The Fruits of Carmelo Ezpeleta’s Grand Plan for MotoGP

Sometimes decisions are a long time in the making. Tech3’s decision to leave Yamaha and sign with KTM may have been made in the space of a few months, but the genesis of that choice, the process that made it all possible is ten years in the making. If MotoGP hadn’t switched from 990cc to 800cc at the start of the 2007 season, if the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports hadn’t been enforced from 2005, if the financial system hadn’t collapsed under the weight of tranches of “ninja” loans, Tech3 would be a Yamaha satellite team for the foreseeable future. Whether they wanted to be or not. How did MotoGP get to a place where Tech3 could switch to KTM? To make complete sense of the story, we have to go back to the end of the last century.

Here’s How to Race a $20,000 KTM RC390 R in the USA

In case you haven’t noticed, the Supersport 300 class is heating up, and perhaps most interestingly with virtually zero machines with a 300cc displacement…but that is a subject for another time. This has put pressure on KTM to remain at the pointy end of business in the small-displacement category, which has lead the Austrian company to the release of a homologation special for the 300cc class. As such, say hello to the 2018 KTM RC390 R sport bike. A street legal motorcycle, the KTM RC390 R aims to sharpen the points where the entry-level KTM RC390 is a bit dull, namely by using better suspension and new intake trumpets that widen the powerband, but also with a new triple clamp, clip-ons, and levers.

The Future of Fast, A Review of the Alta Redshift MXR

I always joke with industry folk that “it’s called Asphalt & Rubber for a reason,” as I am a dyed in the wool street bike guy. So when Alta Motors invited A&R to ride the new Alta Redshift MXR, I knew there were better people for the job than I. This is where heterosexual life partner Carlin Dunne comes into the mix. On top of being one of the fastest men ever up Pikes Peak on two wheels, as well as the fastest electric motorcycle to compete in The Race to the Clouds, Carlin is an accomplished off-road racer – both with and without a motor between his legs. So, we sent Carlin down to Southern California to ride Alta’s newest machines, and with already a bevy of time in the saddle on electric motorcycles, I can’t think of a better person’s opinion for these electron-powered off-road racers.

What A Trade War Means for Motorcycles

Strangely enough, we have talked about trade wars several times before, here on Asphalt & Rubber, as the Trump administration has been keen to use this tool in its toolbox, often with effects that reach into the motorcycle industry. The first time around, we talked about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) affected the motorcycle industry, namely Harley-Davidson, and how the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement would likely be a negative effect for US motorcyclists. We have also had to talk about how fighting over beef imports could lead to possible tariffs on small-displacement European motorcycles in the United States, a tariff that would seriously hurt Piaggio/Vespa scooter sales and KTM dirt bike sales.

KTM and Tech3 Team Up in MotoGP for the 2019 Season

It was a shock to hear that the venerable Tech3 team would be leaving the Yamaha family, come the 2019 MotoGP season, after all Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal cut his teeth with Yamaha. But, once the news of his move sunk in, we are not surprised to hear that he is headed to KTM for the 2019 season, as was officially announced today (and rumored for well over a week). That is right, for the 2019 MotoGP Championship, the Tech3 team – one of the most regarded satellite teams in the GP Paddock – will be racing the KTM RC16 MotoGP race bike, with full-factory machines from Austria. That last caveat is likely the tipping point and main reason for Poncharal’s switch, with Tech3 long having to put-up with having the leftovers from the Yamaha Racing factory squad.

What If Harley-Davidson and Alta Motors Had a Baby?

With the news that Harley-Davidson has invested an undisclosed sum in electric motorcycle manufacturer Alta Motors, the following concept might seem like a no-brainer. That is because the folks at Carbon Projects invisions the partnership between the two American brands as lending itself to the creation of an electric street-tracker model. Taking the heritage-focused roots of Harley-Davidson, and applying them to Alta’s Redshift platform, the resulting model is quite a looker, if we do say so. Of course, we should remember that Alta has already shown a street tracker concept of its own, displaying the Alta Motors Redshift ST concept at last year’s One Moto Show, in Portland, Oregon.

This Week’s Suzuki Hayabusa Rumor, Redux

In this installment of “This Week’s Suzuki Hayabusa Rumor,” we again take a look at the motor of this venerable sport bike. The rumor going around the interwebs right now is that the 2019 Suzuki Hayabusa will feature a “semi-automatic” gearbox. Side-stepping the part where saying a gearbox is semi-automatic is  a lot like saying someone is “semi-pregnant” (you either are, or aren’t), the rumor stems from a patent filed by Suzuki that shows a gear-shifting mechanism with the foot-shifter that doesn’t require a clutch. If this sounds a lot like an up/down quickshifter system, then you score extra bonus points today for being a rational human being, but you would be very wrong about what this whole rumor should actually be about.

Harley-Davidson Invests in Alta Motors

Harley-Davidson has announced its strategic investment in Alta Motors, which will see the two American companies co-developing two new electric motorcycle models. As one can imagine, the news has big ramifications for both brands. For Harley-Davidson, it means having access to cutting-edge electric vehicle technology, and a technical partner that can help them navigate the coming shift to electric drivetrains. And for Alta Motors the news is perhaps even more impactful, as Harley-Davidson brings not only a key monetary investment into the San Francisco startup, but the deal likely provides access to a variety of assets for Alta, namely purchasing power with parts supplier, access to a worldwide dealer network, and instant credibility with other future investors.

Here Comes a New Complaint About Californian Drivers…

If you are riding in California anytime soon, you might want to think twice before blaming the state’s fleet of drivers, as The Golden State just made it legal for self-driving cars to operate without a human behind the wheel. While similar actions have stalled in the US Congress (the SELF DRIVE ACT is stuck in a Senate committee), states have begun to take matters into their own hands, like they did in Arizona. That is right, the dawn of truly autonomous vehicles has just arrived, and it is primed to change the driving landscape as we know it, which by correlation means changes for the motorcycle community as well. Announced on Monday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) approved rules that would make it legal for automated vehicles to operate without a human behind the wheel. 

BMW S675RR Concept by Nicolas Petit

I really like the idea of BMW making a supersport model, to compliment the already potent BMW S1000RR. The category is a tough one though, and it is dominated by the Japanese brands. Maybe, this is why BMW Motorrad is the perfect brand to disrupt the supersport segment. The S1000RR made a killing in the liter-bike space, because it brought European features and performance, at a Japanese price-point. Because of the success that resulted from that formula, maybe the Germans can do the same in the 600cc segment. Putting some pen and paper to this thought, Nicolas Petit has inked together a render of a proposed BMW supersport machine, which he dubs the BMW S675RR.

Paddock Pass Podcast #69 – Qatar GP

03/22/2018 @ 12:47 pm, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

Episode 69 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and welcomes the start of racing for the 2018 MotoGP Championship. As such, David Emmett and Neil Morrison are on the mics, talking about the Qatar GP.

With close racing, there is a lot to cover, and to do so we are rolling out a new show format that covers the big takeaways and bullet points from the race weekend.

As such, the guys talk about the pace of Dovizioso, the Zarco kid, the rise of the Honda, the progress in the Yamaha garage, and much, much more (including a little silly season maneuverings for 2019 as well).

Carrying over from last season, the show ends with David and Neil picking their biggest winners and losers from the weekend’s events.

We think you will enjoy the show. It is packed with behind-the-scenes info, and insights from teams and riders in the paddock.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

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It took ten years and nine days, but the last of the pole records set on qualifying tires has finally been beaten. And not just once, but three times.

On their final laps in the Q2 session of qualifying, three riders streaked across the line and dived under Jorge Lorenzo’s now ancient pole record at Qatar, set in 2008.

History was made, and the final specter of the 800 era was cast out from the all-new, utterly rejuvenated MotoGP class. The slate has been wiped clean.

That Lorenzo’s record stood for so long and that it was broken at all are both remarkable feats. The old qualifying record was set in Lorenzo’s very first MotoGP qualifying session – though in 2008, the system was a little easier for the riders, one hour of qualifying with a generous supply of both race and qualifying tires.

In the midst of the tire wars, the Michelin (and Bridgestone) qualifiers were worth well over a second a lap, and sometimes two.

Lorenzo’s pole lap smashed the previous record by 1.075 seconds. But that pole position, taken on his MotoGP debut, was Jorge Lorenzo serving notice that he was something a little bit special.

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Qatar is always a strange place to kick off the MotoGP season: a windswept circuit in the middle of the desert (though not for long, as the suburbs of Doha are rapidly approaching the track), racing under the floodlights, around a circuit with just a single grandstand and a VIP pavilion.

It is an odd location with a weird atmosphere. The race feels surreal, part of a science fiction spectacular, an impression reinforced as you drive back to Doha afterwards, the huge Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers awash with ever-shifting patterns of blinking lights.

You would think that the season opener couldn’t get much odder, but series organizer Dorna has found a way. In response to complaints of dew forming after 9pm in the evening, rendering the track treacherous.

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It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin’s first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics.

2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past. All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018.

Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well.

Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.

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What We Learned from a Preseason of MotoGP Tests

03/05/2018 @ 3:58 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The phony war is finally over. The last MotoGP test has finished, with riders completing their final day of testing at Qatar. The next time the MotoGP grid assembles, it will be for something of real value: race wins, and world championship points.

Did the last day of the test offer any clear indications as to what might happen in two weeks’ time? Plenty, though they were as confusing as all of testing has been this year.

Johann Zarco managed to be both blisteringly fast and worryingly slow simultaneously. Danilo Petrucci managed to do exactly the same, though in a diametrically opposite manner.

Valentino Rossi managed to impress both in terms of race pace and a single fast lap, but he was still worried whether his pace would last race distance.

Maverick Viñales was terrible for the first six hours of the test, then brilliant in the last forty minutes, after basically wasting a day and a half.

Underneath the surface drama, the two biggest winners of the preseason just got on with their work. Their headline times were great but not breathtaking, but the race pace of Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez was impressive.

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Episode 68 of the Paddock Pass Podcast covers that last two test of the MotoGP preseason, as Neil Morrison hosts on the mics with a special journalist guest, Spain’s Manuel Pecino (you should be following him, if you aren’t already).

A long-time journalist the GP paddock, Manuel brings a unique perspective to the show, and is able to communicate what is beyond the headlines and stories that come out of MotoGP.

As such, we think you will find his perspective on the riders – namely Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, and Valentino Rossi – especially interesting, as the three are highly intertwined in their careers.

Recording from Qatar, the pair talk about the events from Buriram and Losail MotoGP tests, and thus provide us our last glimpse into how the 2018 season is going to stack up.

As we get closer to the start of the 2018 season, keep your eyes out for a preview show, with our full assemble cast of hosts.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

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There is a peculiar type of athlete mathematics. It involves a failure to grasp the concept of percentages, leading to elite athletes promising to give “110%”, or sometimes even “1000%”.

Logic dictates that an athlete putting 100% of their effort and reserves into an activity would lead them to collapse and die of exhaustion as they crossed the line.

That would deny them the joy of victory, but more importantly, it would drastically curtail an athlete’s career to just a single event, making it a rather fruitless avenue to pursue.

Of course, what they actually mean when they talk of giving 110% is of course making the maximum effort to achieve a goal.

Some, commendably, refrain from mathematic hyperbole, sticking to the 100% maxim. Marc Márquez belongs to this group, speaking of giving 100% during practice and races.

A case can be made that Marc Márquez is the rider who most closely approaches 100% while riding. The list of legendary saves the Repsol Honda rider has chalked up at tests and races seems to grow every time he gets on the bike.

Of course, he gets plenty of chances to practice: Márquez had 27 crashes in 2017, second only to Sam Lowes. Respected motorcycle guru Kevin Cameron believes that Márquez’s saves are not saves, but actually the result of a technique he studies.

With every monster save Márquez manages, that gets harder to argue with.

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The Qatar MotoGP test may be the moment of truth for the factories and riders, but the most important things we learned from the first day of the test were unrelated to the action on track, or perhaps even the 2018 season.

The biggest news of the day came when Valentino Rossi spoke to the press, telling Italian media that he is close to signing on with the Movistar Yamaha team for another two years, meaning he will race in 2019 and 2020.

Rossi’s revelation came in response to a question about whether the Sky VR46 team would be taking over the satellite Yamahas to be vacated by Tech3 from 2019.

“Firstly, I didn’t expect Poncharal to leave Yamaha,” Rossi said. “So we considered possibly having a team in MotoGP. It would have been great opportunity, but we won’t do it. For the next two years we won’t do it, also because it’s very likely I’ll be racing. I see it as a possibility for the future, once I’ve stopped but not in 2019 or 2020.”

Those are a remarkably information-dense couple of sentences. Firstly, Rossi acknowledges that he is close to signing a contract extension with Yamaha for two more seasons.

This is hardly news – he was half expected to sign a new deal at the Sepang test, but it looks likely that any new deal will be done before the season starts.

Secondly, he admits that the Sky VR46 Racing Team is interested in having a team in MotoGP. Again, this is hardly earth-shattering news.

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Have we emerged any the wiser after three days of testing at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand by the MotoGP field? That is hard to say.

The test was more for the benefit of Michelin than for the teams, and the French tire maker brought some 2000 tires for the 24 riders who took part in the test.

The track itself was not particularly challenging or instructive in terms of understanding how well bike development was going. “This track is also not so easy or so difficult, it’s intermediate,” is how Monster Tech 3 Yamaha replacement Hafizh Syahrin summed it up.

Is it possible to draw conclusions about how the 2018 championship might play out on the basis of the Buriram test? “No, impossible,” Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso said, before proceeding to do just that in some detail.

“I can see Marc in a better shape than at the beginning of last year,” Dovizioso said. “I can see Dani in a good shape, I can see Zarco with a little bit more experience, so a little bit better for the championship than last year.”

It was harder to judge the Movistar Yamahas, Dovizioso said. “It’s very difficult to understand the two factory Yamahas, because they will be fast in the race, on race weekends, for sure.”

“But when you look at the riders and the teams from outside, it’s impossible to know the details, so I don’t know. I can see the Pramac riders are fast, they are happy with the bike, so I think they will be quite fast during the season.”

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It is always easy to get carried away by testing. Seeing a particular rider at the top of the timesheets, it is tempting to start constructing a narrative which sees that rider dominate the season, while writing off the rest.

That, of course, is nearly always a mistake. And in the case of the second day at Buriram, Thailand, it is definitely a mistake.

That doesn’t mean Marc Márquez won’t be fast for the rest of the year, as well as Saturday in Thailand. He has won the MotoGP title in four of his five seasons in the class, so topping the timesheets was not, as one journo joked, because Michelin gave him special tires for his birthday.

Márquez had been fast, and consistently so, through both the Sepang and Buriram tests so far. But the order behind Márquez probably doesn’t reflect the true relative strength of the field.

The reason? Tires, of course. On Saturday, Michelin brought a new rear tire for the riders to test, after the rears used on Friday had shown some signs of degradation. The original allocation of rear tires were the same as used at Brno, Argentina, Sachsenring, and Sepang.

The new tire was the rear used at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. That is relatively unsurprising, given that the place everyone compared Buriram to the first time they saw it was Austria.

The different compounds in the Austria rear were better placed to withstand the stresses of Buriram, especially along the three successive straights in the tropical heat.

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