Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Friday, September 30, 2005

Another one bites the dust…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Supermoto, MRA, MotoGP, WSBK

This weekend will be another one that is jammed packed with racing. Since there are a lot of racing I’ll just say a little about each one.

Losail Circuit in Qatar

First up, the MotoGP guys return for their second ever race at the Losail circuit in Doha, Qatar. The race is being held on Saturday, in deference to the local Muslim population, which means the bikes, teams and riders have had to get from Malaysia to Qater in just four days to be ready for first practice on Thursday. The 3.36 mile, 16 corner track has a right hand bias with 10 of the turns heading in that direction. Like most of the new tracks built primarily for F1 the track surface is billiard table flat and the asphalt is almost perfectly smooth. In the the only negative thing that can be said about the track, because after all it is in the middle of a freakin’ desert, is that it is hot and sandy. This means that it will again be a race where tires may be the deciding factor. Because the track is so smooth and the circuit is so flowing the bikes can be set up with a relatively soft suspension. This is definitely a good thing because it will help the riders with all important front tire feel which is essential due to the heat and sand. It is especially true in turn 1 were the riders are slowing down from around 200mph for one of the slowest parts of the track. Last year this race was the most dramatic of the season with the now infamous penalty against Rossi’s team for their cleaning his grid position by doing burn-outs with a pit scooter. One of the repercussions of that was the Rossi “curse” which was placed on Gibernau forecasting that the Spainard would never win again. After Sete won at Qatar last year, that prediction has held true. If Gibernau could win at Qatar it would be an amazing turn of events. The favorite going in, other than Rossi, has to be Capirossi who has won two in a row on the resurgent Ducati. Biaggi desperately needs a good race to maintain his spot as #2 in the title chase. Melandri is still riding hurt after his foot injury in Motegi. Hoffman and Bayliss are still out. Jacque is riding the Kawasaki while Byrne is again subbing at Camel Honda. Finally, there should be some more silly season info leaking out this weekend so watch for that news.

Next up is the World Superbike race at Imola. This is the penultimate race for the WSBK series so the riders hoping to claw their way back into the championship points battle better be on the ball at the Santamonica track. Obviously, all eyes will be on the championship battle between Chris Vermeulen and Troy Corser. Both of the Australians will probably be at the forefront all weekend though both have histories of having championship runs fizzle at the end of a season. The other riders to watch at Imola will be the Ducatis. With Bologna only a short hope away, the riders of the Italian equipment will be under a lot of pressure to perform for the bosses. To add to that pressure, the four year history of WSBK coming to Imola shows Ducati have won five of the eight races and that every race has been won by a v-twin. Talk about big expectations! Toseland is probably looking for a job next year and thus needs to impress. Laconi is coming back from injury and needs to settle any lingering doubts among his bosses that he should be their star rider in ‘06. Superstar Lanzi is back with the privateer team but now armed with factory bikes. He’s looking to solidify his position as Laconi’s teammate at the factory next year. The field of honor for this weekend’s event is a historic track with a fantastic layout. The 3.01 mile long track has 16 turns with over half of those being of the left hand variety. Nearly half a lap at Imola is spent at high speed making flip-flop transitions through fast, flowing turns. There are three tight left hand turns and one right hander but otherwise its a high speed circuit. Add in a rough track surface and you have an event where the suspension guys will be earning their money. The always slippery Pirelli tires will get a workout so expect some guys to have tire trouble in the later stages of the first race unless everyone decides to run the hardest thing in the tire truck.

The big finale of the AMA Supermoto series is being held this weekend in Reno and it promises to be a hoot. Both the Supermoto and Supermoto Unlimited classes are yet to crown a champion, though Jeff Ward will almost certainly tie up the former but with double points being paid in the second race there is still a chance for second place Jurgen Kunzel to win the thing. The Unlimited class champ is anyone’s guess as three riders are all bunched within six points of each other: Darryl Atkins, Micky Dymond and Troy Herfoss all have a shot at the title this weekend. Even David Baffeleuf and Robert Loire still have a long shot chance being only 23 and 24 points back respectively. Mark Burkhart has already sewn up the Supermoto Lites championship. The track is a mix of really cool stuff and some pretty boring stuff. The 12 turn, 1 mile track has a small but technical dirt section and a interesting sounding banked turn that goes up onto the side of a building. Sadly, about half of each lap is a point-n-shoot style square going around a city block with three short straights connected by 90 degree right hand turns (why not turn the track around 180 degrees so these turns become left handers and thus give the dirt track guys an advantage?!?). Not exactly the most inspired layout in that sense but with this being in the middle of downtown Reno it is example of the philosophy that Supermoto racing can be set up anywhere. I *love* Supermotos so I suspect the track will prove exciting and the racing will be good. It bad enough that I can’t be there to watch but to add insult to injury OLN isn’t broadcasting the race until mid-November.

Finally, another series is coming to a close this weekend. With fall right around the corner here in Colorado this Sunday marks the season ending race for our local MRA club. As as been the tradition the past few years the final race of the season is being held at Second Creek Raceway out by Denver International Airport. As is typical of the tracks our club races at the place is small. In fact, it is only 1.7 miles in length but with 10 turns crammed into that short space. Despite its size the the layout is actually interesting and it makes for some great racing. Shane Turpin has already tied up the premier Race of the Rockies GTO title but needs to win this weekend to complete a sweep of every race for the season. Likewise, he has already locked up the Race of the Rockies GTU championship as well but a uncharacteristic fourth at Pikes Peak ruined any chance of him sweeping every Race of the Rockies event this year. I’m heading down on Sunday to watch the racing and to catch up with my buddies ‘05 SuperTwins GTO champ Jim Brewer and Modern Vintage GTU points leader Tony Baker.

[image from the Losail Circuit web site.]

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Form over function…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

I made a blog posting a few nights ago about how the biennial Paris Motorcycle Show was this weekend and that this is the time of the year when all the new models and wild concept bikes are announced. I’ve also posted a few times this summer about how I had planned to buy a new bike this year (though that project has, in both the interest of financial responsibility and the hope that KTM imports the 990 Super Duke in ‘06, been pushed until next year). With those thoughts still bouncing around in my head I thought I’d take a moment to mention some of the 2005 bikes that I think are exceptional but which, for one reason or another, aren’t actually on my list of potential purchases. Consider this a sort of “Coolest bikes of 2005” posting for motorcycles which are impractical to own but well worth drooling over.

First, any time I start talking about dream bikes the first thing I always mention is having a full on GP bike for the street. Well, Ducati said in 2004 that they would be making a street version of their MotoGP bike to be called the Desmosedici RR. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the bikes made it from concept to sellable product in 2005 but since rolling models have been displayed at least it has made the leap from drawing board to prototype. Assuming this bike ever becomes reality (and wishfully thinking I could afford the purchase price which will likely be over $50,000) it will be the closest I’ll ever get to riding a Grand Prix machine. I consider this the ultimate on my list of impractical but lust worthy motorcycles. (Now, if only Honda would release a Nicky Hayden replica RC211V in 2007…)

A bike that is much more real, though not much more attainable, is the new $45,000 wonder bike from MV Agusta: the F4 Tamburini. The standard F4 is stunningly beautiful and, unlike so many other salon bikes, brutally effective. With the Tamburini edition, MV has pushed to the absolute limits of what a company can achieve when they aim for a very select (and well heeled) sport bike audience. The bike has all the right modifications in that MV has focused on increasing horsepower, improving handling and removing weight. Perfect. The purchase price is the *only* reason the F4 Tamburini isn’t in my garage.

Confederate Motorcycles Wraith

The Confederate Wraith got a lot of press in 2005 and, unlike nearly every other V-twin powered custom bike, I think it actually deserves it. Both the engineering and visual design are incredible and yet the core philosophy has been to make a bike that not only looks unique but is thrilling to ride. In fact, it is even built to be ridden hard. The Wraith really seems innovative in its styling while distancing itself completely from the choppers that generally come to mind when I think of a v-twin powered custom. I don’t think I would ever drop $50,000 on one but if I had that kind of money laying around I’d at least give it a serious look.

As long as I’m talking about customs, I might as well give some props to the Honda Rune. When it comes to bikes which can be generally classified as cruisers I can only if I find out that it is something different from the norm can I muster even the smallest amount of interest. I don’t mean different in the way that chopper builder TV shows find new themes with which to bolt together crappy, unrideable bikes but different in the sense that someone looked at the basic concept of a cruiser with fresh eyes. That is what appeals to me about the Wraith and it also gives me a huge amount of appreciation for the Rune. The fact that Honda, a company that rarely takes styling risks, are the ones that made it gives me that much more admiration for the accomplishment. Taking the monster motor from the Gold Wing, giving it retro inspired design and then making the whole bike seemingly bigger than life just pegs my cool meter. The fact that it costs half what a Wraith goes for just means it is almost within reach of us mortals.

Another bike that goes in a surprising new direction for a company is the MGS/01 Corsa model that was first shown by Moto Guzzi in 2004. Like Honda building the Rune, having a company like Moto Guzzi which has reputation for building large, clunky engines with long, low profiles suddenly come out with a full on sport bike is shocking. The fact that the MGS still has some characteristic “Guzziness” to it just means that the designers were on their A Game when the penned the bike. The MGS is supposedly being marketed to Guzzi owners who want to go to the track…that has to be a very select group but hopefully this bold step (along with a big infusion of cash from new owner Piaggio) will shatter Guzzi’s previous image and help the company create a reputation for bold and exciting motorcycles and thus gain an entirely new market. As someone who loved the Sport models from afar this MGS comes close to winning me over.

If Moto Guzzi seems to be being metaphorically reborn then Norton has been through the real deal. The name Norton has been missing from the motorcycle market place for nearly thirty years as the brand was one of the many casualties of the wave of Japanese made motorcycles that appeared in the 50s and 60s. Now ex-Norton restorer Kenny Dreer has acquired the rights to the name and has built an entirely new bike which will wear the Norton name. The 952 Commando pays serious hommage to the famous Norton Commando by using a parellel twin engine derived from the original but is otherwise thoroughly modern with fancy Ohlins suspension, massive Brembo brakes, 17″ forged rims, a reasonably light 415 lb dry weight and at $20,000 it is almost reasonably priced. I think this bike is damned near perfect. Unique, beautifully styled, well engineered and the right blend of new mixed with old.

There are also a few honorable mentions I’d like to throw on here at the end:

First is the Aprilia SVX 4.5 supermoto bike. When I first read about the race only model that broke cover last year I put it very near the top of my dream bike list. However, now it is actually being released as a production bike so it isn’t quite so exotic as it seemed earlier this year. Still, while it is probably too specialized to make it onto the list of bikes that I will consider purchasing it is very, very close. A lightweight supermoto bike with 20% more power than the competition and with a 13,000 redline sounds like more fun that you should be allowed to have with your clothes on.

As I mentioned above when talking about the Rune and Commando I have a soft spot for nuevo-retro styling. Bikes which have a distinctly retro look but which have been updated to more modern specs. There are three bikes which definitely fall into that catagory for me and all three are either now available for purchase or will be in the next few months. They are the Triumph Bonneville Thruxton, the newly announced Triumph Scrambler and the Paul Smart 1000 bike from Ducati’s “Sport classic collection. When it comes time to get out the checkbook and lay down cold, hard cash I can’t justify any of these but if I lock that rational part of my brain away then all three just seem so *right*. Fantastic classic styling but with modern engines, modern suspension, modern brakes and modern wheels. They are an excellent balance of the form versus function design philosophy and are all the more tempting since they aren’t outrageously priced like most dream bikes.

When it comes down to buying a new bike, I don’t think any of these bikes would ever make the cut either because they focus too much on styling, focus too narrowly on their market or simply because they are out of focus with my financial reality. Nonetheless, any one of them is more deserving of a TV show than any of the so called “exotic” custom choppers that seem to find their way onto my boob tube. These are my dream bikes for ‘05.

[image from the Confederate Motorcycles web site.]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

September \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, MotoGP, WSBK

Well, another page of my MotoGP calendar needs to be turned over and that means it is time for another of my monthly Odds and Ends “catch up” postings. September has been really busy, especially with both silly season and new bike announcements trickling out, so I’ll have to skip a few things just to keep this post from being too long.

Rossi checks out the Ferrari F1 car

First up, is a news item about newly crowned ‘05 MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi. No matter how talented the guy is on the track his real talent is his ability to constantly keep his name in the news. He has monopolized the headlines for most of September as people focused on what he was already doing in 2005, questioned his 2006 plans and speculated about what he would be doing in 2007. For 2005, he has been winning races but has also now had two controversial accidents. The season opener at Jerez with Sete Gibernau and now one with Marco Melandri at Motegi. I’ve covered all this in my MotoGP blog entries but the overriding message is that Rossi continues to keep people guessing. As for 2006, I covered Rossi’s re-signing with Yamaha in my August Odds and Ends posting so that isn’t new news but who will be sponsoring the Italian superstar’s Yamaha has been the topic of endless speculation. Rossi is currently sponsored at Yamaha by Altadis’ Gauloisis cigarette brand but has apparently asked to be run without tobacco sponsorship on this bike in ‘06. The most likely reason for this, other than a possible dislike of tobacco companies, is that he is still flirting with racing a Ferrari F1 car in the near future. The best way to avoid problems with Philip Morris, the long time sponsor of Ferrari, is to make sure he has no contractual obligations to a competing tobacco company. What colors Rossi will be running next year is yet to be decided but the rumors continue to pop up on motorcycle racing news sites. Finally, there is the constant speculation about Vale becoming a F1 driver in ‘07. Again, the flurry of rumors continued all through September. First, Ferrari sent out a press releases claiming Rossi was basically signed as a test rider in 2006 then Rossi responded with a harsh public statement saying no such thing had been signed and finally Ferrari sent out another message which back pedalled considerably from their earlier claims. Presumably Valentino’s manager has been frantically fielding phone calls from Yamaha, Ferrari, Altadis and Philip Morris all month long and I suspect the actual situation probably isn’t clear to any one of these people yet. All the while, Rossi’s popularity is growing ever stronger and his name is showing up in news reports the world over. We’ll see if October brings any answers…

The rest of silly season has been so completely dwarfed by the Rossi story that very little has made the news. It seems that most of the 2005 championship winners (or likely championship winners when you look at the two international series) are already tied up for 2006. In the AMA series, Mladin (Suzuki), Yates (Suzuki), Duhamel (Honda) and Hayden (Kawasaki) are all staying put for at least another year. The biggest news in the AMA paddock has been Eric Bostrom’s move from Ducati to a Supersport/Superstock ride with Yamaha which, in my opinion, seems like a waste of his talent. The MotoGP silly season has been excruciatingly slow to play out this year and many of the top riders are still unsigned for next year. Leading that list is Sete Gibernau who may be back with Movistar Honda or may be riding for Ducati. Max Biaggi will almost certainly stay with Honda but probably won’t be in Repsol colors. Whether he ends up with the Movistar or Camel team is probably dependent on where Sete ends up. Bayliss and Barros, both teammates at Camel Honda, are unsigned for next year as is Suzuki’s Kenny Roberts Jr. It also appears that Yamaha’s Ruben Xaus, Ducati’s Carlos Checa, Kawasaki’s Alex Hoffman, and all the smaller teams riders like Shane Byrne, James Ellison, Franco Battaini and Roberto Rolfo are without contracts for next season. It seems pretty late in the year for this many teams to be without a signed rider but that may be because the current season still has four races to go. I expect all of these riders to have clarification within the next month. As far as World Superbike goes, it seems certain that Corser will be back with Suzuki next year. However, both Ducati riders, Regis Laconi and James Toseland, appear to be up in the air. Likewise, most of the Yamaha riders (Haga, Pitt, Abe, Gimbert) are still looking for jobs. Honda is rumored to be moving Chris Vermeulen to MotoGP so that opens up a seat at Ten Kate, though presumably his teammate Karl Muggeridge will stay on another year. Who knows what is happening with Kawasaki. Again, I suspect a lot of the WSBK riders will be confirmed in the next month but in the meantime you can always follow who is going where on my silly season web page.

Speaking of the AMA series, a tentative 2006 race schedule has already been announced. Combine this early release of dates for next year with the long term commitment that the AMA Pro Racing board announced earlier this summer for the superbike class rules and you’d almost get the idea that they have been listening to the criticism that has been leveled at them for the past decade. These efforts to get things nailed down early and with more solidity mean that teams can better plan and prepare for the upcoming year. Even better than the AMA’s promptness in this regard is the content of the proposed ‘06 series: As late as February of last year there were only nine circuits listed on the ‘05 schedule while the tentative ‘06 schedule already shows 11. Only three ovals are on the list (Daytona, Fontana and PPIR) while the remaining eight rounds will be at true road race tracks. This year the AMA raced at the same three ovals (and eventually at VIR to make ten rounds) so I’m glad to see that the new addition to the schedule is a venue with a true road race track. Racing at more places that don’t just cram a flat infield into a NASCAR oval will help make the sport safer and will keep the racing more interesting. It is only a baby step but adding one new track is definitely a step in the right direction. Now if only they can find a series sponsor!

Speaking of the new road race track the AMA announcement shows a mid-June date for the inaugural Superbike race at the Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah in 2006. Even better, this is currently slated to be a doubleheader round so it increases the races on next year’s calendar by *two*. I’m excited about this news for two reasons, the first of which is simply that its close enough that I can actually attend which means I should hit three AMA Superbike races in ‘06: Miller Motorsports Park, PPIR and Laguna. Second, the AMA adding another event in the Rocky Mountain region means that they can now seriously consider dropping PPIR event off the schedule in the future. Its a crappy track for road racing and losing it from the ‘07 AMA schedule wouldn’t be much of a loss. Lets hope the clock has started ticking on how much longer the AMA guys will have to suffer through going round and round the PPIR merry-go-round.

Another bit of exciting AMA Superbike news as the announcement at the Kawasaki dealer show that Team Green would be racing the ZX-10R in Superbike next season with Tommy and Roger Lee Hayden as their riders. This again is great news for the sport because it gets the premier superbike class that much closer to having full participation by all the major manufacturers. Additionally, it puts two of the most talented riders in the series into the top class in the series which again increases the excitement of the racing. Both riders deserve a shot at the top prize in AMA road racing and I’m thrilled to see they are getting their shot. Kudos to Kawasaki for taking up the challenge. Now if only Yamaha was so brave.

Also on the domestic front the AMA Pro Racing board made news this month when they handed down fines to motocross riders Mike Alessi and Matt Walker after the Tedesco/Alessi/Walker incident earlier this month at Glen Helen. At issue was an accident in which Alessi appeared to intentionally take out 125cc championship rival Ivan Tedesco but ended up taking himself down as well. Alessi then stood on Tedesco’s still running bike to prevent him from being able to continue the race. Meanwhile Tedesco’s teammate Walker doubled back on the track to knock Alessi of the Kawasaki so Ivan could get back underway. The AMA decided that because of his actions Alessi needed to take a $5,000 hit to his wallet, as well as a disqualification from the entire Glen Helen round and a 12 month probation. Finally, and perhaps the most painful, is that Alessi is also taken out of the running for the AMA Pro Racing Rookie of the Year award. Walker was deemed to have also acted in a way that negatively affects the sport and was given a $2,500 fine, a disqualification from the second moto at Glen Helen and a was put on probation for next year’s Supercross and Motocross seasons. I have mixed feelings about the reprimand for Walker but I’m thrilled to see Alessi get such a heavy penalty after acting so immature. Bravo to the AMA for taking action on this.

Shifting gears completely, let me mention two completely unrelated things to close out this month’s Odds and Ends.

First, Yamaha did an initial announcement of their new bikes earlier this month and included in that a quick photo of the ‘06 FJR1300 sport touring bike. Then all the info associated with the FJR was removed from their web site which caused all sorts of rumors to start flying around the net. Well, at the Paris Motorcycle Show today the European model FJR was officially announced and the mystery was finally revealed: the 2006 FJR will be released with a semi-automatic transmission. This means it will have a conventional gearbox but will use electronics to handle the shifts without the rider having to use a shift lever. It remains to be announced if this auto tranny will be available on US models or not. This will be the first production street bike since the old Hondamatic and Moto Guzzi Convert to have an automatic transmission so this is pretty big news from a technology stand point. However, as a rider I have zero interest in such a thing as shifting gears is a fundamental part of the motorcycle experience for me.

Finally, I wanted to mention that a new motorcycle movie about New Zealander HJ “Bert” Munro has been released Down Under called The World’s Fastest Indian. I doubt this movie will make it to US theaters but it should eventually be available on DVD some time next year. If you haven’t heard of HJ Munro he build Indian motorcycles in the pre-WWII era as land speed racers. Like John Britten, who came along much later, Munru hand build most of his bike’s parts in a little shed in on the south island of New Zealand and was a real innovator at a time when the application of technology to motorcycles was still at a relatively early stage. His story is a fascinating one to anyone interested in the people who pushed the limits of motorcycles during the infancy of the sport. I think it will make a nice addition to my library of motorcycle movies so I hope the DVD does make it to the US so I can buy a copy. Maybe it will inspire me to finally buy that welder for the garage I’ve been dreaming out…

That’s it for this month. Thanks for reading.

[image from the web site.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fashion show season…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Given my wardrobe of jeans and T-shirts, I’m about as un-savvy when it comes to clothes as someone can possibly be. However, it is my understanding that every year the eyes of the entire fashion industry turn towards a series of industry shows which will define the fads and trends for the following 365 days. It is at these fashion shows that all the movers and shakers of the apparel world show their stuff.

Well, this weekend marks the first of the motorcycle “fashion shows” as the major manufacturers show off their new models, brag about the improvements to their current products and divulge their concept bikes. Tomorrow the doors of the biennial Paris Motorcycle show will open giving all the major bike makers a chance to strut their stuff. In addition to the primary players in Japan and Europe, these motorcycle expos give smaller companies a chance to get industry eyes on their products as well. Up and coming bike makers from Korea and China will be trying to convince the market that their products have improved to the point they can compete with the big players. Specialty one-off makers will be showcasing their custom creations. Even the aftermarket firms will be using Paris as their first chance to stoke up the buzz about their new products. As a result, the Paris show should be all over the motorcycle news for the next month or so.

The Paris motorcycle show is big, perhaps even the biggest in the world since it only happens every other year but it is hardly the only place where new bike announcements will be made. The European companies like BMW, Triumph, Ducati, Aprilia and MV Agusta all like to unveil their marque bikes at European motorcycle shows. If they don’t reveal something new this week in Paris then they made do so in a few weeks at the Intermot show in Munich, Germany which will take place in mid-October. Obviously folks like BMW and KTM tend of focus their biggest marketing efforts at this show since it is in their home office. Likewise, Triumph often keeps at least one surprise in store for the NEC show in Birmingham, England coming up at the end of October. Likewise, all the Italian manufacturers (or at least all the ones that aren’t in the middle of bankruptcy each Fall) should have something to show in mid-November when the annual EICMA show show opens in Milan, Italy. Finally, the Japanese companies are the last to show their trump cards since the Tokyo Motorcycle show in Tokyo, Japan doesn’t happen until spring.

Even before the Fall’s bike expositions begin some of the new bike announcements have already started. So far here are some of my favorites:

Triumph has so far announced three new bikes but only one of them really strikes my fancy: The new 900 Scrambler. This is really just another repackaging of the Bonneville with the upgraded 900cc parallel twin engine put into a new chassis that looks like a 60’s era dual sport bike. The primary visual changes are longer suspension and a set of high mount mufflers. Technically, this bike probably falls into an adventure touring catagory but it will probably be marketed based on it’s retro look rather than it’s off road qualities. That doesn’t matter because, like the Thruxton version of the Bonneville, this new Scrambler just pegs my cool meter regardless of how well it performs on dirt roads or whether it has a usable bash plate. If I had a bigger garage and a more reasonable wife I’d already have one on order…

Another bike that was announced this month is the Aprilia - SVX 4.5. This is a new supermoto bike using the amazing 450cc v-twin engine that was first seen in the world Supermoto championship this past year. This tiny motor cranks out around 60 hp in a package only an inch or two larger than the current range of single cylinder motocross engines. It is the motor that has me so enamoured with the SVX but the styling is impressive as well. I wouldn’t keep my license for a month if I had one of these but, oh, would I love to try one out anyway.

The press release writers at Japan Inc have been busy too. Honda have been flooding the industry with info about the new air bag option on their Gold Wing but that really doesn’t do anything for me. What I did like in the press I saw coming out of Big Red was the new dual exhaust on the CRF250R dirt bike. All the four stroke motorcross bikes have been steadily increasing their power output and decreasing their weight which is what have allowed them to completely overwhelm the 125cc 2-stroke bikes in performance. Adding a second exhaust is increasing weight which normally wouldn’t impress me but the reason I like this is that is shows a concerted effort by Honda to decrease the noise coming from their production dirt bikes. That’s definitely a move in the right direction and I hope the other dirt bike makers take note and follow this trend even if the extra weight actually hampers the performance of the bikes a little.

Suzuki made some tantilizing announcements about their new GSXR 600 and 750 models but didn’t provide enough information to make this earth shattering news. Hopefully some info about their production B-King and the GSX1400 will be forthcoming since those look like interesting bikes. I’m also expecting a lot from the new GSXR600 so hopefully a lot more data on this bike will be available soon as well.

Unlike Suzuki, Kawasaki has already dropped two bombs: The dynamite news is the new 650R twin cylinder sport bike which is presumably slated to replace the venerable 500 Ninja. The bike looks like a reasonable entry level sport bike but the real excitement is that this new motor could end up in an adventure tourer to replace the ancient KLR. Now *that* announcement would shake up parts of the motorcycle world. If the new 650 was an explosion then the news of the new ZX-14 was an A-bomb detonation. This mega-GT bike replaces the ZZR-1200 but does so by super-sizing the engine to 1400cc. This bike will make a great sport touring bike but will make an even better platform for a serious drag racing machine. The Hayabusa riders may want to keep a close eye over their shoulder because the new ZX-14 is coming fast.

Finally, Yamaha made a bunch of new bike announcements to go along with their 50th anniversary celebration but the most exciting are their two top of the line sport bikes. First, the new R6 will bring more horsepower, less weight and better suspension to the 600cc bike party. This new middleweight rocket may be generating nearly 120hp at the rear wheel with a 17,500 rpm redline and a dry weight which could easily be under 350 lbs. It might even be worth giving up the sheer power of a liter bike just for the thrill of zinging a bike up to 17,000 rpm on every ride. Still, no matter how tempting the new R6 is, the new R1LE really does it for me. Fully adjustable Ohlins suspension, a slipper clutch and light weight Marchesini wheels mean this limited edition bike is a serious object of moto lust. Add in the yellow/black Kenny Roberts replica paint job and it is outright motorcycle porn. I didn’t even consider the R1 when looking at a new sport bike this past spring but the R1LE may be the best liter bike available in 2006. Wow.

Yamaha MT-03 concept bike

What all this means is that the next two or three months are the most exciting time to watch the motorcycle industry. The new bikes, those already announced and those that will be shown in the next few weeks, aren’t the only things to watch out for. The concept bikes which are shown each year are always interesting and they often give a glimpse into the future. Just in the past few years concept bikes like the Honda Rune, the Yamaha MT-03, the Suzuki B-King and the Moto Guzzi Griso have all made the leap from prototype to production. So don’t just ignore the hydrogen fuel cell powered, air suspended, hub steered, fully computer controlled robo-bikes that may look completely pointless because they be showing up in show rooms in just a few years.

Finally, I want to point out that a much less glitzy version of these premier motorcycle shows does happen here in the US. The Cycle World International Motorcycle Show doesn’t have the same level of prestige as the Paris or Tokyo shows but it is slowly gaining more importance among the manufacturers so it may yet reach a point where it becomes a showcase for new products. For the moment, its a place where most of the major manufacturers put all their current models on display. The series visits many of the major cities in the US and this year it will be in Denver the weekend of Nov 18-20. If nothing else, its always a good place to stock up on the latest trend in motorcycle T-shirts for next year…

[image from the Made in Tokyo web site.]

Monday, September 26, 2005

Steam room…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

The weather in Malaysia this time of the year is always a challenge for the MotoGP teams and riders. When its raining, its dumping water like only a monsoon can. When its not raining its so hot and humid it still feels like a steam room. Temperatures over 100 aren’t unusual and track temperatures can easily reach 125 degrees. Racing in this kind of sauna means that the riders have an even greater reliance on the tires than normal. As a result, my coverage of the Sepang race has as much to do with the rubber as the riders.

The first sign of this came in the first practice sessions. Despite never having visited the podium at Sepang before, the Bridgestone tires seemed to have a big advantage from the first time wheels turned on the track. As if the hot temperatures and a rain shower on Friday weren’t making life hard enough for the tire technicians there was the added problem of a dirty track. Unlike past years, it seemed that dirt had somehow embedded itself in the track surface and significantly reduced tire traction. The lap times in practice were slower than expected and it was the Bridgestone bikes that rose to the top. In fact, qualifying showed just how big the tire technology gap was in terms of dealing with the unique situation found in Malaysia. Four of the top five bikes were wearing ’stones including pole sitter Capirossi. Gibernau managed to snag second on his Michelins but Hopkins in third and Nakano in fourth were close behind to make it four different bike brands in the top four positions. Anytime the Kawasakis and Suzukis are on the front two rows you know that either hell has frozen over or the tires are dictating the results.

When the boiling hot sun rose on Sunday there were rumors that Michelin had brought in a special container of tires on Saturday night to address the problems found during practice on Friday. These new tires gave a new lease on life to many of the riders as Gibernau topped morning practice with Hayden in third and Rossi in sixth. As long as these new tires could go the distance it looked like the Michelin riders could line up for the race without bringing the proverbial knife to a gun fight.

The race was slow to get underway because the starting lights appeared to malfunction but when things finally went green it was Loris Capirossi that won the drag race to turn. Second place was a four way traffic jam as Melandri on the far inside and Hayden in the middle of the track were split by Gibernau who went in too hot pushing Hayden out into Checa’s space. Hopkins, who was out run off the line on his underpowered Suzuki and was on the outside of the track, got shoved out wide by Checa. The whole gaggle had to work hard to keep everything under control and fortunately no one went down. Melandri was gifted by the turn one chaos and came out of turn two in second place with Nakano in third and Hayden recovering to fourth. Two laps later, Gibernau was again rubbing on Hayden to make the pass into the top four but at the end of the same lap tried a banzai passing move on Nakano for second only to crash and take them both out. This makes for two DNFs in a row for both of those riders. A lap later, Nakano’s temporary teammate Jacque was out with a mechanical problem. Giving Kawasaki another disappointing weekend of having to pack up their pit space early.

at Sepang

As things calmed down, Melandri started to slide backwards while Rossi moved forward. Just a few laps in and it appeared the battle was going to boil down to a firefight between Capirossi, Rossi and Hayden. Those three riders pulled a gap over the following riders and all of them seemed to be running similar lap times. Just over half race distance Rossi made the pass on Hayden for second and then continued past Capirossi for the lead. Rossi was able to up the pace but both following riders were able to stay with him. As the laps wound down, Capirossi used the power of the Ducati to move back to the front, Hayden began to lose the pace and slide backwards and Carlos Checa started to charge forward on his Ducati. With just a few laps to go, the front pair spread out as Capirossi pulled a half second a lap on Rossi. The following pair closed up with Checa making two successive pass attempts on Hayden but ran wide on both allowing Hayden back through. On the penultimate lap Checa made pass stick on Hayden and then quickly closed the gap to Rossi. On the last lap, Capirossi cruised to a comfortable second consecutive victory while Checa came up on turn short on making the pass on Rossi. Rossi’s second place earned him the points necessary to win his fifth premier class title and his seventh world championship.

Hayden came on home fourth while Melandri struggled with his seriously injured foot for a fantastic fifth. Biaggi has another puzzling weekend to finish sixth. The Bridgestone’s carried Suzuki to two top ten finishes, a seventh for Roberts Jr and a ninth for Hopkins, the two riders split by Honda mounted Alex Barros. Colin Edwards rounded out the top ten.

Ultimately, it was a Bridgestone weekend. Some riders not normally seen in the top ten all had strong finishes. Had both Nakano and Jacque not been taken out early, though through no fault of their own, they were on course to improve the Bridgestone record even further. Having two Ducatis on the podium is fabulous for the series but only time will tell if this is an improvement in the bikes, the riders or just a tire advantage in the unique Malaysian conditions. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise I’m fairly certain the later explains the top ten finishes for the two Suzukis.

As for the Michelin riders their tires just couldn’t handle the heat. Both Rossi and Hayden faded in the final third of the race while the two Ducatis were still turning consistent lap times. Nicky’s retreat from second to fourth is disappointing but I’m willing to cut him a lot of slack since he was the top Honda and the second Michelin rider behind Rossi. Sure, he still has some room for improvement but I don’t think he’s to blame for missing the podium in Sepang. Besides, I still think the real battle for him is to continue to beat Biaggi so he can keep his Repsol ride next year. He definitely managed that. Finally, I want to reiterate how amazing it is for Melandri to bring his Honda home in fifth considering he has thirty stitches hold his foot together. MotoGP racing in general requires amazing endurance but doing so in the Malaysian heat with a big hole in your foot is extra-ordinary. Melandri showed back his 250 days that he has an amazing capacity to race through injury and he has proved that one again.

With the Asian sun setting over Kuala Lumpur, its obvious that Capirossi is hot but Rossi is positively radiating. Seven championships and most of them with dominant performances is astounding, including his sewing up this year’s championship with four races left to run. I think Rossi will make it an even eight next year so the other riders better hope the rumors are true that Rossi will go to F1 in ‘07…

[image from the MCN web page.]

Friday, September 23, 2005

Big fun in Malaysia…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

Things are big in Malaysia. The buildings are big, the temperatures are big, the distances are big and even the economy is big. With the world’s largest building, the Petronas Tower, Kuala Lumpur has bested the world when it comes to being big. The country has big religion, with 52% of the population being Muslim as well as a large Buddhist and Hindu segments of the populace. The place also has big weather with September forecast varying between huge monsoon rain storms and sweltering high temperatures with stifling humidity. Yup, just about everything is big.

Sepang Circuit track map

More importantly, for the topic at hand, the Sepang circuit that is hosting this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix is a big facility. Not content to have a world class race track it also contains a fancy hotel, a big shopping mall and even a golf course. Even the track itself is big running 3.447 miles in length and containing 15 of the widest variety of corners on nearly any track in the world. The surface is wide and smooth with a mix of slow turns, fast turns, straights and even elevation changes. There are two long straights that start and end a lop and both mean that acceleration and braking power are needed but that is overshadowed by the requirement for great suspension action in the sweeping turns. Turn three, for example, is taken in 4th gear while rocketing the bike from 65 to 155mph, As if the sweeping turn wasn’t hard enough on the front tire, the wideness of the track means that riders can take a long sweeping entrance into the turn meaning the bikes are pushing that front for that much longer. Oh, and turn three isn’t the only fast curve. Turns five and twelve are both taken in third at around 100. Both of these turns, particularly turn twelve, spice things up even more by cresting hills. The riders will need a sweet suspension setup to deal with having the front go light while charging over a hill banked over at a hundred per. The track is big in right side tire wear too as ten of the fifteen turns on the track are right-handers.

The riders are in for a big weekend as well. First and foremost, this is the next big chance for Valentino Rossi to take the title. A top four finish, assuming Biaggi wins the race, is all that is needed for Vale to take home the championship. Since he’s won here two years in a row he is once again the favorite. The excellent handling characteristics of the Yamaha should really shine in Malaysia so expect Rossi to use this in the sweeping turns to make passes.

Speaking of Rossi, this weekend is going to be a big test for Marco Melandri’s courage. Despite 30 odd stitches in his right foot after being taken out at Motegi by Rossi the Honda rider showed up at Sepang to race. Given the degree to which the weather can sap the strength of even perfectly fit riders, it will be amazing if Melandri can even race. If he does run the main event it will be in an effort to get whatever points he can since he is still in the seven rider battle for second place overall in the series.

There is some big motivation over in the Ducati camp as Loris Capirossi is fresh off the team’s maiden win of the season. What’s more, Ducati has never done particularly well here in Sepang so Capirossi is looking to break the drought this weekend. If the Ducati can do well in Malaysia it will also mean that Capirossi can win at a non-Bridgestone track which will be a big statement indeed.

Finally, this weekend is also represents a big break for a few riders. First, Shane Byrne is been asked to ride the Camel Honda to fill in for the injured Bayliss. A week ago, it looked like Byrne was locked up in a contract with KTM who would no longer be racing this season, effectively ending the Brit’s chance continue racing. Now he is not only back in the paddock but has a multi-race deal to ride a semi-factory Honda which is perhaps the most coveted ride in the pits. Clearly this is a big chance for him. Second is Olivier Jacque who is getting another opportunity to ride the factory Kawasaki. However, rather than bring a wild card he is instead substituting for Alex Hoffmann who injured his foot in his recent accident in Japan. Since there is a big chance that it may rain, Jacque may be another chance to show off his rain riding skills after his big finish in China earlier this year.

Not everything is big, though. There are some little things too…

The first little bit of information is that James Ellison is back from injury and will be again riding the WCM Blata bike this weekend. Since the team still doesn’t have their new Blata engineered V6 Ellison will again be riding last years bike which is little more than a fancy Yamaha R1. As a result, he has little chance of a good finish.

There is also little hope for Max Biaggi keeping his title hopes alive. Even if the Honda rider could pull out a win over Rossi this weekend, it is very likely that his countryman will still finish close enough to the front to tie up the title. Biaggi is now racing to secure his fourth championship runner-up finish (and his seventh top three). If ever the FIM decides to retire someone’s number, it should be to hang up the #2 in honor of Max.

Finally, there is little rest of the weary. The Sepang race comes one week after the race in Japan and the Losail race is less that one week away after this one finishes up. Expect this run of three straight fly-away races to test the endurance of the riders and the organization of the teams.

All in all, it should be a big weekend of racing…

[image from the Sepang Circuit web site.]

Thursday, September 22, 2005

FIM = Funny Italian Management…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

As I mentioned in my post-race review on Tuesday this past weekend’s race at Motegi was overshadowed by the crash between Rossi and Melandri. I think everyone that saw the race will agree that the accident was Rossi’s fault as he ran into the back of Melandri’s Honda while braking into the corner which then took them both out. Even Rossi has admitted the crash was his fault, as least to the degree that any interview or press release will ever directly state such a thing. Even though Melandri was one of the two people with a mathematical chance of challenging Rossi for the 2005 MotoGP championship, I also think that most people will also agree that there wasn’t anything inherently malicious in the accident. Rossi made a mistake and ran into his countryman but he did not seem to be deliberately aiming to take him out. As a result, the accident has been declared a “racing incident”. In most cases, this would end the matter…

…but in this case, it doesn’t just stop there. First, there is the fact that Melandri was in the title hunt and thus had the most to lose in the event of a DNF. Since Rossi could basically sit out the rest of the season and probably still win the championship a catastrophic accident wouldn’t necessarily end his championship hopes but the Motegi DNF for Melandri did close the door on his ‘05 title aspirations. That means the issue deserves a deeper look to make sure it is addressed fairly.

Then there is the fact that Melandri was injured when the footpeg of his bike dug into his right foot. Any time a rider is seriously injured in an accident, especially when that accident was caused by another rider, the issue should be examined. Rossi wasn’t injured and will be racing this coming weekend in Malaysia but Melandri’s taking part is still up in the air.

Third, there is the issue of the opening race of the season at Jerez when Rossi hit Sete Gibernau in the last corner and punted the Spaniard into the gravel trap. Rossi went on to win the race and to celebrate wildly while Gibernau fought to get his bike back on track and to finish second. That crash was determined a “race incident” by the governing body. As the saying goes “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.” One racing incident is an accident but making a habit of it means dangerous riding. Time to look closer yet at what happened at Motegi.

Rossi-Melandri crash at Motegi

So the FIM, the mostly Italian ruling body of MotoGP has their Race Direction committee take a look at the footage and then puts out a press release saying that a protest of the incident by Honda charging Rossi with dangerous riding was unfounded. Okay, incident reviewed and ruled on. End of story, right?

Well, I don’t think so. There aren’t any provisions in the FIM’s rule book for protesting the FIM itself but I think it is about time it happens. Want some data to back up that accusation? Look at this timeline of a select few events from the last decade:

On Oct 25th, 1998 - Italian Loris Capirossi on the Italian Aprilia 250GP bike crashes into his teammate Japanese rider Tetsuya Harada on the last turn of the last lap at the last race of the year in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The accident puts both riders into the gravel but Capirossi is able to get back on the asphalt and finish in second place. Harada can’t get back underway and ends the race in the gravel trap. Coming into the race, Capirossi held a three point advantage over Harada but a win from the Japanese rider would have earned him the 1998 250GP championship. After the accident, Capirossi was initially disqualified but then his second place finish was re-instated after review by the FIM. In the end, Capirossi won the 250 title that year and was not penalized for causing the accident.

Now jump forward five years to Oct 5th of 2003 at Motegi, Japan. American John Hopkins gets into the first corner on the first lap way to hot and rams his Suzuki into the Japanese made Yamaha of Carlos Checa and the Italian made Ducati of Troy Bayliss. All three riders go down. Race Direction determines that Hopkins was riding in an irresponsible manner and he is given a one race suspension.

That same day at the same track, Japanese rider Makoto Tamada on a Honda is racing for a podium finish in front of his home crowd. In the closing laps, he makes a close pass on fellow Honda mounted Spaniard Sete Gibernau to take third place. Gibernau is bumped off track, doesn’t fall down and returns to finish forth. Race Direction looks at the evidence available and decrees that Tamada’s pass was an example of irresponsible riding. He is disqualified from the race and his third place finish nullified.

Then jump forward to the same track one year later. On Oct 19th, 2004 Italian Loris Capirossi charges up the inside of the first corner and then can’t get his Ducati slowed down. He slams into John Hopkins (Suzuki) which starts a crash that eventually collects Americans Kenny Roberts (Suzuki), Colin Edwards (Honda) and Nicky Hayden (Honda). Honda’s Max Biaggi, also on a Honda, also goes down. Biaggi is in the points battle for the championship and the crash effectively ends his chance of going for the title in ‘04. Both Hopkins and Roberts are injured in the crash. Race Direction reviews the film and announces it is just a racing incident and no penalty is warranted.

Earlier this year, at the first race of the season on April 10th there was the now famous incident at Jerez. Valentino Rossi in his second year on the Yamaha is racing with his old nemesis Honda mounted Sete Gibernau for the race win. In the last corner of the last lap Rossi goes up the inside hard on the brakes and runs into Gibernau which pushes the Spaniard off track and into the gravel. Rossi goes on to win and proceeds to celebrate quite wildly. Gibernau gets back on track and finishes an angry second. The FIM overrules a protest from the Movistar Honda team and assesses no penalty against the Italian.

Now this past weekend, Sept 18th there were two incidents. First, in the 250GP race, Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo on a Honda is trying to come back from forth place to get on the podium. On the last lap he tries to pass both Honda mounted Dani Pedrosa and Aprilia mounted Alex de Angelis for second. While hard on the brakes, Lorenzo gets past Pedrosa but then runs into the back of de Angelis, taking them both out. Both riders are okay and de Angelis remounts to earn a seventh place finish. Race Direction determines this was a case of “irresponsible riding” and issues a one race ban to Lorenzo.

Finally, there is the incident that inspired this blog entry where during the MotoGP race at Motegi Valentino Rossi crashes his Yamaha into the back of championship contender Marco Melandri ’s Honda on lap thirteen. Both riders are out of the race but Melandri also suffers a foot injury. Movistar Honda again issues a protest to the FIM and again Race Direction deems the protest without merit.

Alright, I think the message is clear: Don’t mess with the Italians! Capirossi has gotten away with torpedoing riders twice including doing so once to help win a championship. Now Rossi has done the same. If a Japanese or American rider is involved in a less severe accident, a one race suspension or a disqualification is handed out faster than you can say “unfair application of the rules”. Do I think Rossi deserves a penalty for Sunday’s crash? No. It was clearly a racing accident. However, if the FIM is going to penalize Jorge Lorenzo for a similar accident at the same track on the same day then I think they have to be fair in their rulings and penalize Rossi as well. Otherwise, they need to apologize to Lorenzo for chastising his accident while letting Rossi get away with the same thing. Either that or Lorenzo needs to quickly apply for Italian citizenship.

[image from the Yahoo Italy Sports web site.]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

  • I’ve mentioned my riding buddy Todd Unpronounceable in a few of my recent blog entries. Well, his 40th birthday is in 2006 and for the big Four-Oh he wants a few of us to head out for a little motorcycle adventure. We met up today at lunch to put together a plan and we came up with a week of dual sport riding in Costa Rica. With the average temperature starting to fall and the leaves changing colors, it wasn’t hard to get excited about the idea of spending a week riding motorcycles in a tropical paradise. By the end of lunch, we had a rough outline put together: !@(afimages/Blog/2005/9/CostaRica.jpg:L200 popimg: “Touring Costa Rica by bike”) The plan, as vague as it is at this point, will be to fly into San Jose in early February. Pick up a few rental Suzuki DR-350s and then spend the next six days doing a loop through the rainforests in the Arenal Volcano National Park, up to the beaches of the Pacific ocean near Tamarindo or La Cruz and then back to San Jose. There are plenty of tour companies that operate in Costa Rica but at this point we’re just planning to wing it on our own with nothing more solid that a few motel reservations and some plane tickets back home at the end of it all. The primary goal, of course, is to ride some roads and trails (it may be difficult to tell the difference based on my understanding of the condition of the “maintained” roads in Costa Rica) in a beautiful part of the world. My dirt riding skills still suck, so I’m hoping Todd doesn’t drag me down to many bits of knarly single track but otherwise I think this will be a great example of some fly-in adventure touring. In addition to the riding, I’m hoping we find at least a little time to check out the hikes around the volcano, maybe do a canopy tour in the rainforest and drink some tropical drinks on the beach. Then again, a bunch of sweaty guys on muddy dirt bike probably aren’t supposed to sip fruity foo-foo drinks with little umbrellas, so instead we may sit around in public places drinking beer and scratching ourselves. After all, getting a group of middle aged men together for a week long birthday party will undoubtedly have its share of testosterone floating around… Anyway, so you may be wondering why I’m bothering to do a blog write-up about a trip that is still five months away? Well, I’m hoping that some of the folks that read my blog will have some experience travelling in Costa Rica or, better yet, riding there. We’re looking some suggestions of places to ride, things to do and places to stay. Since this trip is focused on motorcycle riding, then upscale resorts or multi-hour sight seeing trips aren’t on the itinerary. Instead, places that have descriptions like “quaint”, “motorcycle friendly” and “scenic” are what we’re looking for… If anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment. I’ll probably do some more blog postings as the trip comes together in case our plan inspires others to do the same. [image from the Moto Discovery web site. (1)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Crash, boom, bang…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

I don’t know how you say “crashfest” in Japanese but for the third year in a row the Japanese GP has been defined by the crashes as much as by a victory…unlike the past two years, the big crash this year didn’t occur in the first turn.

I’m getting ahead of myself. From the time the MotoGP teams arrived in Japan one name was consistently at the top of the time sheets: Ducati’s Loris Capirossi. As we saw last year the Bridgestone tires are perfectly dialed in for the Motegi track and the massive horsepower of the big Italian V-4 matches up nicely with the stop/start quality of the the circuit. In practice and qualifying, Capirossi was able to power the Duc to top times and was the only rider to consistently turn laps in the 1.47 range. This continued in qualifying where the diminutive Italian turned in a pole time nearly a half second faster than anyone else. The next surprise, as well as the next point of pride for Bridgestone, is that the second place position on the grid was taken by Suzuki’s John Hopkins. The front row was filled out by Marco Melandri who kept Honda from being shut out of the top three at their home track. The other notable story from qualifying was Rossi who never seems to do wrong…well, he did wrong with bad setup and a poorly timed tire change, both of which conspired to leave the championship leader down in 11th for the start of the race.

When the bikes lined up for the race on Sunday all eyes were on Capirossi. This went double for watching him go into turn one after the green flag fell since it was Loris that caused the huge pile-up there in 2004. Fortunately, he and everyone else made it through safely but it didn’t take long before the track started to inflict its damage on the field. On the first lap, Naoki Matsudo ran off the course on the Moriwaki bike. The high speed trip through the gravel trap apparently damaged the bike and he retired soon thereafter. Motegi 1, riders 0. A couple of laps later, Alex Hoffman hit Roberto Rolfo and sent them both into the kitty litter. Hoffman ended up with a broken ankle and Rolfo missed the chance to get more track time, something he needs if he’s going to impress anyone enough to earn him a better ride next year. Motegi 3, riders 0. Next up was a mechanical problem for Tohru Ukawa, sub’ing for the injured Troy Bayliss on the Camel Honda. Not only did this bring the DNF tally up to 4, it also took out another Japanese rider. The bad news for the local riders continued when Shinya Nakano’s Kawasaki blew its motor. Nakano threw the bike down in disgust. The spirit of Motegi laughed its evil snicker and chalked up the DNF tally to five and sent the Kawasaki team packing. Honda was the next to feel some more pain as first Sete Gibernau and then Alex Barros both crashed out. Since this is Honda’s home track, having two of their star riders visit the kitty litter undoubtedly furrowed the brows in the corporate boardroom. It also meant Camel Honda left with a big goose egg for their effort. The final crash, and the most shocking of the year, was on unlucky lap 13 when a hard charging Valentino Rossi spaced on his late braking in an attempt to pass Marco Melandri which resulted in the Yamaha ramming into the back of the Honda. Both riders went down and Marco took a footpeg through the foot sending him to the hospital. Final tally: nine riders out of the race by half distance. Camel Honda, Movistar Honda, Kawasaki, D’Antin Ducati and Moriwaki all having a complete wash out with their riders exiting the race prematurely. With James Ellison already out (and no replacement used in Japan) and with Team KR not showing up, that meant only eleven riders finished the race.

Having a race with only 11 finishers may be the norm for a rain race but not a dry one. From a PR perspective this has to be considered a disastrous round. Seven crashes, two with injuries serious enough to take the riders out of the next race, are never good for business. A race where people pay $50 or more per ticket and yet only has a handful of bikes still running at the end is a great way to piss off fans. Having the championship battle clouded by an accident is just the icing on the dog crap cake. I suspect the tremors, as well as the legal complaints, from this weekend will be felt for the rest of the season.

Loris Capirossi jumps for joy at Motegi

But crashes aside, it was actually a pretty interesting race up front. After the Rossi/Melandri crash, Max Biaggi took over the lead. Biaggi is very motivated to do well at these last few races because the current rumor is that Dani Pedrosa will be taking his seat on the factory Honda Respol team next year. Strong results from Max, like adding yet another second place championship finish to his resume, could shift the attention of the Honda bosses to the performance of his teammate Nicky Hayden. Unfortunately for Max, Loris Capirossi really wasn’t going to be denied at Motegi. Having made it through the first turn, avoided the riders crashing left, right and center around him and then parking his Ducati on the back tire of Biaggi’s Honda, he was able to execute the plan he had been building all weekend…namely, being able to consistently turn laps faster on the Bridgestone tires than anyone else could possibly run regardless of their tire brand. Biaggi ran wide in a turn, Capirossi shot through the opening and then just steadily ground out fast lap after fast lap to pull a gap over his fellow Italian. Third place, meanwhile, was nailed down by Makoto Tamada on his Honda.

With a Japanese tire manufacturer winning the race, Honda coming in 2-3 at their home track and Konica-Minolta getting the bike they sponsor onto the podium, it was a good day to be Japanese. (Unless, of course, your name ends in Nakano, Ukawa or Matsudo). Biaggi’s second place earned him enough points relative to Rossi’s DNF that the title chase will stay alive for another race. Capirossi’s win helps rejuvenate both Ducati and Bridgestone with the idea that just a little more work may yet put them on par with Honda and Yamaha and their Michelin tires. Tamada’s podium shows that he has finally recovered from the wrist he broke earlier in the year and may be a serious threat for the rest of the season.

As for Rossi, he may or may not be penalized for his crash. The FIM, a predominantly Italian group, rarely penalize Italian riders and are particularly loathe to do so when a penalty may affect the championship battle. I may talk about my take on the crash and possible penalty in a seperate blog entry later this week. It also remains to be seen whether Rossi and Melandri maintain their friendship after this or whether this drives a wedge between the two of them similar to the break that occurred between Rossi/Gibernau last year. Finally, the chance of Rossi wrapping up the title this coming weekend in Malaysia is a bit less likely since his DNF means that Biaggi gained a few points so the gap between first place Rossi and second place Biaggi is now 112 points.

Expect the air to be thick in Malaysia and the heat to be oppressive…and I’m not talking about the weather.

[image from the Motosport web site.]

Monday, September 19, 2005

Support system…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

Well, I once again missed the weekend’s racing due to a technical problem with my VCR (…oh, and yes I do know how to spell DVR so spare me the emails…). Since I can’t write about the Japanese GP until I see the re-runs this coming Tuesday I’ll have to go through the backlog of articles that I’ve been meaning to do when I found the ‘Roundtuit and write something. Well…I pulled a random thought out of my head and it turned out to be doing my long overdue review of the ‘05 AMA support classes so here it goes:

The AMA support races were unique this year because all three came down to the final round before crowning a champ. With the factories all splitting their attention across the four classes, there were top riders in each as well as a mix of new model bikes and aging machines. Thus some of the support classes become as important, if not more so, than the “premier” Superbike class.

Tommy Hayden wins Supersport title

First and foremost is the Supersport class. With the status of the AMA’s “premier” class still unclear, it seems like the manufacturers have decided the two “stock” classes are where they have settled down for a head-to-head battle. With 600cc sport bikes the most popular sports bikes in the big four’s lineup a Supersport championship helps move a lot of bikes off showroom floors and it may in fact be the most important trophy that a factory can bring home. Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki all had full factory efforts in Supersport. Kawasaki started the season with the advantage of having the #1 plate on the front of defending champ Tommy Hayden’s ZX-6, along with brother Roger Lee as his teammate. To counter this, Yamaha put forth their four rider “dream team” of Jamie Hacking, Aaron Gobert, Damon Buckmaster and Jason Disalvo on the new R6. Finally, Suzuki kept their toe in the Supersport waters by having rising star Ben Spies ride the little changed GSXR-600. Even the factory support teams like M4 Suzuki and Attack Kawasaki put riders like Geoff May and Ben Attard in the class. Finally, some of the top up-and-coming riders like Chris Peris, Robert Jensen, Blake Young, Danny Eslick and Nicky Moore decided to use Supersport as the showcase for their talents in the hopes of getting better rides next year.

The season started out as a Yamaha-Kawasaki duel with both Hacking and T. Hayden taking five straight podium finishes in the first half of the ten round series including two wins each. Likewise, this was mirrored by their teammates where R. Hayden and J. Disalvo each had a DNF but also had consistent top four finishes in the other four races. No one else was close to these four and by mid-season the championship fight was confined to them. Unfortunately, Hacking had an accident after PPIR while training on his bicycle which broken both of his wrists and put him out for the rest of the season. This opened the door for Tommy to build up a sizeable points lead which he held despite an accident at Laguna Seca which broke his hand. The main story of the second half of the season was the injuries of Hayden and Hacking but the sub-plot was the emergence of Rog Hayden and Disalvo stepping up to make their grab for race wins and a late season points charge for the title. Tommy won round six at Road America but from then until the end of the season every race was won by either Roger Lee or Jason. Rog ultimately got the better of the battle with three straight wins compared to a single win by JD. Tommy Hayden put in amazing rider with a broken hand to card two amazing second places finishes in the final four rounds. His worst finish of the year was a sixth at Lagana earned just a few hours after his bone breaking crash. At the end of the year, the top three were T. Hayden, R. Hayden and J. Disalvo. Hacking slipped down to 12th in the standings after his injury. Spies came through in forth, followed by May, Gobert, Buckmaster and Attard. Class rookies Jensen and Peris filled out the last two spots of the top 10. A great season of racing with a lot of interesting stories and very deserving champion. A great story for Kawasaki, a respectable showing from Yamaha and a less than stellar endeavor for Suzuki.

Super-size the Supersport class and you get the Superstock bikes. These are the 1000cc bikes but in a configuration that is closer to stock (though things are a bit confusing since they run racing slicks rather than DOT tires). Like the smaller displacement class, three of the four manufacturers went head-to-head in Superstock. Yamaha brought back defending champ Aaron Gobert on the R1 along with his three compadres of Jamie Hacking, Damon Buckmaster and Jason Disalvo. Kawasaki put the two Hayden brothers on the big ZX-10Rs and Suzuki put Aaron Yates on a GSXR-thou. Again, a number of the factory support teams like Jordan Suzuki (Steve Rapp, Montez Stewart, Jason Pridmore), M4 Suzuki (Vincent Haskovec, Geoff May, Michael Barnes), Corona Suzuki (Brent George, Tony Meiring), Hooters Suzuki (Eric Wood, Jimmy Moore), Hypercycle Suzuki (John Haner) and KWS Suzuki (Lee Acree) chose to focus on Supersport. Since nearly all these teams ran GSXRs, Suzuki had to be the favorite for the title if only because of the raw number of their bikes entered in the class.

The season started off with an emotional win by M4’s Czech rider Vincent Haskovec at Daytona with Yates and Pridmore filling out the all-Suzuki podium. Round two mixed things up with a Kawasaki win from T. Hayden, a runner up for Disalvo and a third for Yates. Another shuffle at round three with Disalvo getting a win, Hacking second and Rapp preventing the Yamaha sweep. Round four had Yates notch his first victory of the season while Hacking and Disalvo rounded out the rostrum. The fifth winner in five races was crowned with Hacking taking his first class win for ‘05, followed home by Yates and T.Hayden. It has to be exciting racing when every weekend puts a new face on the top step of the podium. In the second half of the season, things changed completely. Aaron Yates decided he better win this thing and proceeded to win four straight, only backing off at the final round to tie up the championship with a conservative ninth place finish. When Yates started his roll, only Disalvo could hang tough. JD scored five straight podium finishes, including three seconds, while trying to keep Yates honest. Also notable was Tommy Hayden who dropped out of the class after he crashed and broke his hand at Laguna while leading in Superstock. Until the accident he was in the top three in points and a threat for the title. His brother Roger Lee showed he can ride a big bike by getting on the podium three times in the second half of the season and winning the last race of the year. Another rider that emerged was ‘04 star privateer Geoff May who got two podium finishes this year in Superstock while riding for the M4 team. The top ten for the ’stockers shows just how competitive the class really was with Suzuki (Yates), Yamaha (Disalvo), Suzuki (Rapp), Kawasaki (R. Hayden), Suzuki (J. Haner), Suzuki (J. Holden), Yamaha (Buckmaster), Suzuki (May), Yamaha (Gobert) and Kawasaki (T. Hayden) finishing in that order. Yates winning the championship earned him for than a #1 plate has he seemed certain to lose his Yoshimura ride in ‘06 until the final race of the year when he was suddenly re-signed. The Superstock championship undoubtedly earned him that contract renewal.

The final AMA support class is their “other” premier class which is Forumla Xtreme. For years FX was an “anything goes” class but the upgrade of Superbikes to 1000cc bikes made the two classes nearly redundant. As a result, the AMA “downgraded” FX to be a 600 Superbike class for ‘04. A great idea, really, and one that has been discussed for years but unfortunately they failed to get buy-in from the manufacturers before creating the class. For two straight years, Honda has been the only factory to race in the class meaning it is essentially a nine round marketing campaign for HRC. (As an aside, I think all the factories should be racing in Superbike and FX, leaving the ’stock classes to privateers and factory support teams but I’m not the one that has to manage the R&D costs for the factories…) Anyway, for ‘05 everyone knew that FX was going to be a two-man battle with everyone else just around to fight for the final podium spot. This turned out to be precisely the case. Honda’s two star riders of Miguel Duhamel and Jake Zemke lined up with their CBR600RRs as the two championship contenders. The second tier Erion Honda riders of Kurtis Roberts and Alex Gobert were there as well, meaning Honda should have been sweeping the podium on a regular basis. The most likely folks to challenge Erion for that third spot were M4 Suzuki riders of Vincent Haskovec and later Michael Barnes. Ben Attard and the Attack squad put a green Kawasaki in the field but the rest of the pack was made up of privateers like Danny Eslick, Chris Peris, Opie Caylor, Nicky Moore and Mike Hale.

As expected, the season was a titanic struggle between Zemke and Duhamel. The two earned every win and only gave up two second place finishes to other riders. In fact, the only surprise was that there were only two Honda sweeps of the podium over the nine races (FX didn’t race at Laguna Seca, thus the “missing” race) both with Roberts doing the honors. The battle for third place was primarily between Haskovec, Attard, Barnes and Jensen. The tragedy of the season was at the forth round at Infinion Raceway where Haskovec crashed and slid into a unprotected tire wall. He bike followed him in and the resulting accident ended with one of the most promising riders in the series being paralyzed. In better news, Kurtis Roberts was only set to race two events in Formula Xtreme and was on the podium in both races, showing that perhaps Erion should have focused the youngest Roberts in that class instead of Superbike where they struggled all season. The real breakthrough, though, was Danny Eslick who came into the year with minimal road racing experience but got top five finishes on five different occasions. Likewise, Ben Attard deserves credit for being in the top five in every race, except the season opener at Daytona, including two third place podium finishes. But in the end it was all about Zemke and Duhamel. They battled all season long with Zemke winning out on raw wins with five compared to four from Dahamel but the Canadian taking the championship thanks to a crash by the Californian while leading at the final round. Despite the class being a bit of a snooze-fest, the final race was probably the best race of the year in any class. Proof that even predictable races can be very exciting. Eslick finished the season a fantastic third overall, showing that the youngster is a new emerging talent in AMA road racing. Attard was forth and Aaron Gobert fifth. The final five were Barnes (the replacement for Haskovec), Peris, Moore, Caylor and Knapp. Hopefully, more factories and/or factory supported teams will enter the FX field in the years to come making it more exciting series and reserving the other classes for those who can’t afford to race in Superbike spec classes.

All in all, a great year of racing. All the champs rode hard and all three has phenomenal teams behind them. The days of a privateer winning over the factories in the support classes are probably long gone. However, I do have two observations:

First, while a number of talented new faces showed up this year including Eslick and Peris, three of the four AMA champions are seasoned veterans. Duhamel is at least 37, Mladin 33 and Yates is 32. Even Hayden, at 27, is hardly a youngster any more. The promising stars of tomorrow like Spies, R. Hayden, Zemke, Disalvo, Attard, Eslick, Peris and Young need to start winning championships. Some, most notably factory riders Spies, Zemke, R. Hayden and Disalvo are already winning races and their second place finishes in the various classes give some hope that a new generation may finally be ready to take over. While I’m happy to see old guys winning not just in the AMA but also showing well in World Superbike (Corser, Haga) and even in motocross and supercross (Larocco, Dowd) I do think it is a sign that the young guys aren’t working hard enough. Lets hope the racers still in their twenties can start sticking it to the vets next year.

Second, I think that Vincent Haskovec’s injury is a huge loss for Haskovec, for the AMA and perhaps for the sport. If nothing else, it is a frightening reminder of just how dangerous this sport can be. At its worst, it is a situation where a talented racer has had his life dramatically changed, a series has lost some of its prestige and the sport may have lost some fans. That’s bad mojo all around. While Vincent’s accident has spurred a renewed interest in making our tracks safer, no end result can justify the impact this has had on his life. Lets hope that the AMA and the tracks make a huge step forward with track safety for next year so no other riders will have to suffer this kind of accident.

So while I offer congratuations to Tommy Hayden (Supersport), Aaron Yates (Superstock) and Miguel Duhamel (Formula Extreme) for their championships, I want to close by sending out my thoughts to Vincent Haskovec for the price he ultimately paid in providing the entertainment that AMA road racing offered in ‘05.

[image from the Kawasaki web site.]