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.

Wednesday MotoGP Summary at the Valencia Test

11/15/2017 @ 11:41 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The moment the bikes fell silent at Valencia, at 5pm on Wednesday, officially marked the end of the beginning. The 2018 season is now well underway, the initial outlines of next year’s bikes being revealed.

There is still a long way to go to Qatar, but the first step has been taken, the first few hundred terabytes of data downloaded to laptops and uploaded to factory servers for analysis.

The new season began in much the same vein as the old season ended: with Marc Márquez fastest, and on a tear.

The Repsol Honda rider was fastest on the second day of the test, and fastest overall, four tenths quicker than his teammate on Wednesday, and a tenth quicker than Maverick Viñales, who had topped the timesheets on Tuesday.

The timesheets had a familiar look to them. The top five overall consisted of the two Repsol Hondas and three Yamahas – the two Movistar factory bikes and Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 machine – followed by a couple of Ducatis, Jorge Lorenzo on the factory bike and Jack Miller on the Pramac machine.

Whether the timesheets will stay like that when Qatar rolls around is another question entirely.

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Paddock Pass Podcast #63 – Valencia GP

11/15/2017 @ 11:22 pm, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

Episode 63 of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees Steve English, David Emmett and Neil Morrison on the mics in Spain, as they cover the final race of the MotoGP Championship season – the Valencia GP.

Of course, a big portion of the show is about the race between Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso to win the championship. Both riders put in a masterclass season of racing, though only one could be crowned World Champion at the end of it.

It also goes without saying that the show covers the very obvious team orders that Ducati Corse issued to Jorge Lorenzo, both at Valencia but also at Sepang. Would that change the course of the championship? The guys seem to think not.

Conversation is also made about the rise of Johann Zarco, Yamaha’s troubles within its factory teams, some rumors for KTM’s future, and the progress made at Aprilia and Suzuki.

Naturally, the show ends with our hosts’ biggest winners and losers for the Valencia round. Another great show from the Paddock Pass Podcast crew, so 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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Tuesday MotoGP Summary at the Valencia Test

11/14/2017 @ 5:00 pm, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

The first day of 2018 raised more questions than answers. Two days after not featuring at all in the race, the Movistar Yamaha riders finished first and fourth.

A satellite Ducati – Jack Miller, on his first outing on the bike – was quicker than the factory riders. The only constants were Marc Márquez and Johann Zarco, who finished in exactly the same positions as they did on Sunday.

Confusion reigns at Yamaha, as they search for the cure to the problems which plagued them all through 2017. There were four bikes in Maverick Viñales’ garage, three in Valentino Rossi’s garage, and two different ones in Johann Zarco’s pit box.

They were testing all sorts of combinations of machinery: a 2016 bike with 2017 engine, and a full 2017 bike for Maverick Viñales; a 2016 bike with 2017 engine, a full 2017 bike, and a 2017 bike with a 2018 engine for Valentino Rossi; and a 2016 bike and a full 2017 bike for Johann Zarco.

The results? Pretty much identical, no matter what bike the riders were on. Viñales and Rossi were fastest on the 2016 bike, Zarco was fastest on the 2017 bike, and Rossi managed to throw the 2018-engined bike up the road after just two laps. The crash looked huge, but Rossi came away relatively unscathed.

The problem was entering a fast right corner with a new cold tire. “Turn ten,” Rossi explained. “Maybe a cold tire. I was already with two and a half laps so I push. I lost the front. I don’t know if I was a little bit off the line or it was cold.” Rossi may have been okay, but the bike was completely totaled.

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In a season which has been rammed to the rafters with drama, it is entirely appropriate that the final round of the year should be just as dramatic. It was partly to be expected, of course, with a championship at stake.

Sure, Marc Márquez entered the weekend with a nigh insurmountable 21-point lead. But he still had to finish at least eleventh or else hope that Andrea Dovizioso did not win the race.

Things were looking good after qualifying: Márquez would be starting from pole, while Dovizioso would have to line up on the third row of the grid.

Between the two, a host of fast rivals capable of getting in the way of Dovizioso’s charge to the front, and perhaps even depriving him of the race win by taking victory in their own right.

By the time the checkered flag fell at the end of the race, enough had happened to fill a Greek epic. Team orders and betrayal, crashes and near crashes, deceit and disguise, secret swapping of bikes, and a bunch or people finishing much higher than any had a right to expect.

An intriguing winner, a rider deprived of victory, and at last, a champion crowned. If the 17 races before Valencia had generated plenty to talk about, the final race of the year topped it all.

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Marc Marquez is the 2017 MotoGP World Champion

11/13/2017 @ 10:52 am, by Jensen BeelerADD COMMENTS

The 2017 MotoGP Championship has finally come to a close, and it took racing under the Valencian sun for us to crown a victor.

Though he was easily the pre-season favorite, this year was a long season for Marc Marquez to claim his sixth world championship, and his victory seemed far from certain as the races ticked by.

A DNF for three races this season, Marquez left the door open for a number of would-be usurpers, with Andrea Dovizioso rising to the top of that list. With the pair fighting head-to-head on a number of occasions, the Ducati rider put up a strong fight against the Spaniard.

Though Marquez’s three race scratches – one due to a mechanical failure – showed a return to his old ways of aggressive riding, when Marquez did finish a race, he was able to grab crucial points, with 12 podium finishes and 6 race wins.

This consistency was vital to his championship success, and it should be noted that he finished the season with the same number of points as last year’s more “conservative” championship bid.

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It is a quote I have used so often that it has become a cliché. When I asked the now sorely-missed Nicky Hayden what motivated him after a difficult day, he replied “That’s why we line up on Sunday; you never know what’s gonna happen.”

That is as true now as it was then, but you cannot escape the law of probabilities. Of course you never know what’s going to happen on any given Sunday. But if you want to hang on to your money, it is wise not to bet against the most likely course of events.

As of Saturday night, Andrea Dovizioso can still become 2017 MotoGP champion. But he trails Marc Márquez by 21 points in the championship. He has to win the race to even have a chance. Márquez has to finish no better than twelfth.

Dovizioso starts the race from ninth on the grid. Márquez starts from pole. And Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, and Johann Zarco all have (slightly) better race pace than Dovizioso.

The chances that Dovizioso becomes champion in this timeline are rather slim. Bookies have the odds of the Factory Ducati rider winning the 2017 title at 14/1.

They have Márquez at 1/50: even when interest rates are at a record low, you would make more money by putting your cash into a savings account rather than having a flutter on the Spaniard wrapping up his fourth MotoGP title on Sunday.

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A lot has to happen if Andrea Dovizioso wants to win the 2017 MotoGP championship at Valencia. What he doesn’t want to happen is for Marc Márquez to run away with the race. And so far on Friday, that’s exactly what looks like happening.

On the face of it, fifth in both FP1 and FP2 is not promising. But look at race pace, and it is clear that Márquez is in devastating form.

In FP1, Márquez used a single medium rear tire, and posted 11 laps of 1’31. No one else managed more than 3 laps at that pace.

In FP2, he again used just a single tire, putting 20 laps on a soft rear tire. He set his fastest lap – good enough for fifth in the session – on his final lap, with a tire that has two-thirds race distance on it. While everyone else was throwing extra tires in to secure passage straight to Q2, Márquez was not concerned.

His pace left him feeling positive. “Of course this gives me good confidence,” Márquez said. “But what is better is that we started the weekend in a good way. In FP1 I felt good with the bike. We are on Friday so we need to keep working and keep the same mentality and concentration.”

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In a sign of how difficult Yamaha’s 2017 season has been, they have a busy testing schedule ahead of them in the next few weeks. After the traditional two-day test at Valencia, both the Movistar Yamaha and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will be heading to Malaysia, for a private test at Sepang.

The testing schedule for Yamaha means that Michael van der Mark will not be taking part in the two-day test at Valencia. Yamaha needs the resources from the Tech 3 team to assist Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Johann Zarco get through their program.

“They have so much to test here that they need my team to help prepare everything,” Van der Mark told the media on Thursday.

The testing schedule and the decision to enlist the help of the Tech 3 team is a sign of how much work Yamaha fear they have ahead of them.

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MotoGP Preview of the Valencia GP

11/09/2017 @ 6:29 am, by David EmmettADD COMMENTS

For the fourth time in twelve years, Valencia will play host to a MotoGP title showdown. On Sunday, Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez will slug it out for who gets to call themselves the 2017 MotoGP champion.

If you want a detailed breakdown of who has to finish where to wrap up the championship, you can read our separate story here.

But it boils down to two simple premises: If Andrea Dovizioso doesn’t win the race, the title belongs to Márquez, but Márquez can put it out of reach of Dovizioso by finishing eleventh or better.

If you are staging a championship showdown, the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Cheste, near Valencia, is a fine venue to choose. Set in a natural bowl, the circuit owners have managed to snake 4km of asphalt into a confined space.

The upside to that is that spectators can see just about every part of the track from whichever stand they sit in. The furthest point of the track is at most a kilometer away, no matter where you sit.

Cramming so much track into such a tight space has obvious consequences. There are a lot of tight corners in Valencia: of the fourteen turns the circuit has, three are first gear corners, six more are second gear corners, while half of them are tighter than 90°.

The compact space into which the track is crammed, combined with the long front straight create a lot of complications for tire manufacturers.

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