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.

Some Notes on the 2017 Dakar Rally

01/16/2017 @ 6:05 pm, by Jensen Beeler13 COMMENTS

The 2017 Dakar Rally is done and dusted. The competitors are either already on their way home, or now spending a well-deserved vacation in South America, after tackling what is easily the most difficult motorcycle race on the planet.

The Dakar is of course iconic and well-known for its difficulty, where it is not uncommon to see riders perish on its course, but this year’s rally raid was billed as one of the most challenging editions of the Dakar Rally ever.

When a man like Marc Coma – a man who has won the race five times – tells you that, your default mode is to believe him.

Tackling that challenge were 143 riders, of which only on 96 made it all the way to Buenos Aires. And while KTM has been the dominant manufacturer for the past 15 years, the 2017 edition saw early on that any of the major four brands could have a hand on the trophy in Argentina.

Of course we know that KTM made it to a sweet 16th victory, sweeping the podium no less, but the results sheet betrays what happened on the course. As such, I wanted to share some notes I have from the 2017 Dakar Rally.

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Stage 10 proved to be the end of Pablo Quintanilla’s Dakar Rally, as the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory had to withdraw from the race, after suffering from a dizzy spell during the grueling 751km day.

For those who haven’t been following our coverage of the 2017 Dakar Rally, Quintanilla was sitting second overall in the standings, and within striking distance of giving the Swedish brand its first Dakar victory.

Today’s stage, as well as tomorrow’s Stage 11, are the last real opportunities for movement in the overall standings, as the final round on Saturday is more of a 64km parade lap.

At just under 21 minutes behind race leader Sam Sunderland, a simple mistake by the KTM racer could easily have seen Quintanilla take the lead in the overall standings. Making the days certainly bittersweet for the factory Husqvarna squad.

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After seeing Saturday’s stage cancelled, and with Sunday set on the schedule as a rest day, the 2017 Dakar Rally returned to racing-proper on Monday, with Stage 7.

Today’s special was originally conceived to be 322km long, but again the weather played a factor, and the timed section was cut down to just 160km. Sand dunes were the order of the day, which posed a challenge to some of the riders, both in navigation and time management.

For Honda, the day was very good, with American Ricky Brabec taking the day, followed closely his teammate Paulo Gonçalves. Sam Sunderland finished the day third, allowing him to maintain his overall lead in the standings. With three Hondas in the Top 5 though, the day truly goes to HRC.

Brabec’s win also continues the trend of a different rider winning each stage thus far of the 2017 Dakar Rally, an unusual circumstance in a race that usually sees a rider or two consistently rising above the rest of the field.

On that note, Xavier de Soultrait continues to impress on his Yamaha, fifth for the day, sixth overall, and still in the hunt for the overall win. Yamaha also can rely on Adrien van Beveren, who sits third overall, just behind Husqvarna’s Pablo Qunitanilla.

With three manufacturers in the Top 3, there will be a great deal of intrigue for the Dakar trophy, as we head into Argentina.

Monday night starts the marathon stage, meaning that only competitors can work on their machines in order to prep for Tuesday’s Stage 8. Without the help of their mechanics, we can expect some shake-up in Tuesday’s results from bike failures.

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2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 6: Cancelled

01/08/2017 @ 1:23 am, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Weather has been pounding drought-stricken Bolivia recently, adding a further difficulty to the 2017 Dakar Rally. After seeing Stage 5 shortened because of the weather, Stage 6 was cancelled outright.

The ASO issued the following statement about the cancellation: “Considering the extreme climatic conditions and that some drivers are still on the stage course, considering that is impossible to bring the vehicles of all participants back to the bivouac and prepare the next stage in the best conditions, and considering that people of the organisation in charge of the reco of tomorrow’s stage course informed that the road is unpracticable, the 6th stage (ORURO-LA PAZ) has been cancelled.”

Stage 6 was supposed to be the longest day for Dakar competitors, with a planned 527km timed special section. That’s obviously no longer the case, with teams instead traveling by road via the liaison route – effectively giving Dakar racers the weekend off, with Sunday already scheduled to be a break from competition.

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2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 5: Short, But Not So Sweet

01/06/2017 @ 11:53 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Stage 5 of the 2017 Dakar Rally was billed as another brutal challenge for the competitors still remaining. The high-altitude terrain of Bolivia certainly lived up to that expectation, but today’s special was cut in half, with severe weather interrupting the day’s gauntlet.

As such, only 219km of the planned 447km special were ridden, but that “short” distance was enough to once again upheave the overall standings, with several riders losing time from navigational errors and penalties.

Sam Sunderland took the top honors for the day, breathing hope back into KTM’s 2017 Dakar Rally. Sunderland’s victory may have only been by seven minutes, but the gaps were with the right people, as he now stands 20 minutes ahead of Pablo Quintanilla – the previous overall leader.

Quintanilla finished the stage in seventh, losing some time on a navigational error out of a river bed. The Chilean’s conservative approach perhaps did him well though, as his fellow Husqvarna teammate Pela Renet lost over 45 minutes looking for the waypoint around the 152km mark.

With less to lose, the Honda riders pushed hard in Stage 5, though it can’t be said that the results benefited from their gamble. Only Franco Caimi (Honda South America Rally Team) and Paulo Gonçalves (Monster Energy Honda Team), put a Honda in the Top 15 of the day’s rankings.

Gonçalves sits 10th overall for his efforts, one hour and eight minutes behind Sunderland, which could create some interesting “what if” thoughts for the HRC squad, after yesterday’s one-hour time penalties for fueling in a prohibited zone.

Not much has been said this year about the Yamaha Racing effort, but Stage 5 saw a strong performance from Adrien van Beveren, who finished third for the day and seized the same position overall. At just 16 minutes back in the overall standings, Van Beveren is very much in the hunt for this year’s Dakar.

Yamaha’s Xaiver de Soultrait is also in the hunt, sitting 36 minutes back in sixth place. With two KTMs, two Yamahas, and a Husqvarna all with a reasonable hand on the winner’s trophy still, this is certainly shaping up to be an interesting Dakar Rally.

Tomorrow sees the circus traveling the capital city of La Paz. With 527km of special planned, we expect to see more shuffling of the leaderboard.

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2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 4: Chaos Ensues

01/06/2017 @ 3:31 am, by Jensen Beeler4 COMMENTS

Absolute chaos is the best way to explain Stage 4 of the 2017 Dakar Rally, as the day held surprises for more than a few of the event’s top names.

You may have already heard that KTM’s Toby Price broke his femur, crashing only a few kilometers from the end of the timed special stage. His Dakar is over, and KTM’s winning streak is certainly in danger.

It would be more so in danger though, if the Honda riders weren’t levied with a one-hour time penalty for fueling in a prohibited zone – a move that saw Joan Barreda bumped out of a comfortable lead, and relegated to seventh in the overall standings – 40 minutes back.

As such, Pablo Quintanilla and his Husqvarna technically lead the overall standings, followed by Walkner and three other KTM riders. With this time penalty, it seems very unlikely that the Honda riders will be able to regain their lost positions, though Honda is expected to appeal the ASO’s decision.

As if that entire scenario couldn’t get any weirder, there was still the 416km of timed course for the riders to contend with, including the first set of dunes so far in the 2017 Dakar Rally. With fesh-fesh and plenty of navigational challenges, all at high altitude (3,000 to 4,000 meters), Stage 4 was the mother of all stages.

The challenges only continue with Stage 5, which is set again to be full of navigational challenges, high altitude, and tough terrain.

We would like to give a special shout out to Ivan Jakeš, who was struck by lightning while racing today, and still managed to finish the stage.

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2017 Dakar Rally – Stage 3: Barreda Rises to the Top

01/04/2017 @ 11:54 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

Stage 3 for the 2017 Dakar Rally was a beast – especially in the first 70 km- as temperatures ranged from scorching hot to freezing cold; the climate changed from dry desert to patches of mountain rain; and the day saw nearly 4,000 meters of elevation. So, it shouldn’t surprise to see a shake-up on the leaderboard.

As such, Joan Barreda and his Honda are now the combo to beat in this year’s Dakar Rally, the Spaniard pulling out a solid 10-minute gap on his nearest competitor, who is now KTM’s Sam Sunderland.

Navigation was crucial in today’s two-part 364km special, with the terrain offering a bevy of challenges, including the dreaded fesh-fesh.

Where is Toby Price you might be asking? After a mistake during the very difficult first waypoint of the timed section, Price finds himself down in fifth place, over 16 minutes back from Barreda overall.

Stage 3 was also tough on the factory Yamaha team, with Xaiver de Soultrait slipping out of the Top 5, all the way down to 13th overall, after making a series of costly mistakes early in the special.

Conversely, the day was slightly better for the factory Husqvarna riders, with Pablo Quintanilla making some mistakes, but still seeing his name rise in the rankings. He’s just over a minute outside of the Top 3 now.

Tomorrow sees the Dakar Rally entering Bolivia, with high-altitude sand dunes and plenty of over challenges awaiting them. Still, none of the top riders are out of contention for ultimate victory, but they have a tough road to redemption.

However, Joan Barreda must surely be enjoying the padding he’s just given himself. The test, of course, is to minimize mistakes, and more important nurture his machine all the way to the finish line in Buenos Aires in ten days’ time.

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2016 Dakar Rally – Stage 13: Toby Price Triumphs

01/16/2016 @ 4:31 pm, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

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They call it the hardest motorcycle race in the world, and for good reason. The 13-day trial that is the Dakar Rally sees competitors racing against each other, racing against the clock, racing against the terrain, the rain, the heat, and even racing against themselves, as they test the limits of their bodies.

It shouldn’t surprise us then to see the number of top-level competitors whose 2016 Dakar Rally ended before the finish line in Rosario, and it also shouldn’t surprise us that even those who finished the race considered today a victory, no matter where they landed on the results sheet.

That being said, no one is celebrating harder than KTM’s Toby Price, who clinched his first Dakar Rally win today, on only his second Dakar participation.

“Winning in my second participation is awesome, but being the first Australian to win the Dakar is just insane. I would’ve never imagined this two years ago. Finishing the rally is already a triumph. Winning it is amazing! I tackled the race in true Aussie style,” said Price.

“I attacked when I had to, when the time was right, and I kept an eye on my bike during the all-important marathon stages. I also navigated quite well. I hope this is just the start, to win again. It won’t be easy, so I’ve got to savour this victory.”

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2016 Dakar Rally – Stage 12: Yamaha Takes the Day

01/16/2016 @ 1:37 am, by Jensen Beeler2 COMMENTS

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The Penultimate stage of the 2016 Dakar Rally, Stage 12 also happened to be the rally’s longest stage – 931km overall, with a 481km timed special. With most riders now saving their bikes, in order to ensure a finish tomorrow, only a few pushed hard on the way from San Juan to Villa Carlos Paz.

One of those riders pushing for victory was Helder Rodrigues, who finally put Yamaha Racing on the charts with a strong result. For his efforts, Rodrigues is now only four minutes away from securing a podium finish for Yamaha and himself, battling closely with Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla (3rd) and Honda South America Rally Team’s Kevin Benavides (4th).

“Today was a good day for me and for the whole Yamaha crew. It was a difficult stage but I felt it was the moment to attack and finally I managed to win! What is great is that I climbed up in a good position to fight for a podium tomorrow,” said Rodrigues.

“I will stay focused until I cross the finish line but, for sure, I will push even more for the last stage. The WR450F Rally is really a good bike; on a rally as the Dakar, a machine that lasts the distance makes a big difference. Yamaha’s crew did a good job on this competition, day after day; I had great pleasure working with them.”

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Stage 11 of the 2016 Dakar Rally proved to have more drama, despite KTM’s Toby Price extending his overall lead. The big news though was Honda’s Paulo Gonçalves crashing out, 118km into the timed section of the stage.

Trying to make up time to the front-runners, Gonçalves’s crash was pretty severe, and he had to be airlifted to a hospital in San Juan for his concussion. Thankfully though, doctors in San Juan determined that beyond the concussion, Gonçalves had no other major injuries.

“Today my participation in the Dakar 2016 came to an end in the worst way. It appears that I had a heavy fall, but I can’t remember what happened. I was told that I arrived on the bike to an area where there were spectators and ambulances,” said Gonçalves.

“It’s a Dakar that finishes for me in the worst way. It is a shame because the team really deserved much more. The competition is that hard and the last few days hadn’t been going that well. But we have to keep going and think that soon we will be back in competition.”

Honda’s hopes for the 2016 Dakar Rally now rest on the shoulders of American and Dakar rookie, Ricky Brabec – who is almost an hour back from overall leader Toby Price.

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