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.

After months of speculation of an impending rider change at KTM, the Austrian factory has issued a press release clarifying its 2018 line up in MotoGP.

The KTM factory team will continue with both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as their contracted race riders, while Mika Kallio remains contracted as a test rider. 

The move will be welcomed inside the team, restoring stability and removing the uncertainty which had surrounded Bradley Smith and his future as a factory rider.

The Englishman had struggled badly to be competitive in the first part of the season, while his teammate Espargaro seemed to go from strength to strength.

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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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When you lose the first day of a MotoGP weekend to rain, the remainder of practice becomes incredibly hectic. FP3, especially, becomes insane. Teams and riders are trying to force 90 minutes of practice into half an hour, and then throw soft tires at the last 15 minutes in an attempt to avoid Q1.

Unfortunately, the constraints of temporal physics make it impossible to put the best part of race distance on the different compounds of tires, try different bike balance and electronics settings to measure their effectiveness, try to follow a rival or two to figure out where you are stronger and weaker than they are, and finally throw a couple of soft tires at a quick lap, all in just a single session of free practice.

Sure, there’s another 30 minutes of FP4 to try to figure things out, but usually, that is where you are trying to nail down the fine details, not evaluate radically different bike setups.

So on Saturday evening, when riders are asked what their strategy is and which tire they will be racing, there is a lot of shrugging of shoulders. Andrea Dovizioso was a case in point at Aragon.

“Still we don’t know,” he said. “Still there is a lot of work to do about setup and also the decision of the tires, because we didn’t really have time to work on them. The temperature was so cold in FP3, and in the afternoon the temperature change a lot. In the morning you can’t work on the tires.”

“We have only 30 minutes in the afternoon to try and understand something. I think for everybody, the decision is not clear. Still we have to study a lot of data and take a decision about the tires and the set-up. Maybe all three are an option but I don’t know.”

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I, along with almost every photographer and a good part of the journalists present at Aragon, made my way down to the pit lane on Friday morning, to watch Valentino Rossi’s first exit on the Yamaha M1 since breaking his leg in an enduro accident.

It was overcast but dry, and there was a real sense of anticipation as Rossi limped to his bike, swung his leg awkwardly over it, then exited the garage smoothly and headed off down pit lane.

Before he and the rest of the MotoGP field had reached the exit of pit lane, the rain had started to fall. Not hard enough to leave the track properly wet, but enough rain to make using slicks impossible. FP1 was a wash. Fastest man Marc Márquez was 13 seconds off lap record pace.

The track dried out again during the lunch break, but once again, just as the MotoGP riders were about to head out, the rain started to fall.

They found the track in FP2 much as they had left it in FP1: too wet for slicks, not really wet enough for a proper wet test. And with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be dry and sunny, any data collected was of very little use indeed.

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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.

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Brad Binder has had surgery to fit a new plate to his broken left arm. The original plate, which had been fitted over the winter after he had broken the radius in his left arm, had worked loose, and was not holding the bone together properly. Binder has now had that issue corrected in Barcelona.

The South African had broken his arm in a big crash at Valencia in November, and had undergone surgery to fix the bones in place. This surgery had not taken properly, however, the bone not knitting together properly.

Binder had ridden despite the pain, but in Argentina, the pain had become much worse. An examination of the arm showed that the plate had become partially detached, and the bone had broken again. Despite the pain, Binder rode to a tenth place finish in Argentina, a remarkable result all things considered.

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Saturday MotoGP Summary at Valencia: One More Time

11/12/2016 @ 11:38 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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2016 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on setup. New electronics have drawn the teeth of Honda and Yamaha, making it easier for Ducati, Suzuki, and to a lesser extent, Aprilia to catch up.

The wet and wild weather has made it even more difficult to get setup right, with session after session lost to the rain. A wider range of competitive bikes has upped the level of competition even further. So we enter the final race of the year having already seen nine winners, and with dreams of a tenth.

That seems vanishingly unlikely. The three riders on the front row at Valencia have won ten of the seventeen rounds, with two more winners on the second row, and other two on the third row.

At a track like Valencia, with so few passing opportunities, it is hard to see how a rider who hasn’t won yet can make their way past the previous winners to claim victory.

They will not get any assistance from the weather – the forecast looks steady and constant, not particularly warm, but dry and sunny. The only way to win the Valencia round of MotoGP is the hard way. And then there’s Jorge Lorenzo.

The Spaniard has been up and down all season, at the tender mercies of available grip levels and the nature of the tires Michelin have brought to the races. At Valencia, everything has fallen into place.

The rear tire Michelin has brought uses the more pliable carcass that was also available at Brno and Misano. The new profile front tire the French tire maker has brought is stronger in the middle of the corner, which plays to Lorenzo’s strengths. And boy, is Lorenzo strong at Valencia.

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Friday MotoGP Summary at Valencia: Growing Pains

11/11/2016 @ 11:26 pm, by David Emmett3 COMMENTS

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The media is a fickle beast. Normally, journalists and TV only have eyes for the top half of the timesheets. Or more realistically, the top half of the top half of the timesheets.

As Valentino Rossi once joked one weekend during his time at Ducati, when only four or five journalists turned up to speak to him, rather than the thirty or forty he used to see at Yamaha, “So this is what it’s like to finish seventh.”

If media interest beyond tenth place is sparse, it is absolutely nonexistent for last place. Normally, the rider who finishes last has no visits from journalists, nor will anyone come to speak to their crew chief. But Friday at Valencia was anything but normal.

A brand new manufacturer joining the grid is anything but normal, however. And even when the rider on the new bike finishes last, the media crowd waiting outside the garage is seriously impressive.

The back of the KTM garage was thronged with journalists, first to speak to Mika Kallio about his day on the RC16, and then to grill Kallio’s crew chief Paul Trevathan about the bike, and the problems they encountered.

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And so the 2016 MotoGP season is nearly at an end. Though the major honors have been awarded, there are still the final few t’s to cross and i’s to dot. We have our three champions – Johann Zarco the last to wrap up the title in Moto2 at Sepang.

Honda are hot favorites to win the constructors’ championship, while Movistar Yamaha hold a narrow lead in the team championship. Cal Crutchlow has a commanding 17-point lead in the battle for top independent rider. Second place in both Moto2 and Moto3 is still up for grabs.

In reality, these don’t matter all that much. Once the championship is settled, the riders on the grid race for pride. And given that we are talking about the best professional motorcycle racers in the world, there is an awful lot of pride at stake.

So the battle at Valencia will be just as fierce as anything that has come before. If anything, it will be even more fierce, given that nobody has very much to lose.

They will need an extra dash of abandon at Valencia. The circuit is pushed up against a hillside, and encircled by grandstands, cramming a serpentine four kilometer track into a very tight space. Reaching the required Grand Prix length requires a lot of corners, and that drops the average speed.

Valencia is the slowest circuit on the calendar, and with so many tight corners, passing spots are few and far between.

Turn 1 is an obvious candidate, a hard-braking left turn at the end of a long straight. Turn 6, another sharp left hander after a short straight. And a final dive up the inside into Turn 14, after the long and glorious left at Turn 13.

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KTM Will Wild Card at Valencia MotoGP Race

07/20/2016 @ 10:11 pm, by Jensen Beeler5 COMMENTS

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The KTM RC16 MotoGP project showed good pace this week in Austria, at the Red Bull Ring and in the hands of test riders Mika Kallio and Thomas Luthi. The Austrian factory might have a home-field advantage, but it certainly gained some praise from the MotoGP paddock.

And while the KTM RC16 will make its formal public debut during the Austrian GP, with a parade lap and display, it has been confirmed that we’ll see the MotoGP race in anger at the last MotoGP race of the season, the Valencia GP.

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