Ben Spies Making a Return to Motorcycle Racing?

Could we see the return of Ben Spies to motorcycle racing? That’s the talk of the paddock right now, and the former MotoGP racer is helping fuel the fires with his social media posts. Our sources point to Spies gearing up for a return to domestic racing, as he looks to ride in the MotoAmerica Championship (presumably on a superbike), and possibly also as a team owner as well, fielding his own entry. This should come as a surprising but welcomed bit of news to motorcycle racing fans, as the 33-year-old seemingly retired from motorcycle racing after the 2013 MotoGP Championship season, after extensive damage to his shoulders seemed to rule him out of a future of racing motorcycles.

Ducati Will Stay as a Part of Volkswagen

Reports out of Italy are confirming the news that Ducati will remain as a part of the Volkswagen Group, with the German company ceasing its pursuits of divesting the Italian motorcycle company from its ranks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following Ducati’s business situation, as reports of the divestiture stalling out were circulating this time last month. The news seems to come with a bonus, with Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali reportedly confirming the news internally (other reports quote Audi CEO Rupert Stadler doing the same as well). With that, Evercore Partners – the investment bank that was hired to solicit bids on Ducati Motor Holding – will stop pursuing brands that may want to see Ducati within their corporate holdings.

Rumor: Street-Touring Version of the Kawasaki H2 Coming?

I like this rumor. I like what this rumor says. And, I like that this rumor doesn’t seem to go away. The scuttlebutt of the motorcycle industry right now is suggesting that the street-shredding Kawasaki Ninja H2 might be joined by a sport-touring variant. This Kawasaki Ninja H2 GT – as some are calling it – takes the potent supercharged liter-bike, and makes it a little bit better suited for long-distance riding…well, as better suited to touring that a 200hp+ fire-breathing motorcycle can be. It remains to be seen how Kawasaki plans to expand its supercharger lineup of motorcycles: whether these rumored new machines will vary slightly in form-factor to accommodate different kinds of riding (using the current H2 as a platform for new models), or if Kawasaki will debut an all-new chassis design for these rumored motorcycles.

Solid-State Batteries, A Game-Changer for EVs?

This week’s big news is that California is looking at how it can join China, France, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom in the banning of internal combustion engines in the coming decade(s), a move that will surely be a shot in the arm for electric vehicles. While the social and political pressures are coming into alignment for electric cars, trucks, and motorcycles, the technology for these next-generation vehicles is still not fully baked, and the biggest rate-limiter for EVs are their batteries. That is about to change, however, with solid-state batteries (a battery that has both solid electrodes and solid electrolytes) looking like the silver bullet that could make electric vehicles comparable in performance and price to their internal combustion counterparts.

Investigator Releases Report on Nicky Hayden Crash

On May 17th, 2017, Nicky Hayden was out training on his bicycle, near the Adriatic Coast, when he was struck by car in an intersection very close to the Misano World Circuit. The incident would prove to be a fateful one, and send ripples through the motorcycle industry, as Hayden died five days later in a hospital outside of Rimini, Italy. Since then, the accident has been under investigation by the local prosecutor, and the results of that forensic investigation have now been released to the public. Reconstructing the incident through statements made by the driver, eyewitnesses, and CCTV video footage, the investigation has found fault on both sides of the crash – assigning 30% of the blame to Nicky Hayden, for running the stop sign, and 70% of the blame to the driver, for excessive speed.

California Considers Killing Internal Combustion

Bloomberg is reporting that California Governor Jerry Brown is considering ways to ban the sale of vehicles that use internal combustion engines – a move that could have massive implications not only for vehicle sales, the environment, but potentially the motorcycle industry as well. Still in the early days of consideration, the news comes from remarks made by Mary Nichols, who is the Chairman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and her remarks and relaying of thought from Gov. Brown don’t make it clear if the ban would apply only to passenger vehicles, or if it would include modes of transportation like trucks, commercial vehicles, and motorcycles. However, the move mimics similar bans that we have already seen in places like China, and follows a trend that is catching on in European countries as well.

MV Agusta F4 LH44 Limited Edition Debuts

Italian motorcycle maker MV Agusta, and Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton have re-upped their contract for collaboration, and one of the first fruits of that labor is a limited edition MV Agusta F4 superbike. Confirming our story from earlier today, the MV Agusta F4 LH44 picks up where the MV Agusta Dragster RR LH44 left off, adding Hamilton’s “unique” tastes and stylings to MV Agusta’s tapestry of motorcycles. Like with the MV Agusta F4 RC, the exercise is primarily visual, though like on the RC edition, MV Agusta adds its race kit to the package, which is good for a claimed 212hp. The big technical change of note is the titanium race exhaust from SC Project, which does away with the beautiful four-pipe undertail exhaust that Massimo Tamburini made famous.

Eugene Laverty Explains His 2017 WorldSBK Season

A return to World Superbike, with the bike that he came so close to winning the championship on – it all appeared like a dream opportunity for Eugene Laverty, to put himself into a position to win the title. The dream quickly turned to a nightmare, and from the start of winter testing it was clear that major work needed to be done to return the RSV4 to the front. Moving to the Milwaukee Aprilia squad understandably led to heightened expectations. In their second year in WorldSBK, the former British Superbike champions were expected to make a leap forward. Teething problems were expected with the switch from BMW to Aprilia, but not the struggles that lay ahead. “During the winter you can go in the wrong direction with the bike,” commented Laverty. “Unfortunately, that was the case for us.”

Superbike Deathmatch Round #1: Aprilia vs. Ducati

Hello and welcome to the first installment of Asphalt & Rubber’s 2017 Superbike Deathmatch – our take on the motorcycle media’s superbike shootout review format, and the solitary path for a motorcycle to become the A&R Superbike of 2017. For those just tuning into the Superbike Deathmatch, the rules are easy. In each round, two bikes enter the race track, but only one bike leaves. We have six motorcycles from the eight superbike manufacturers on the market. For our first round, we have started things off with a special treat, and a battle for the right to call a bike the “Best Italian Superbike” on the market. That’s right, we are going to pit the Ducati 1299 Panigale S against the Aprilia RSV4 RF.

Photos of the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Leak Online

What you see here are early leaked photos of the 2018 Honda Gold Wing – one of the most successful and important motorcycles for the Western markets. Honda is expected to debut this new model at a media event in October, but our friends at MaxxMoto and Oliepeil managed to get their dirty Dutch-speaking mits on these low-res gems, ahead of time. Beyond the styling refresh, the most obvious change that we can see for the Honda Goldwing is the new front-end, which appears to be a Hossack-styled design – similar to what BMW uses on its K-series motorcycles. The engine continues to be a flat-six, from the view in the photos, though we can expect some changes to the massive block – likely with fewer emissions, maybe with more torque/power.

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.

Continue Reading

MotoGP Preview of the British GP

08/25/2017 @ 12:20 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The 2017 British Grand Prix at Silverstone is the race that nearly didn’t happen. OK, that’s an exaggeration: Dorna was always going to ensure that a British Grand Prix would happen.

The British Isles are such an important market that it is unthinkable for the series not to race here. But the collapse of the Circuit of Wales project meant that a lot of negotiation had to go into ensuring that the British round of MotoGP would actually take place.

For many observers, the refusal of the Welsh Government to underwrite the construction of the circuit was inevitable. The numbers being claimed seemed at best wildly optimistic, and at worst woefully inaccurate.

Was Dorna wrong to get into bed with the Heads of the Valley Development Company, the organization behind the Circuit of Wales? Possibly. Dorna has a history of making deals with circuits that never get built, as anyone who can recall the saga of the Balatonring can surely tell you.

Then again, what has Dorna lost? They signed a deal with the Circuit of Wales for five years starting in 2015, with an option to extend for a further five years. The deal was reportedly lucrative, well above what Silverstone was offering to pay to host the race.

Donington Park was no competition at the time, the circuit in financial difficult and badly in need of upgrades. Since the deal was signed, Dorna has had two successful races at Silverstone, for which they have been well paid.

When the Circuit of Wales project collapsed, Silverstone stepped in to take over. Dorna will still be paid by Silverstone, though it will be less than the Circuit of Wales would have paid.

Continue Reading

Sunday MotoGP Summary at Spielberg: For the Ages

08/13/2017 @ 11:56 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

All the old certainties about MotoGP are gone. A few short years ago, MotoGP had a consistent, simple internal logic that made it easy to explain. All that is now gone.

The things we believed were universal truths about racing have turned out to be mere mirages, disguising an ever-shifting reality. And that has made racing mind-bogglingly good.

A case in point. The Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria has a pretty simple layout. Straight, corner, straight, corner, straight, corner, long loop which comes back on itself, straight, corner, short straight, corner, and we’re back at the beginning.

The track is all about horsepower and the ability to accelerate hard, then brake hard. The racing here should be rubbish. The rider with the fastest bike should be able to escape and cruise to victory by tens rather than tenths of seconds.

Yet on Sunday, we saw three gripping races, where the results were long in doubt. The winner of the Moto3 race may have been well clear, but the freight train behind it scrapping over second made for compulsive watching.

Moto2 cooked up another cracker – the fourth in a row, a sign the class is changing – which only really settled in the last four laps. And the MotoGP race became an instant classic, one which make any collection of top ten races of any era.

It truly had everything: a large group battling for the lead, then a smaller group slugging it out, three abreast heading towards a corner. There were hard passes, missed passes, and a wild last-corner lunge to attempt to snatch victory.

Continue Reading

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.”

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Paddock Pass Podcast #57 – Czech GP

08/09/2017 @ 3:09 am, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

Episode 57 of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees David Emmett and Neil Morrison on the mics, as they cover the Czech GP at Brno.

Once again this season, the weather conditions were tricky, and as such we saw the MotoGP riders taking a mix of opinions on what tires to run for the race, as well as on their backup bikes in the pit lane.

This lead to some interesting racing action on the track, which will have big consequences on the hunt for the 2017 MotoGP Championship title. David and Neil discuss all the angles (including the angles of all the new aerodynamic fairings), as well as some news from Monday’s test.

The show then concludes with a discussion of the weekend’s biggest winners and losers, as is becoming the custom on the podcast. It’s another great show from the Paddock Pass crew, and you won’t want to miss it.

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!

Continue Reading

Monday was the next episode in a busy ten days for MotoGP. After the Czech Grand Prix, Brno played host to the traditional post-race test, with all the MotoGP paddock bar the satellite Ducatis taking part.

After a mixed weekend of weather, conditions were absolutely perfect, with warm (but not hot) temperatures, clear skies, and a track that got better and better as the day went on and bikes laid down more rubber.

Valentino Rossi ended on top of the timesheets, an unusual occurrence in recent years. Rossi has never been short of speed, but has usually needed the adrenaline boost of race day to find the final tenth or so to put him ahead of his rivals.

The test was enough on Monday, Rossi beating Marc Márquez by eighteen thousandths of a second, while Maverick Viñales was third and Jorge Lorenzo fourth.

Continue Reading

Flag-to-flag races. You either love them or hate them. For some, flag-to-flag racing adds an extra dimension to MotoGP, rewarding teams and riders who are smart with their strategy selection, bringing much greater rewards for those who are prepared to take calculated risks, while also carrying a much greater punishment if you risk too much.

It is not enough to get the setup right for the conditions, teams also have to assess how conditions might change, and riders have to judge the optimum time to come in and swap bikes. It places a greater emphasis on teamwork, rather than just the rider.

For others, however, flag-to-flag races are just a lottery, the outcome decided largely by chance. Victory goes not necessarily to the fastest rider on the track, but to the one who gambles correctly on the right tire, the right time to pit, on how the weather develops.

The team has too much influence on the outcome, relegating the rider to a secondary role. It isn’t the fastest rider who wins the race, it is the luckiest rider.

Unsurprisingly, there is often a correlation between how you feel about flag-to-flag racing and how your favorite rider performs in those conditions. My favorite rider is a master strategist, backed by a canny team.

Your favorite rider is a lucky devil who fell face first into a bucket full of horseshoes, and wouldn’t have won if it hadn’t been for the team doing all the hard work and telling them exactly what to do and when to do it.

Continue Reading

Marc Marquez Victorious in Tricky Czech GP

08/06/2017 @ 11:18 am, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

If the weather has been the bane of MotoGP this year, then Saturday at Brno made up for an awful lot. The day started out with clear blue skies, and stayed that way just about all day.

It was still bone dry and warm when we left the track as darkness began to fall, though the occasional cloud could be spotted here and there. It was a great day for racing motorcycles.

It was apparently also a great day for crashing motorcycles. In the first session of the day, 40 minutes of free practice for the Moto3 class, 15 riders crashed, all going down like skittles.

Next up it was FP3 for MotoGP, and a further 7 riders hit the deck. Moto2 followed, and 6 more went down. By the end of the day, there had been a grand total of 48 falls.

To put that number into perspective: on Friday, in much dicier conditions, there were only 9 crashes. Over all three days of the 2014 event at Brno, there were 46 crashers.

If there are three more crashes on Sunday – and it’s race day, when risks offer better rewards – then the Automotodrom Brno will seen more crashes than in the previous seven years. They really were going down like flies.

Continue Reading