“Ducati 959 Panigale Corse” Spotted in CARB Docs

If you dumpster dive through filings with the California Air Resources Board, you will find that Ducati has a new variant of its “middleweight” superbike ready for us, as the paperwork reveals a Ducati 959 Panigale Corse is on the way for the 2018 model year. The Ducati 959 Panigale Corse has the same emission figures, and is on the same filing as the current Ducati 959 Panigale, so we don’t expect any radical mechanical differences between the two motorcycles. But, looking at Ducati’s past with “Corse” models, there are a few pieces of information that we can glean from the news. The first piece of information is pretty obvious: the Ducati 959 Panigale Corse will be a special edition version of the 955cc sport bike, likely fitted with special parts (suspension, brakes, electronics) and a unique livery (bold new graphics).

Ducati Debuts New Aero “Hammerhead” Fairing at Brno

Ducati Corse has returned to using aerodynamic fairings, after packing up its “Hammerhead” design (as fans like to call it, Ducati not so much) at the preseason Qatar Test. As such, fans at the Czech GP were treated to the debut of a new fairing design at Brno. Featuring on the Desmosedici GP of Jorge Lorenzo during free practice, the new aerodynamic fairing design is an evolution of Ducati’s original winglet shape and its preseason attempt at replicating the winglets efficacy, while still adhering to the set of rules in MotoGP, which ban winglets. While the Hammerhead debuted to disappointing results, and thus has left Ducati Corse without an aerodynamic fairing so far this season, the new fairing design appears to be getting the nod from Lorenzo.

BMW HP4 Race Engine Life Set at 5,000km

If you’re in the market for a BMW HP4 Race – the carbon fiber clad superbike from Bavaria – the $78,000 price tag might not be all that you’re spending on, as BMW Motorrad has a few items in the fine print that you might want to be aware of – the first being the engine life. According to documents sent to BMW Motorrad dealers in the United States, the 212hp inline-four engine for the BMW HP4 Race comes with an expiration point of 5,000km (roughly 3,100 miles), at which point the entire engine will have to be replaced. There is no word yet what a new HP4 Race engine from BMW Motorrad will cost, but we do know that it will come from the factory with performance certification and already broken-in for immediate use.

Check Out This Aprilia RSV4-Powered Race Car

If you are in the market for a track-only race car, might we suggest the Griip G1. Though featuring double the wheels that we’re used to, this carbon fiber clad Formula 1000 cart is powered by a very familiar power plant: the Aprilia RSV4 superbike’s V4 engine. The RSV4 engine on the Griip G1 remains fairly stock, though it uses a drive shaft, instead of a chain drive, as it would on a motorcycles. As such, it makes roughly 201hp in this form, though the real value of the Griip G1 is the weight of the vehicle, which tips the scales at 860 lbs wet and fully fueled. Designed in Israel, and built in Italy, the Griip G1 will set you back a cool €52,900 if you are interested in owning one. To frame the figure on that price tag, the cost of a G1 is about the cost of three Aprilia RSV4 RR superbikes, over in Europe.

Bonnier Closes Sport Rider Magazine

It has been speculated in the motorcycle community for quite some time now, and the day has finally come, as the Bonnier Motorcycle Group (BMG) announced today that it is ceasing production of Sport Rider Magazine. The news about Sport Rider comes wedged into a larger announcement, which involves BMG restructuring its motorcycle publishing and sales departments “in order to deliver more specialized content and provide better solutions for the motorcycle industry to engage with enthusiasts.” There is a lot to be said with how Bonnier is “restructuring” media, marketing, and editorial amongst its brands – perhaps better left for an article of its own – but the big shock today is how the closure of Sport Rider ends a 25-year tradition of covering the sport bike market in the United States.

Ducati V4 Superbike to Debut in September?

Italian media is reporting an invitation to a Ducati event at the Misano circuit, the Thursday before the MotoGP race weekend held on the Adriatic Coast. The event has surely something to do with Ducati’s new V4 superbike, with Ducati claiming it will be “the sound of a new era” for the Italian manufacturer. That sound surely will be of the new V4 powerplant, which will not only replace the company’s iconic v-twin superbike lineup, but also power future large-displacement sport bikes from Ducati – something Claudio Domenicali told A&R at the Ducati 1299 Panigale R Final Edition launch. What we will see at Misano is up for speculation, however. A strong guess would be that Ducati only unveils its 90° V4 engine, teasing for us the interesting technical bits that Domenicali hinted at during the Laguna Seca WorldSBK weekend.

Lucky Strike Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro by MotoCorsa

Though it is known better for its exploits on race tracks, many two-wheeled enthusiasts should know that Ducati’s history extends well into the sand dunes of the Dakar Rally. Nestled in the Ducati Museum in Borgo Panigale, there is proof of Ducati’s racing history in the Dakar Rally. And while the bike says “Cagiva” on the outside, it was an air-cooled Ducati engine that powered Edi Orioli and his Elefant to two Dakar Rally wins. That machine was painted in one of the most iconic paint schemes ever to grace a racing motorcycle: the Lucky Strike cigarette company’s red, white, black, and gold livery. So, to pay homage to Ducati’s off-road racing history, the folks at the MotoCorsa Ducati dealership have taken the Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro and linked it to its racing pedigree, creating a unique motorcycle in the process.

Speed vs. Stamina, For 220 Laps at the Suzuka 8-Hours

The day is done and the battle is won. Yamaha claimed its third-consecutive Suzuka 8-Hours on Sunday. The victory put a stamp on their dominance of the one race each year that the Japanese manufacturers place more emphasis on than any other. As such, Asphalt & Rubber takes a look at the winning machine, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team’s YZF-R1. It’s often said that endurance racing is the last bastion of design and technological freedom in motorsport. Whether it was Audi’s decision to use a diesel engine on four wheels, or the current breed of two-wheeled endurance bike, i i’s clear that there is plenty of innovation on the grid.

Carbon Fiber BMW HP4 Race Priced at $78,000 for USA

Before the machine officially debuted in China, we got our first taste of the carbon-clad BMW HP4 Race at the 2016 EICMA Show in Milan. At that time, all we knew about this track-only motorcycle was that it would be built in limited quantities, and thus would not be cheap. In China, we learned that pricing across “the pond” had been set at £68,000 / €80,000 for the UK and EU markets, respectively. And now, we finally get word regarding how much the BMW HP4 Race will cost American buyers, as BMW Motorrad USA has set an asking price of $78,000. Only 750 units will be made worldwide, so it’s hard to say how many will even make the trip to the United States, but for that price tag you get quite the machine.

Volkswagen Lacks the Votes to Sell Ducati

The hits keep on coming, in terms of Volkswagen’s plans (or non-plans) to sell its Italian motorcycle manufacturer, Ducati Motor Holding. According to the latest report from Reuters, the votes are lacking on supervisory board for Volkswagen, when it comes to selling Ducati and transmission-maker Renk. The lack of votes at the Volkswagen board isn’t a new problem, of course, with the German company’s labor unions accounting for half of the board seats, and reportedly very unenthusiastic about selling either brand. “The employee representatives on Volkswagen’s supervisory board will neither approve a sale of Ducati, nor one of Renk or MAN Diesel & Turbo,” a spokesman for VW group’s works council told Reuters this past weekend.

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!

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MotoGP Mid-Season Review – A Wild Ride So Far

08/01/2017 @ 10:09 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Can part two of the (melo)drama that is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started.

Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between, a point behind Viñales.

If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.

So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture.

At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers.

In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.

Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016.

But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next.

Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.

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Some Leftover MotoGP Notes from the German GP

07/05/2017 @ 10:23 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

Every race weekend, there are dozens of things I either miss, or don’t have time to write about. Here’s what I missed from the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:

About Those Chassis

Since the Barcelona test, the paddock has been awash with gossip about Yamaha chassis. Valentino Rossi was particularly enamored of one of the chassis tested at Barcelona, though his teammate Maverick Viñales appeared to be a lot less enthralled by it. At Assen and the Sachsenring, both riders had one each of the “new” chassis and one of the “old” chassis.

The new chassis is said to be a development of the chassis used last year – some even say last year’s chassis – which was itself a slight revision of the 2015 chassis. The “old” chassis was a new chassis based on the chassis used last year, meant to save the rear tire, but sacrificing corner entry as a result.

Valentino Rossi was constantly clear about which chassis he favored, and which chassis he used. Yet Viñales consistently refused to answer questions on the subject, claiming he had been banned from doing so by Yamaha. So how can one rider answer and the other refuse?

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Are Michelin deciding the 2017 MotoGP championship? That would be an easy conclusion to draw after the war of attrition which the Gran Premi de Catalunya at Barcelona turned into. It would also be inaccurate.

This race, like the race at Jerez, was about managing tires in poor grip conditions, with the added complication in Barcelona of extremely high tire wear. The riders and bikes which managed that best ended up at the top of the results sheet. The bikes and riders which struggled with that went backwards, and lost out.

And yet Michelin undeniably has a role in all this. After the race, Honda boss Livio Suppo pointed out that we were seeing different manufacturers do well at each different race.

The pendulum swings between one and another, as a particular team or a particular factory hits the performance sweet spot for the tires, and gets the most out of them. At the next race, it’s a different rider, a different bike, a different team.

The criticism Suppo had was that the sweet spot for the tires could be hard to find. “The tires seem to have a very narrow operating window. If you get it right, you can be competitive,” he told me.

If you didn’t get it right, if you couldn’t find that operating window, you are in deep trouble. “Maybe it would be better if that window was bigger.”

That may be true. When Bridgestone were official tire supplier to MotoGP, their tires had a much wider operating window. But that tended to reward the teams with the biggest budgets to spend the most time analyzing data, finding the perfect setup, and the riders who could ride with inch-perfect precision for 25 laps.

That left little room for improvisation, for adapting to circumstances, for the element of surprise. Whether you prefer the Bridgestone way, rewarding relentless precision, or the Michelin way, rewarding the ability to adapt quickly, is probably a factor of where you as a fan fall on the Motorcycle Racing Purist Scale.

However you feel about it, though, the racing in the Michelin era is undeniably more entertaining.

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Sunday at Barcelona is going to be a war of attrition. Everything is conspiring against the riders, and most especially the tires.

Temperatures are expected to rise even higher than they were on Saturday, when air temperatures hit over 32°C, and track temperatures climbed to 55°C and above.

Those are punishing temperatures in which to race a MotoGP bike, especially at Montmelo, where the heat gets trapped in the bowl of hills which holds the circuit.

Then there’s the tires. There is much complaining about the lack of grip and the fact that grip drops off a cliff after seven or eight laps.

It would be more accurate to blame that on the track, though: the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has not been resurfaced in twelve or thirteen years, and is very heavily used, both by bikes and by cars.

That has created a surface which is both too smooth to provide grip, while simultaneously being incredibly abrasive.

That sounds contradictory, so when Michelin boss Nicolas Goubert spoke to a group of journalists on Friday night, I asked him to explain. The Frenchman explained that grip and abrasiveness came from two different parts of the surface.

Asphalt (or rather, a road or racing surface) consists two parts: binder and aggregate. Aggregate is basically small stones, specially selected for size and shape. Binder is usually a special formulation of bitumen, often containing other ingredients.

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There are a lot of reasons to visit Barcelona. It is one of the greatest cities in the world, a triumph of the architectural movement known as Modernisme, a vibrant center of culture, a place where you can eat, drink, and sleep well, after a day spent gazing mouth agape at some of the most remarkable buildings created by human hands, and human minds.

Once upon a time, the Montmelo circuit was also a good reason to visit the city. A track full of fast, sweeping corners challenging riders and bikes in equal measure.

That was before the aging asphalt turned the track greasy in the summer heat, and the repeated abuse from fat F1 tires left the surface rippled and bumpy, cracked and patched.

Tragedy struck with the death of Luis Salom – probably the victim of a wayward bump sending him flying towards a patch of gravel-free run off – and the Safety Commission (consisting of MotoGP riders, Dorna, and the FIM) decided to neuter the second half of the track, removing one of the fastest and most furious final sections on the calendar. There is little left to love about Montmelo.

I asked several riders whether it would be possible to race in Montmelo next year if the track had not been resurfaced. The response was unanimous. “No.”

Worse than that, Bradley Smith explained how the Safety Commission had grown impatient with the circuit, which has been singularly unresponsive to their requests to adapt the track to make it safer. Hopefully, MotoGP would not return, Smith told us bluntly.

“That’s finally what it comes down to. This is the only track on the calendar that’s not actually reacting to Safety Commission / rider / organizer’s requests. So at some point, you have to give them an ultimatum, and I think that this is the last year that they’ll be in that situation. We have enough people that want us to go race there, we don’t have to come here.”

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Last year, at Jerez or thereabouts, I had a chat with Livio Suppo about the insanely early start to MotoGP’s Silly Season that year.

Suppo bemoaned the fact that so many riders were switching factories so early, with contracts signed as early as Qatar (in the case of Bradley Smith and Valentino Rossi), and the ensuing hullabaloo surrounding Jorge Lorenzo, and whence he was bound.

“Normally, we start talking after a few races, in Mugello or so,” Suppo said. “You want a few races to see how strong a rider is.”

While last year’s Silly Season was nearing its close at Mugello last year, it seems that 2017 is taking a slightly more normal trajectory. This year, Mugello may have seen the early conversations, which kick off the period where riders discuss their future options.

And Barcelona was the first race where they started to discuss – or more accurately, hint at – those options publicly.

Why is this year’s Silly Season so much later (or so much more normal) than last year’s? Put simply, it’s because last year, every single factory rider was out of contract, and every factory seat was up for grabs.

This year, all the factory seats are still taken for 2018 (or at least, unless a factory boss decides that one of their riders is grossly underperforming), and there are only the satellite bikes at stake.

Fewer seats are available, and those which are available have less money attached, and less chance of competing for podiums and victories. All that combined leads to a lower sense of urgency when it comes to negotiations.

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MotoGP Preview of the Catalan GP

06/08/2017 @ 12:40 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

From Mugello to Barcelona, with, in most cases, nary a chance in between to head home and wash your smalls. It used to be that the trip from Mugello to Barcelona was a chance to see MotoGP race back-to-back at two of the great motorcycle racing circuits.

Now, it’s one and a half great circuits, with a nadgery little section tagged on at the end to slow everything down. Or as Marc Márquez described it in Mugello, “You arrive [at Montmelo] and you know that it’s kind of two different tracks: the first part is really fast and wide, the last part tight and slow.”

What was a temporary fix to solve the immediate issues exposed by the tragic death of Luis Salom last year – one year on, the paddock will doubtless be full of memorials to the bright young Spaniard – has been turned into a rather horrible bodge job.

The fast sweeper of Turn 12, where Salom fell and found himself on an unexpected trajectory across asphalt, and not gravel which would have slowed him down, is replaced by an even tighter and shorter chicane than last year, made so because of the proximity of the walls on the inside of the F1 chicane used last year.

It is a tragedy – I use that word advisedly, as it cannot compare with the loss of a young man’s life – to sacrifice one of the great sections of a motorcycling track.

But it is also an inevitable consequence of Grand Prix motorcycles getting ever faster, being able to brake later, carry more corner speed. The progress in motorcycle development is pushing their performance beyond the capacity of race tracks to safely host that performance.

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MotoGP Preview of the Italian GP

06/01/2017 @ 2:05 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

There are a lot of reasons to love Mugello. First, there is the setting: a dramatic backdrop of Tuscan peaks and dales. A place so fecund you need only stretch out your arm to grasp the riches of the earth: nuts, fruit, wild mushrooms, stag and boar.

To the south, Florence, one of the marvels of the Renaissance and a city so beautiful it breaks your heart to look upon it alone. At every bend in the road on the way to the circuit, the view takes your breath away. And there are a lot of bends. Hypoxia is a real concern.

Then there’s the track itself. It snakes across the landscape like a discarded shoelace, a thin filament of tarmac hugging the hillsides of the valley into which the track is wedged.

It has everything a motorcycle track needs to make it truly majestic: long, fast corners like the Arrabbiatas; fast combinations like Casanova/Savelli or Scarperia/Palagio; a terrifyingly fast front straight where the braking point is blind; and a corner where front brakes and front tires are tortured, as riders dump their speed into San Donato.

No pass at Mugello is ever a done deal, there is always an opportunity to counterattack. No bike has outright superiority at the track, for the nature of motorcycle dynamics is compromise, and each manufacturer chooses to make their compromises in different areas.

Mugello rewards only perfection, and perfection is almost impossible to sustain for 23 laps at such blistering speeds.

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It has been a tough weekend for a lot of people at Le Mans. The weather has done just about everything to confound and perplex the riders, conditions changing every session.

Friday went from wettish to very wet, Saturday went from drying to almost completely dry. There hasn’t been a single session of stable weather with a consistent and unchanging track.

That has caused a lot of problems, especially in MotoGP, shaking up the qualifying system based around the combined times through all three free practice sessions. For the fans, though, it’s been fantastic, producing two of the most exciting qualifying sessions we have seen for a while.

Tricky conditions in free practice put Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and local hero Johann Zarco into Q1, producing fireworks in the battle for who gets through to Q2.

Then, in Q2, the battle happened all over again, this time in a straight up slugfest for the front row. That went right down to the wire, the first three safe only once the dust had settled.

The weather reignited the debate over MotoGP’s qualifying system, a common complaint among several riders, and also a regular topic at the Safety Commission, the meeting where riders and organizers gather to discuss how to make racing safer.

Andrea Dovizioso voiced the concern on Saturday, despite having made it through Q1 and into Q2. “It’s really stressful, these rules for everybody because every practice has to be a qualifying,” the Ducati rider said. “You have to be in the top 10 because the weather can change.”

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