The EICMA festivities kick off tomorrow, with Ducati preempting the Milan trade show with its own media unveil event. The new model debuts will be live-streamed, of course, and we expect to see a bevy of new models from the Bologna brand.
Before we uncover even one bike though, Ducati is sending a clear message of what we can expect to see, teasing a winglet on its live stream promo photo. This aerodynamic aid surely belongs to the Ducati Panigale V4 R, which is expected to be the Italian brand’s big reveal for EICMA.
The dawn of aerodynamics is upon the motorcycle industry, because aftermarket winglets for superbikes are now a thing.
If we are surprised about anything, it is that it has taken this long for someone to come up with a winglet for modern superbikes.
Ever since the first MotoGP bike rolled out of the pit lane garage sporting aerodynamic aids, the clock has been ticking until someone made them for the general public. That time is today. That someone is the good folks at Puig.
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.
If you watched the Japanese GP this weekend, then you have already seen that the ECSTAR Suzuki MotoGP team has updated its aerodynamic package for the season, adding a more radical design to the Suzuki GSX-RR, in the pursuit of better lap times.
The Brno round of MotoGP turned out to be a veritable bonanza of aerodynamic developments. Honda turned up with their previously homologated fairing, and Yamaha debuted a new fairing with a modified upper half at the test on Monday.
But it was Ducati who stole the show, with a radical new design featuring a large side pod that looked remarkably like a set of wings with a cover connecting them.
That fairing triggered howls of outrage from fans. How, they asked, was this legal? The fairing appeared to have two ducts that came out at the top at right angles, then return to the fairing at right angles.
That turned out not to be the full shape of the fairing, when Danilo Petrucci sported one where the bottom half of the side duct extended lower. It seemed to be a blatant breach of the rules.
The problem, MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge explained, lay in part with framing of the rules.
When Dorna demanded a ban of the original winglets, they sat with the manufacturers to draw up a set of regulations that would limit aerodynamics and eliminate the risks, yet at the same time would allow some amount of development.
That proved impossible to do with the manufacturers so split among themselves, and so Dorna had to try to come up with a set themselves.
If the weather has been the bane of MotoGP this year, then Saturday at Brno made up for an awful lot. The day started out with clear blue skies, and stayed that way just about all day.
It was still bone dry and warm when we left the track as darkness began to fall, though the occasional cloud could be spotted here and there. It was a great day for racing motorcycles.
It was apparently also a great day for crashing motorcycles. In the first session of the day, 40 minutes of free practice for the Moto3 class, 15 riders crashed, all going down like skittles.
Next up it was FP3 for MotoGP, and a further 7 riders hit the deck. Moto2 followed, and 6 more went down. By the end of the day, there had been a grand total of 48 falls.
To put that number into perspective: on Friday, in much dicier conditions, there were only 9 crashes. Over all three days of the 2014 event at Brno, there were 46 crashers.
If there are three more crashes on Sunday – and it’s race day, when risks offer better rewards – then the Automotodrom Brno will seen more crashes than in the previous seven years. They really were going down like flies.
MotoGP is back, and so naturally, so is the rain. The weather continues to plague Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the weekend starting off in the pouring rain making for a wet FP1.
Despite the heat, Brno is slow to dry, and so the MotoGP bikes started FP2 on a damp track with a dry line, the track ending the session almost completely dry. Hardly an ideal start to the weekend, if you are focused on finding the best setup possible for the race on Sunday.
Not everyone sees it that way, however. For Johann Zarco, it was nice to ease himself gently back up to speed. “Restarting the season in wet conditions was good for me,” the Frenchman said.
“This way we start the season slowly, and that’s good for the feeling.” It also reduced the advantage of the big teams who can eke out an advantage in stable conditions.
“Also because we didn’t do a test here, maybe it was better, because if we have a dry track for all the weekend, there are many teams which can work, work, work and be so strong at the end of the weekend. And for our situation as a rookie, it’s good to have this tough weather.”
The wet weather also made it a little easier on bodies which had not ridden a MotoGP bike for four weeks. “Especially it’s difficult about physical condition,” Valentino Rossi said on Friday.
“Because it’s one month without the bike, in the beginning you have some pain in the hands, in the legs. But it was not so hard to arrive to a good level, especially in the wet.”
The training he had been doing for the past couple of weeks – including running a VR46 Master Camp for Yamaha’s riders in the WorldSSP 300 class – had helped him prepare.
“It’s a long break, but in the last weeks I train a lot on the bike, and sincerely, in the last ten days you always think about FP1. So you watch video, try to understand, try to remember the way to ride.”
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.
Just how clever has Honda been with its fairings? At Assen, Cal Crutchlow spent Friday going back and forth between bikes with and without the addition of aerodynamic side pods on the outside of the fairing.
That led to some confusion among the media. Had Honda homologated the aerodynamic fairing already? Or was this something new?
I went to see Danny Aldridge to ask what the situation was, and the MotoGP technical director explained the situation.
There are few circuits on the calendar whose names ring so loudly through the annals of history as that of Le Mans. Only Assen, the Isle of Man, and Indianapolis are as inextricably associated with motor sports as Le Mans is.
Like Indy, though, Le Mans is more associated with four wheels than with two. The 24h Du Mans endurance race is truly one of the landmark events of the motor sports year.
The glamor of that event rubs off on the 24-hour motorcycle race as well. That race is arguably the biggest race on the FIM EWC endurance calendar, and victory there adds extra shine to any rider’s record.
It is a highlight not just of the endurance racing year, but on the motorcycle racing calendar, marking the rhythm of the racing season as loudly as Jerez, Assen, the Isle of Man TT, Mugello, Phillip Island. It sets a high bar for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans to live up to.
Despite the deep and entrenched love of endurance racing in France, and especially at Le Mans (they have a 24-hour event for everything there, a taxi driver once told me: 24-hour car, bike, truck, and mountain bike race, 24-hour literary festival, even a 24-hour tiddlywinks competition), more spectators flock to the Le Mans circuit for MotoGP than for the 24-hour race. Last year, over 99,000 attended.