KTM’s Counter-Rotating MotoGP Engine Debuts at Brno

Ever since Jerez, when the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team debuted a new engine with a counter-rotating crankshaft, fans and journalists have been asking when factory riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith would be able to use the new engine on a race weekend. KTM test rider Mika Kallio had been very positive about the engine during the Jerez weekend, and Smith and Espargaro had spoken in glowing terms about it after the Jerez test. KTM’s response was always that it would not be ready until at least after the summer break. Reversing the direction of crankshaft rotation is not as simple as sticking an intermediate gear between the crank and the clutch, to allow the crank to spin in the opposite direction while maintaining forward thrust.

Retro Livery Pops on the Suzuki GSX-R1000R Superbike

We are big fans of the creations that Team Classic Suzuki has been churning out. Stop what you’re doing right now, look at this Katana race bike, and try to disagree with our enthusiasm. It cannot be done. Taking their touch to the current Suzuki GSX-R1000R superbike, we see what this tire-shredder would look like in a retro-mod livery that is inspired by the bodywork found on the original GSX-R750. So far it sounds like the bike is a one-off, done by our friends across the pond, but we think Suzuki should seriously consider some throwback paint schemes in its lineup. Until then, items of note include a number of tasty Giles-made bits, straight from the Suzuki performance catalog, otherwise the bike shown here is pretty much stock.

BMW Plans To Launch Nine New Motorcycles

It might be still be summer, but our eyes are looking ahead to the new bike season in the fall and winter, where the major motorcycle manufacturers will debut their new motorcycles for the future. The big trade shows to watch are INTERMOT and EICMA, as these have traditionally been the venues of choice for new model unveils, prototype teasers, and concept debuts. One brand that is certainly going to be showing us some new motorcycles is BMW Motorrad, with the German company saying that it plans to launch nine new models in 2018. What those nine models will be is up for conjecture, though we have some good ideas, and some bad ideas, on what they could be. Let’s take a look.

Up-Close with the 2018 Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000R Suzuka 8-Hours Race Bike

In all our coverage of the 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race, the name Suzuki has woefully not been in much of the conversation. This isn’t to say that the brand from Hamamatsu wasn’t present at this prestigious event, but its level of involvement and readiness certainly wasn’t on par with the other three Japanese brands. Fielding the Yoshimura Suzuki factory-backed team yet again, this year saw a big milestone take place, as Suzuki’s endurance efforts are now being conducted on the current-generation superbike. This has caused some issues in the paddock, most notably in the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), which is Suzuki’s factory-backed team in the FIM World Endurance Championship.

Up-Close with the Kawasaki Team Green Suzuka Bike

The race-winner that could have been. Kawasaki Team Green was the Suzuka 8-Hours favorite coming out of Saturday’s Top 10 qualifying session, and the factory-backed Kawasaki team traded corners with Yamaha during the opening laps of Sunday’s endurance race. What looked like an upset in the making, turned out to be a fizzle, largely because of a poor fueling and pit stop strategy, which saw Jonathan Rea first run out of gas, and then stay out on slicks during a rain storm. As he tumbled down the asphalt, you have to wonder if the World Superbike champion saw his Suzuka fortunes tumbling with him.

Up-Close with the Suzuka-Winning Yamaha YZF-R1

This is it. This is the biggest, baddest, meanest superbike on the Suzuka 8-Hours grid. Setting the high-water mark in Japan FOUR YEARS IN A ROW now, the Yamaha YZF-R1 from the Yamaha Factory Racing Team is the pinnacle of the sport. And while the Yamaha YZF-R1 is a motorcycle that you can pick up at any dealership in the United States (so long as it isn’t for a Superbike Deathmatch), the machine on the Suzuka Circuit this past weekend is anything but ordinary. I sent our man Steve English down to the pits to get some shots of this mysterious machine, and the Japanese team was being “very Japanese” about letting us taking photos, as Steve puts it. That didn’t stop us from getting some photos though. Go ahead, go get a towel before you continue further. We’ll wait.

Harley-Davidson Outlines Its Future Electric Lineup

The biggest announcement from Harley-Davidson today wasn’t its adventure-touring motorcycle (though it looks interesting), and it wasn’t its new Streetfighter or Custom models either (one of these I like, the other not so much). The big news wasn’t the Livewire getting closer to production, though that is close to the mark, and where this story is ultimately headed. All of these announcement would have been worthy of their own day in the press cycle, but the real news from the Bar & Shield brand is a look at Harley-Davidson’s upcoming electric lineup, which is coming across as very robust, and shows a decisive plan for the future. I never thought I would see the day, but here it is. Harley-Davidson is going electric, in a big way.

Harley-Davidson Livewire Gets Closer to Production Form

Harley-Davidson made a big push today, showing a number of bikes and concepts that it plans to bring to market by 2022. All of them were a big surprise, but one of them we already knew about: the Harley-Davidson Livewire. While not as big of a shock as the adventure-touring Pan America concept, or the Harley-Davidson Streetfighter or Custom models (to say the least about its upcoming electric lineup), Harley-Davidson has given us something to talk about with this electric power cruiser. Namely, the Harley-Davidson Livewire looks ready in production and in form, even though its official debut is still a year away. Since we first saw the Livewire concept (below), a number of things have changed for the production model.

MV Agusta’s Moto2 Race Bike Predictably Looks Awesome

After a 42-year hiatus, MV Agusta is returning to the Grand Prix Championship. This iconic Italian motorcycle brand will not be competing in MotoGP however, and instead MV Agusta will make its return in the Moto2 category. Partnering with the Forward Racing team, MV Agusta aims to take advantage of the rule changes for the 2019 season, which will see a 765cc Triumph three-cylinder engine replacing the 600cc Honda four-cylinder engine that is currently in use. This change in the spec-engine rule will likely upheave the Moto2 Championship, and MV Agusta wants to be part of that sea change. As such, the bike you see in the photos here will be the machine that launches MV Agusta’s assault on the GP paddock.

The Harley-Davidson “Custom” Is the First Cruiser We Like

In case you missed the new, Harley-Davidson dropped a number of new model concepts on us today, all which are to go into production by the 2022 model year. We have already shown you the ADV concept, as well as the Streetfighter concept. There are a bevy of electric bikes to see as well, along with an e-bike program, but right now we want to focus your attention on the Harley-Davidson Custom, a modern take on the Sportster platform. It might be the first cruiser that we have actually lusted over. For the loyal Asphalt & Rubber readers on this page, that statement should certainly say something about how much we are digging this potent v-twin concept. Using the 1,250cc version of Harley-Davidson’s new modular engine, the Custom takes a number of cues from Harley-Davidsons of the past and future.

The Monday test at Barcelona felt like a proper test. Normally, such tests descend into a simple shoot out in the last fifteen minutes, frail egos demanding to finish fastest, especially when only pride is at stake.

But perhaps the Barcelona race had taken a little too much out of the protagonists, or the hot and humid conditions were simply not conducive to spend even more energy risking everything for pointless pride, or perhaps the riders realize that the season is now so tightly packed with no summer break that they cannot risk injury when it doesn’t count. Whatever the reason, at the test, people concentrated on testing.

Not that the riders or teams were particularly forthcoming about what exactly they were testing. Some were more open than others: Suzuki said they were testing a new swingarm, and engine update, and retesting the new chassis they have been using since Mugello.

Danilo Petrucci tested a new exhaust, a new gearbox, and a new swingarm, which he promptly broke by taking it for a tumble through the gravel.

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Once upon a time, a post-race test would see almost a full complement of riders taking part. But in the past couple of years that has changed, as spec software has meant fewer things to do.

The spec software, the engine freeze, the aerodynamics freeze: there is less to test, and so more factories are opting out of the one-day post-race tests.

So it was at Jerez on Monday that the factory Ducati riders, the Ecstar Suzuki team, and the Gresini Aprilia squad all decided to skip the test at Jerez in favor of some private testing at Mugello later in the week.

Behind closed doors, they can work a little more freely, away from the prying eyes of the press, and especially of a contingent of photographers.

There are other reasons to be wary of a post-race test. The track is in as good a condition as it is going to get on the Monday after a race. It has been swept clean by a weekend of racing, and the last class to smear its rubber all over the track is MotoGP.

So the bikes are treated to a clean, well rubbered in circuit, allowing lap times to drop. The average improvement between the race and the test was nearly 1.3 seconds a lap.

About half the 16 permanent riders who took to the track on Monday improved their times from qualifying. It is fair to say that Monday tests can be deceptive.

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MotoGP Teams Finish Private Test at Jerez

03/29/2018 @ 8:55 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The importance of a private test can sometimes be measured by the lack of news emerging from the track. For the past three days, the Jerez circuit has resounded to the bellow of MotoGP and WorldSBK machines, as Honda, Ducati, Aprilia, and KTM have shared the track.

Yet other than a couple of social media posts on Twitter and Instagram, there was next to no news from the test. The only official source was a brief news item on the official website of the Jerez circuit.

Despite that, it was an important test for the factories involved.

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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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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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Preview of the MotoGP Test at Qatar

03/01/2018 @ 11:58 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The last test of the preseason is something of a moment of truth for the MotoGP factories. From the tropical heat of Malaysia and Thailand, the paddock heads to the Arabian peninsula, and cool desert evenings of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Air temperatures start in the mid 20s°C rather than the mid 30s°C, and drop into the high teens heading into the evening. That temperature difference means that air density is a couple of percent higher at Qatar. That in turn means more oxygen going into the engine, and better combustion efficiency.

Translating all that from vague engineering platitudes into real-world racing, colder air means more power all the way through the rev range. Engines run better, pick up more aggressively, and pull harder flat out in the cool Qatari evenings than in Sepang’s punishing tropical heat.

An engine that seemed docile in Sepang suddenly feels aggressive at Losail. An engine which was just about manageable in Thailand is a barely controllable beast in Qatar.

And with just two weeks to go before the start of the 2018 MotoGP season, it’s too late to fix the problem. Riders are left wrestling a wild bull for the rest of the year.

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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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The MotoGP riders have had their first laps of the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, and the reviews are in. Simple to learn, but more fun than it looks on paper, is the short version.

“The layout, I remembered it was more similar to Austria, so I was very worried,” Valentino Rossi said, summing up the general feeling. “But when you ride maybe it is more similar to Argentina. It’s good to ride, you have a good feeling, you enjoy. The track is not very difficult but anyway it’s fun.”

It was a change from what he had said at Sepang, when the Italian dismissed the Buriram circuit as “boring”. “I rode the track in 2015 with a Yamaha 300 together with [Jorge] Lorenzo and [Pol] Espargaro,” Rossi explained. “I remember that the track was similar to Austria. But in reality it’s better, have good corners. Technically it’s quite easy, but it’s not boring.”

On a side note, Rossi ended the day in eighth, less than four tenths behind the fastest man Cal Crutchlow. He finished three place and a tenth of a second ahead of his young teammate Maverick Viñales, the rider who was prematurely anointed world champion after preseason testing in 2017.

Friday was Rossi’s thirty-ninth birthday, and the start of his twenty-third season in Grand Prix racing, and nineteenth season in the premier class.

To still be racing at his age and after so many years is a remarkable enough achievement. To start the season as a legitimate championship contender – or perhaps, to still have the desire, the discipline, the ambition to do what it takes to start the season as a legitimate championship contender – is truly the mark of his greatness.

When Valentino Rossi retires (not yet, he looks certain to sign on for two more years) he will be remembered for his titles.

But to my mind, what marks him out above all other riders is the fact he is still competitive even now, when so many others have (understandably) given up on the hard physical and mental slog that racing at the very highest level demands.

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