MotoGP classes gave the fans a reason to keep watching. The rain created a spectacle of its own, with crashes shaking up the outcomes. The early leaders crashed out in both Moto2 and MotoGP, with major consequences for the title in the Moto2 race.

Though the winner checked out early in Moto3, the battle for the podium – and as a result, for the championship – heated up behind. And both MotoGP and Moto3 were decided in the last few laps, as riders launched attacks and either saw them rebuffed, or got through to seize glory.

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Marc Marquez Wins Rain-Soaked San Marino GP

09/10/2017 @ 6:50 pm, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

MotoGP is fated not to escape the influence of the weather this season. There has barely been a race which has not been affected in one way or another. Even when it hasn’t rained, it has been stiflingly hot, sizzling tracks causing tires to wilt. So why should things be any different at Misano?

Heavy overnight rain left the track still spotty and damp in patches in the morning, Moto3 getting the worst of it, MotoGP just being left to deal with the occasional stubborn spot of dampness where the water took longer to dry.

It caused a spate of crashes in the morning, and though the track dried nicely and blue skies dominated, it was cooler than normal. When Marc Márquez tried the hardest front tire, that proved just a little too critical, the Repsol Honda rider washing out the front in the final corner.

The rain had also washed any residual rubber from the track, radically altering the grip level. That was a major setback for the factories which had tested at Misano prior to Silverstone, in preparation for this Grand Prix.

“The feeling is completely different than at the test,” Aleix Espargaro complained. “It looks like all the settings we had were not working. The grip is completely different. No grip at all. It feels like ice.”

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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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MotoGP Preview of the Austrian GP

08/11/2017 @ 12:33 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The riders will have been off the bikes for about 80 hours before they take to the track again at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Back-to-back races are always tough, but doing back-to-backs with a test in between can be pretty brutal. At least everyone will be sharp when practice starts on Friday.

The Red Bull Ring is a unique track, though how you interpret the word “unique” is very much up to you. In one respect, the Spielberg circuit is just a few straights connected by sharp corners, with a replica of the Sachsenring’s Omega curve thrown in for good measure.

On paper, it looks pretty dull, yet it is surprisingly popular among the riders. This is in part because of the stunning setting, and the elevation changes that add charm to the circuit.

But mostly, it’s because it’s a very, very fast circuit. And there is nothing that a motorcycle racer likes more than going very, very fast on a motorcycle. Oddly enough.

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Ducati’s Clever Flexible MotoGP Fairings

08/06/2017 @ 12:25 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The new fairing unveiled by Ducati yesterday was not entirely complete. On Saturday morning, the fairing fitted to Danilo Petrucci’s Pramac Ducati revealed an added layer of complexity and variability.

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MotoGP Preview of the Czech GP

08/03/2017 @ 7:08 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

After four weeks, MotoGP is back. That four-week break is a big deal. A much bigger deal than you might expect. Having a big break in the middle of the summer made the season much more manageable.

“The problem is the pressure we have,” Aleix Espargaro explained. “MotoGP looks like it’s a lot of fun on the TV, and it is very fun, but we have a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, so to be able to disconnect and do nothing, it’s always good.”

That comment came in response to a question about the addition of the KymiRing in Finland to the calendar in 2019, which will expand the schedule to 20 races, after the inclusion of the Chang circuit in Thailand next year.

The general feeling among riders was that 20 races was manageable, though with the caveat that Dorna ensures there is a large summer break.

Aleix Espargaro again: “For me the most important thing is to have a good break in the summer, like one month, because then you can disconnect. Really, I don’t care if we do four races in a row, I don’t care.”

“I would like to do it if possible, four races in a row or three times three races in a row, but it’s important in the middle to have a break, to just reset your mind, charge batteries. Because when you race a lot of consecutive races, it’s very very hard for the body, for the head, for everything. But if we still have the summer break, one race more is no big problem.”

The plan, as I understand it, is to cut testing to a minimum, with two, or perhaps even just a single winter test in late January/early February. The timing of the Qatar race would be changed, so the race would be at 7pm rather than 9pm, with Moto3 and Moto2 running during daylight.

That will allow Qatar to be scheduled for a much earlier start, perhaps the first week of March, or even the last week of February. The season could then be broken up into two parts of ten races each, with a month break in the middle.

Where Finland fits in with that is uncertain, but it seems clear that a change is coming.

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MotoGP Mid-Season Review – A Wild Ride So Far

08/01/2017 @ 10:09 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Can part two of the (melo)drama that is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started.

Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between, a point behind Viñales.

If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.

So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture.

At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers.

In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.

Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016.

But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next.

Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.

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