KTM’s Counter-Rotating MotoGP Engine Debuts at Brno

Ever since Jerez, when the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team debuted a new engine with a counter-rotating crankshaft, fans and journalists have been asking when factory riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith would be able to use the new engine on a race weekend. KTM test rider Mika Kallio had been very positive about the engine during the Jerez weekend, and Smith and Espargaro had spoken in glowing terms about it after the Jerez test. KTM’s response was always that it would not be ready until at least after the summer break. Reversing the direction of crankshaft rotation is not as simple as sticking an intermediate gear between the crank and the clutch, to allow the crank to spin in the opposite direction while maintaining forward thrust.

Retro Livery Pops on the Suzuki GSX-R1000R Superbike

We are big fans of the creations that Team Classic Suzuki has been churning out. Stop what you’re doing right now, look at this Katana race bike, and try to disagree with our enthusiasm. It cannot be done. Taking their touch to the current Suzuki GSX-R1000R superbike, we see what this tire-shredder would look like in a retro-mod livery that is inspired by the bodywork found on the original GSX-R750. So far it sounds like the bike is a one-off, done by our friends across the pond, but we think Suzuki should seriously consider some throwback paint schemes in its lineup. Until then, items of note include a number of tasty Giles-made bits, straight from the Suzuki performance catalog, otherwise the bike shown here is pretty much stock.

BMW Plans To Launch Nine New Motorcycles

It might be still be summer, but our eyes are looking ahead to the new bike season in the fall and winter, where the major motorcycle manufacturers will debut their new motorcycles for the future. The big trade shows to watch are INTERMOT and EICMA, as these have traditionally been the venues of choice for new model unveils, prototype teasers, and concept debuts. One brand that is certainly going to be showing us some new motorcycles is BMW Motorrad, with the German company saying that it plans to launch nine new models in 2018. What those nine models will be is up for conjecture, though we have some good ideas, and some bad ideas, on what they could be. Let’s take a look.

Up-Close with the 2018 Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000R Suzuka 8-Hours Race Bike

In all our coverage of the 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race, the name Suzuki has woefully not been in much of the conversation. This isn’t to say that the brand from Hamamatsu wasn’t present at this prestigious event, but its level of involvement and readiness certainly wasn’t on par with the other three Japanese brands. Fielding the Yoshimura Suzuki factory-backed team yet again, this year saw a big milestone take place, as Suzuki’s endurance efforts are now being conducted on the current-generation superbike. This has caused some issues in the paddock, most notably in the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), which is Suzuki’s factory-backed team in the FIM World Endurance Championship.

Up-Close with the Kawasaki Team Green Suzuka Bike

The race-winner that could have been. Kawasaki Team Green was the Suzuka 8-Hours favorite coming out of Saturday’s Top 10 qualifying session, and the factory-backed Kawasaki team traded corners with Yamaha during the opening laps of Sunday’s endurance race. What looked like an upset in the making, turned out to be a fizzle, largely because of a poor fueling and pit stop strategy, which saw Jonathan Rea first run out of gas, and then stay out on slicks during a rain storm. As he tumbled down the asphalt, you have to wonder if the World Superbike champion saw his Suzuka fortunes tumbling with him.

Up-Close with the Suzuka-Winning Yamaha YZF-R1

This is it. This is the biggest, baddest, meanest superbike on the Suzuka 8-Hours grid. Setting the high-water mark in Japan FOUR YEARS IN A ROW now, the Yamaha YZF-R1 from the Yamaha Factory Racing Team is the pinnacle of the sport. And while the Yamaha YZF-R1 is a motorcycle that you can pick up at any dealership in the United States (so long as it isn’t for a Superbike Deathmatch), the machine on the Suzuka Circuit this past weekend is anything but ordinary. I sent our man Steve English down to the pits to get some shots of this mysterious machine, and the Japanese team was being “very Japanese” about letting us taking photos, as Steve puts it. That didn’t stop us from getting some photos though. Go ahead, go get a towel before you continue further. We’ll wait.

Harley-Davidson Outlines Its Future Electric Lineup

The biggest announcement from Harley-Davidson today wasn’t its adventure-touring motorcycle (though it looks interesting), and it wasn’t its new Streetfighter or Custom models either (one of these I like, the other not so much). The big news wasn’t the Livewire getting closer to production, though that is close to the mark, and where this story is ultimately headed. All of these announcement would have been worthy of their own day in the press cycle, but the real news from the Bar & Shield brand is a look at Harley-Davidson’s upcoming electric lineup, which is coming across as very robust, and shows a decisive plan for the future. I never thought I would see the day, but here it is. Harley-Davidson is going electric, in a big way.

Harley-Davidson Livewire Gets Closer to Production Form

Harley-Davidson made a big push today, showing a number of bikes and concepts that it plans to bring to market by 2022. All of them were a big surprise, but one of them we already knew about: the Harley-Davidson Livewire. While not as big of a shock as the adventure-touring Pan America concept, or the Harley-Davidson Streetfighter or Custom models (to say the least about its upcoming electric lineup), Harley-Davidson has given us something to talk about with this electric power cruiser. Namely, the Harley-Davidson Livewire looks ready in production and in form, even though its official debut is still a year away. Since we first saw the Livewire concept (below), a number of things have changed for the production model.

MV Agusta’s Moto2 Race Bike Predictably Looks Awesome

After a 42-year hiatus, MV Agusta is returning to the Grand Prix Championship. This iconic Italian motorcycle brand will not be competing in MotoGP however, and instead MV Agusta will make its return in the Moto2 category. Partnering with the Forward Racing team, MV Agusta aims to take advantage of the rule changes for the 2019 season, which will see a 765cc Triumph three-cylinder engine replacing the 600cc Honda four-cylinder engine that is currently in use. This change in the spec-engine rule will likely upheave the Moto2 Championship, and MV Agusta wants to be part of that sea change. As such, the bike you see in the photos here will be the machine that launches MV Agusta’s assault on the GP paddock.

The Harley-Davidson “Custom” Is the First Cruiser We Like

In case you missed the new, Harley-Davidson dropped a number of new model concepts on us today, all which are to go into production by the 2022 model year. We have already shown you the ADV concept, as well as the Streetfighter concept. There are a bevy of electric bikes to see as well, along with an e-bike program, but right now we want to focus your attention on the Harley-Davidson Custom, a modern take on the Sportster platform. It might be the first cruiser that we have actually lusted over. For the loyal Asphalt & Rubber readers on this page, that statement should certainly say something about how much we are digging this potent v-twin concept. Using the 1,250cc version of Harley-Davidson’s new modular engine, the Custom takes a number of cues from Harley-Davidsons of the past and future.

Suzuki Signs Joan Mir for Two-Year MotoGP Deal

06/11/2018 @ 9:20 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Joan Mir is to move up to MotoGP next year, and will be racing in the factory ECSTAR Suzuki team, for at least the next two seasons. 

The signing had been widely expected, as the name of Mir had been linked to Suzuki for the past month or so.

The Spanish youngster is highly rated throughout the MotoGP paddock, and been pursued by Honda and Ducati, as well as Suzuki, according to his manager. 

Mir has been chosen over both current rider Andrea Iannone and veterans Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. Lorenzo had been linked to the ride since early this year, but in the end, Suzuki bosses back in Hamamatsu, Japan preferred to go with youthful potential over an established star.

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Secrets are hard to keep in the MotoGP paddock. When it comes to contracts, usually someone around a rider or team has let something slip to a friendly journalist – more often than not, the manager of another rider who was hoping to get a particular seat, but lost out. It is not often that real bombshells drop in MotoGP.

So the report by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that Repsol Honda were in talks to sign Jorge Lorenzo came as a huge shock.

The assumptions that almost everyone in the paddock had been making – that Lorenzo would be riding a full factory Yamaha M1 in a Petronas-funded satellite team operated by the Sepang International circuit – turned out to have been nothing more than a useful smokescreen.

Instead, Lorenzo has signed a two-year deal with HRC to partner Marc Márquez. The announcement was originally due at Barcelona, but the publication by La Gazzetta forced Honda to make a hasty and brief announcement..

The Petronas rumors had plenty of fire to provide the smoke. In an interview with Crash.net, Sepang International Circuit CEO Dato’ Razlan Razali openly discussed the possibility of running Yamahas with Lorenzo and Franco Morbidelli.

Everyone I spoke to – including other team managers, rider managers, riders, journalists – believed that Jorge Lorenzo would be riding a Yamaha in 2019.

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Usually we have to wait until Friday for the action to hot up at Mugello, but there was an almost hysterical vibe at the Italian circuit on Thursday.

We appear to have entered what can only be described as peak Silly Season, with the rumblings of a series of rider and bike changes likely to explode into the public consciousness between now and Barcelona.

By the time the MotoGP test finishes on the Monday after Barcelona, we should know where Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, and Joan Mir are riding, and have a solid clue as to what Franco Morbidelli, Dani Pedrosa, Danilo Petrucci, and Jack Miller will be doing in 2019. It’s going to be hectic.

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At the beginning of the year, I predicted on MotoMatters that MotoGP’s Silly Season this year would change the face of the MotoGP grid beyond recognition.

The revolution I predicted looks like it is coming to pass, but as with every prediction, the changes happening are beyond even what I had expected.

Young talent is coming into the series – Joan Mir, Miguel Oliveira – big names are changing bikes – Johann Zarco, Andrea Iannone – and a couple of major names face being left without a ride altogether.

A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks. Contracts have been signed with Andrea Dovizioso, Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Alex Rins, Miguel Oliveira, and Pol Espargaro, adding to the contracts signed earlier in the year with Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales, Marc Marquez, and Pecco Bagnaia.

With Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, and Xavier Simeon already having a contract, there are thirteen seats officially taken for next year. Ducati have an option on Jack Miller – and look certain to exercise it – making it fourteen riders in a strong position.

And Taka Nakagami looks very likely to keep his seat at LCR Honda.

But the big news is what happens at Suzuki, Ducati, and Repsol Honda. Rumors that Joan Mir would sign for Suzuki grew very strong at Le Mans, as I wrote on Friday, and now appear to be taking shape.

The reliable Spanish journalist Mela Chercoles is reporting in sports daily AS that Joan Mir has signed a two-year deal with Suzuki, which will see him line up alongside Alex Rins for the next two years.

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The difference in perspective between team managers and riders is always fascinating. Team bosses always have an eye to the big picture, to the coming year and beyond.

Riders are usually looking no further ahead than the next session or the next race. Anything beyond that is out of their control, and not worth wasting valuable energy worrying about. The future is a bridge they will cross when they come to it.

That difference was all too evident at the Ducati launch in Bologna on Monday.

While the people in charge of Ducati – Paolo Ciabatti, Davide Tardozzi, and Gigi Dall’Igna – were already thinking of managing rider signings and sponsorship deals for 2019 and beyond, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were mostly concerned about the Sepang test and about being competitive in the 2018 season.

New contracts for 2019 were on their horizons, but compared to their bosses, it was little more than a blip. First, there is a championship to win.

Andrea Dovizioso has spent the winter relaxing, and preparing for the new season. He starts the year as one of the title favorites, not a position he has been accustomed to.

A great sensation, and one I had lost in the last few years” is how the Italian described it. He did not feel the pressure of that sensation, but rather saw it as a challenge.

Sure, he was one of the favorites, but there were a lot of competitive bikes with riders capable of winning. “The level of competitiveness has become very high in MotoGP in the last three years,” he said. “There are many riders who can win races. It wasn’t like this in the past.”

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MotoGP team launches are always the triumph of hope over experience. Each year, the bosses of every factory in the series tell the media that their objective is to win races and fight for the championship. Sometimes, they even believe it.

At last year’s launch of the Ducati MotoGP team, Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna said they hoped to be fighting for the championship. That, after all, is why they signed Jorge Lorenzo to what is reported to be a very lucrative contract.

The assembled press was skeptical, despite the clear progress that Ducati had made in the past couple of seasons, its first wins coming in 2016.

Such skepticism was unwarranted, though you get the distinct feeling that even Ducati was surprised at how close Andrea Dovizioso came to clinching the 2017 MotoGP title.

Ducati was delighted by the Italian’s first win at Mugello, amazed at his victory in Barcelona a week later, and impressed by the way he beat Marc Márquez at Austria.

By the end of the season, Ducati had come to expect to win races, and realized just how far they had come on their journey since the dark days of 2013, when they didn’t score a single podium all year.

So on Monday, when Dall’Igna echoed the words of Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali in Bologna, that Ducati’s objective was to win races and challenge for the championship in MotoGP, they were deadly serious.

There is no doubt that Ducati is capable of doing just that – Dovizioso’s results and Lorenzo’s improvement in 2017 demonstrate that – and though they are all too aware of the dangers of complacency, Ducati start the 2018 season with both a firm expectation and belief that they are candidates for the 2018 MotoGP title.

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If there is one thing that you need to ride fast around Phillip Island – apart from an appetite for scaring yourself silly, that is – it is confidence.

You have to have blind faith the front will stick as you pitch it in to Turn 1 at 190 km/h, or slide the rear at 250 km/h plus through Stoner Corner. You want to be sure you’re going to make it through, because if you don’t, you’ll fall off at speed, and it will hurt. A lot.

Meanwhile, the elements are doing their best to sap your confidence. Gusts of 40 km/h or more are coming in off the Bass Straight at different angles, picking the bike up in some places, pushing it down in others, getting in under the fairing and trying to pull the front away from you.

Clouds rush past, some sprinkling droplets onto your visor, others dumping enough rain onto the track to leave it soaked, most blowing over without leaving a mark. Cold winds suck the heat out of your tires.

When you’re in the zone, you can blaze around the track lap after lap, banging in times that should be good enough for the podium.

But one misstep and you take a tumble. And one tumble is enough to shake your blind faith in the front end, plant the seeds of doubt in your mind. At other tracks, that might cost you a tenth or two. Phillip Island will find your lack of faith disturbing, and punish you with a second or more on your lap time.

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When they come to write the history of the 2017 MotoGP season, one of the largest chapters is going to bear the title “Weather”. The weather continues to play an inordinately large role in the 2017 championship.

Not always on race day, perhaps, but the amount of time wasted during practice because conditions were so utterly different to Sunday has made a significant difference to the course of the championship.

Aragon was a case in point. Wet conditions on Friday meant one less day of practice for the teams. For some, that meant never finding a solution to problems which would come to plague them on race day.

For others, their first guesses at setup were pretty much spot on, the benefit of years of experience allowing for an educated guess. For the race winner, failing to find a decent setup leading to a lack of feeling was no obstacle to success. Sometimes, the will to win can overcome remarkable odds.

This lack of setup time may be the bane of the teams’ lives, but it is a boon for fans. It adds an element of unpredictability, helping to shake up the field and make the races and the championship more interesting.

The championship ain’t over till it’s over: there has been too much weirdness this year to take anything on trust.

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Sunday MotoGP Summary at Sachsenring

07/02/2017 @ 10:53 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

If the 2017 MotoGP season has been anything, it has been entirely unpredictable. After two races, we were declaring the season over, and penciling Maverick Viñales’ name on the trophy.

A race later, and we were conceding that Valentino Rossi had taken over the lead of the championship, and that meant that whoever won the title would be riding a Yamaha.

After four races the top four were within ten points, and we gave up on there being a favorite, only to change our minds again after Le Mans, where Valentino Rossi crashed out trying to beat his teammate, and Viñales took a 17-point lead again.

After Mugello, when Andrea Dovizioso won his first dry MotoGP race, Viñales led by 26 points, and was ahead of reigning champion Marc Márquez by 37 points. We had our favorite once again.

Three races and two changes in the championship lead later, and we have given up again. The top four are back within ten points of each other again, and making predictions is looking increasingly foolish.

There was one certainty we could cling to, and would not allow ourselves to let go: At the Sachsenring, Marc Márquez takes pole, and then goes on to win the race.

It has happened the last seven years Márquez has raced at the Sachsenring, from 125s to Moto2 to MotoGP. Surely he would repeat that again? Surely, Marc Márquez would break the unpredictability of MotoGP in 2017?

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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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