Month: February 2017

WSBK – Rea takes brace at season opener at Phillip Island

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Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea celebrated his 39th and 40th career WSBK wins after winning both races from the season opener at Phillip Island.

Rea claimed pole, and in a dramatic race, the defending champion was part of the leading pack of seven riders which saw the lead change hands almost every lap until tyre wear and performance came into play in the closing stages.

The final lap saw Rea in a scintillating battle with Ducati’s Chaz Davies, with the Ulsterman taking the flag by the narrowest of margins.

The second Phillip Island race saw a small piece of history being made on two main fronts. Firstly, race one front row winner Rea, second placed man Davies and third placed Tom Sykes had to start Race Two from the third row under the new championship regulations – Sykes took over seventh grid place, Davies eighth and Rea ninth, in another new twist to the 2017 season.

The opening race saw the Yamaha of Lowes and the Aprilia of Eugene Laverty involved in a hard fight for first, before the field closed and Rea pounced.

Rea was able to get into the lead as early as lap six, but was unable to pull away, with Davies, Sykes, Fores and Melandri all in the mix.

The final lap was again between Rea and Davies, with the reigning champion winning by a margin of  just 0.025 seconds.

This latest race win gave Rea his magical 40th career victory; a level only reached and then later passed by three other riders in WorldSBK history –  Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss and Noriyuki Haga.

Rea, the 2015 and 2016 champion, also scored the Superpole win on Saturday to open his account with a perfect weekend.

Rea said: “Phillip Island was really rewarding and to win two last lap battles here means a lot because it is a such a hard track to lead from the front on. While that 40th career victory means a lot, it is more important to put a good score on the board for round one.

When I went through to clean air in the lead with three or four to go I was worried that the other riders may be learning too much about the bike. I had to be sure just to change the lines up a little bit but on the last lap, from Siberia corner onwards, I just put my head down and completed a very good back section. I covered my line into the MG hairpin and got myself tucked in as well as I could on the front straight. There was not only one area where we found some pace in the winter tests; we generally just polished the bike. Nothing magic happened but I feel good about this bike. The way things have changed a little bit have suited me. I can ride less on the limit and we have more tyre left to fight with at the end of races, compared to last year.”

Road racing – Michael Dunlop ditches BMW for Suzuki for 2017 season

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Michael Dunlop is set to race the all-new GSX-R1000 in 2017, with the 13-time Isle of Man TT winner signing for the new-look Bennetts Suzuki team for the forthcoming season.

Dunlop will race the new machine at the TT, the North West 200, the Southern 100 and the Ulster Grand Prix road races, as well as contesting the opening round of the BSB championship at Donington Park in April.

The 2016 Superbike and Senior TT winner and current out-right lap-record holder has already tested the bike at shakedown test at the team’s Mallory Park, and heads to Spain for more tests at Cartagena and Almeria.

Dunlop said: “I was chatting with team manager Steve Hicken for a while, and obviously we’ve worked together a lot before. With the new bike coming it’s been a bit different and we had to gather up exactly what was happening. We just needed to see what was going to be able to happen and to see where we were both going to be at this time. I know Steve and I know Stuart though, as people, and I know they can take a new bike and get it right. This is a good team and there’s a good link with Yoshimura. It’s going to be interesting this year. I’ve been helping the team build my own bikes and it’ll be good to have a run around at Mallory for a shakedown before we go to Spain.”

Bennetts Suzuki team manager, Steve Hicken, said: “We’ve made good progress already with the development of the new GSX-R1000, and we know the potential is there with the bike. With a proven winner like Michael onboard, there’s no reason we can’t be winning races right away. That’s got to be the aim.”

The Bennetts Suzuki team now heads to Cartagena for the first of two preseason tests, before the first official BSB test at Donington Park on 22 March.

MotoGP – Viñales dominates testing at Phillip Island

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New kid on the Yamaha block Maverick Viñales has done it again at Phillip Island, going even faster on Day 3 to top the timesheets once more.

Fastest on Day 2 and fastest during testing at Sepang and Valencia, the Spaniard has hit the ground running on the Factory Yamaha – ending the Australia test ahead of the Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez in second and Dani Pedrosa in third.

Viñales put in a 1:28.549 early in his impressive day’s work; a time unthreatened until the final flag. Completing 101 laps and able to put in 1:28 laps in a row, the Spaniard also managed to rake in the laptimes in the 1:29 bracket in another ominous show of form.

His teammate – nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi – ended Day 3 in P11 and 0.921s in arrears. The “Doctor” did a best of 1:29.470 in the third session, but is bumped down to P12 on combined times.

The closest chasers to the impressive pace of Viñales were Repsol Honda duo Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. Marquez, who did 107 laps on Day 2 and is the only other rider in the illustrious 1:28 club, did a best of 1:28.843 as he prepares for his title defence – with another impressive 96-lap workload completed. Pedrosa, who was ill on Day 2 and only went out on track for the afternoon, was back on form on Day 3 and put in 65 laps with a quickest effort of 1:29.033, just missing the 1:28s and slotting into P3 on both Day 3 and combined timesheets.

The fastest rookie on Days 1 and 2 kept his crown on the third and final day of testing, as Tech 3’s Jonas Folger shot up into P4. The German, who did an incredible 1:29.042, also suffered a crash but remained just ahead of 2016 Australian GP winner Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda. Folger’s teammate, double Moto2 champion Johann Zarco, ended the test in P15 on combined times with a 1:29.670.

With Crutchlow locking out the top five, another impressive rookie was hot on the Brit’s tail: Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Beating new teammate Andrea Iannone on the timesheets on Day 2 and repeating the feat on Day 3, Rins put in a 1:29.103 to end up only 0.002 off the number 35 on the combined timesheets – despite a small crash. “Maniac” Iannone ended up P13 overall and twelfth on Day 3, completing 77 laps in the final session with a best of 1:29.547.

Seventh and eighth was a Ducati Team lockout. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were separated by less than a tenth, and both completed more than 70 laps. “DesmoDovi” was in full testing mode for the team, with “Spartan” Lorenzo’s focus more angled at adapting to the Desmosedici. The Italian’s best was a 1:29.248, with the Spaniard just behind on a 1:29.342.

Local hero Jack Miller was the next man up, with the Australian impressing once again on the Marc VDS Honda after proving a constant force to be reckoned with in the top ten. 2016 Assen winner Miller did a best of 1:29.358 to line up just behind five-time World Champion Lorenzo.

Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro was another who impressed, taking P6 on Day 2 and locking out the top ten on combined times. The Spaniard, whose best lap was a 1:29.361, put in 65 laps on Day 3 for the Noale factory, with rookie teammate Sam Lowes adding another 57. Lowes’ best was a 1:30.200.

Espargaro’s compatriot Alvaro Bautista on a satellite Ducati was one of the few riders to not improve on Day 3, but his time from the second session is enough to keep him P11 on the combined timesheets – just ahead of Valentino Rossi. Former 125 World Champion Bautista’s best was a 1:29.411.

Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci was the final rider in the top fifteen, taking P14 overall – just ahead of Zarco. The Italian, on the GP17 Desmosedici, did a 1:29.615 to end the Australian test just over a second off the best lap by Viñales.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing made a huge leap up in laptime on the third and final day at Phillip Island. Both riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith put in laps under the 1:30 barrier, with the Spaniard’s best a 1:29.857 and the Brit’s a 1:29.978. Both within a second and a half of P1, the timesheets bode well for the Austrian factory as the road to Qatar gets shorter.

Next up is Losail International Circuit for another test – the last – from the 10-12 March, before the lights go out at the same venue later in the month and 2017 hits the gas.

 

MotoGP – Marquez fastest on first day of testing at Phillip Island

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The second official MotoGP test of 2017 saw blue skies greet the riders at Phillip Island, and by the end of Day One Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez topped the timesheets, with the  Spaniard posting a 1:29.497 lap.

Marquez spent the day working with the engine specification chosen in Sepang alongside teammate Dani Pedrosa, and the reigning Champion put in 68 laps and set his best on his 53rd. Pedrosa, who spent most of the day in P4 before a late charge from some others in the top ten, ended the first session in seventh on a 1:30.281, after 55 laps.

The Factory Yamaha squad held second on the timesheets for most of the latter part of Day 1, first with Maverick Viñales and later with Valentino Rossi, with the Italian finishing the day in P2 on a 1:29.683. The rider from Tavullia also saved a potential crash earlier in the session. Viñales, who did a best of 1:29.989 after 64 laps, didn’t better his time towards the end as his new teammate and Rossi’s compatriot Andrea Iannone did, moving Viñales down to P4.

Iannone shot up the timesheets on his Suzuki near the end of the day, taking third overall with a 1:29.926 after having spent much of the session outside the top ten. The “Maniac” completed 70 laps and set his fastest on number 68.

LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow completed the top five with a 1:30.065. Crutchlow was another Honda pilot testing a version of the new specification engine for Honda, and put in a late charge to move up, doing 61 laps and setting his fastest on his final effort.

And what of the Ducatis? Andrea Dovizioso finished the day in eighth with a 1:30.410, while new teammate Jorge Lorenzo continued his progress as he focuses on adapting to the machine, spending much of the day in the top ten and one of the first out on track. The “Spartan” did 61 laps with a best of 1:30.631, taking 11th place.

Testing continues at Phillip Island on Thursday, with the grid eager to head back out and continue their 2017 preparations as lights out in Qatar begins to loom large.

Road racing – Martin in, Anstey out at Mugen

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Guy Martin has joined Team Mugen for the 2017 Isle of Man TT Zero race.

The Lincolnshire maverick will partner up with 23-time TT winner John McGuinness, his teammate in the Factory Honda road racing outfit, and replaces last year’s TT Zero race winner Bruce Anstey.

Both John McGuinness and Guy Martin will fly out to Tokyo in April to check out the bike and get it set-up.

Team Mugen wants to smash the TT Zero lap record and break the 120mph barrier, and with martin looking to land his maiden TT win,this could possibly his best chance of that.

New bike test: Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin Africa

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The CRF1000L Africa Twin might share the name and its styling DNA with the original 57bhp Honda XRV650 of 1988, but the reality is that the new bike is a completely different animal.

There are two versions – one with Honda’s DCT automatic gearbox, complete with 80 mode settings controlling everything from traction control and power delivery to levels of gear selection and hill control. The second, the more basic manual version, costs some £1,000 less.

The bike we’re testing today is the no-frills manual, and initial impressions are positive; it’s a well finished bike. The attention to detail is superb, and Honda has obviously spent a lot of time getting the rugged off-road looks ‘just so’.

Both bikes use same CRF450 Rally bike inspired frame design and that fluid, linear twin cylinder oversquare, 93.8bhp inline twin cylinder motor, and the first thing to point out is that the 1000cc engine is down on power compared to the competition – a BMW R1200GS pumps out around 125bhp, while the KTM 1190 Adventure makes around 150bhp.

However, on the move the relative lack of power isn’t immediately obvious. The engine produces so much accessible torque, bottom end and grunt, it’s a joy to ride.

On the road the engine feels smooth, and it’s an easy bike to ride. The throttle feels direct, there’s always enough torque on tap to allow quick and easy overtakes, and if not, just drop it down a gear, twist the throttle and go. And it’s just as composed at the slower speed stuff. That broad spread of torque makes light work of the low speed stuff such as crawling through town. Impressive then so far.

Then there’s the riding position. It’s very upright, and the big wide bars make it easy to guide through corners. It’s very Honda – it’s very, very ergonomically comfortable and everything falls to hand just how you want it to; nothing feels strained and there’s very little pressure on knees and wrists.

Yes, that screen may be small but it’s effective at keeping the wind off my 6ft 2in frame, and while the seat isn’t the widest, it is all-day comfortable.

But this is an adventure bike, and while few owners will be taking their £10,500 pride and joy mud-plugging, I’m glad to report it’s actually pretty capable. The power delivery is linear, thanks mostly to the engine revving so flatly, and this means you always feel like you’re controlling the rear wheel, allowing you to accurately mete out power and judge grip. And if the bike does get sideways, it’s easy to use the torque curve to sort the bike out.

What stands out from all this riding is that the Honda may well have created the consummate all-rounder – The Africa Twin is just at home grinding out the miles on the daily commute, touring two-up, exploring green lanes or going on a proper adventure. Sometimes less is more.

 

 

WSBK – Ten Kate Honda gets wings

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Honda’s WSBK assault has got wings this season, with the Red Bull backed Ten Kate team unveiling its 2017 livery.

This is the first time that Red Bull has been a title sponsor in the series, and with the new Fireblade beneath riders Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl, the team looks capable of taking a podium or even a win.

Former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden. “I’m really glad to get back together with Red Bull, who I have represented in the past, and it’s a great opportunity for me. We have to focus now on the job ahead and work as hard as we can in order to be ready for the season opener. The level of the competition is higher than ever and we have a big job ahead of us, but everybody is really motivated and I cannot wait to get started.”

Joining Hayden in the garage is former Moto2 Champion, Stefan Bradl. “It’s going to be a very interesting partnership with Honda and Red Bull… we have a new Fireblade for the season, so it will take a little bit of time to dial it in but we’ll do our best to take it to the top as soon as possible. All in all it’s a great project and step by step we will make it a successful one.”

WSBK – Neil Hodgson’s 2017 season preview

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“This season promises to be a classic. Last year, the class was dominated by the best rider on the best bike. Johnny Rea was a class above his rivals, and he had a bike under him that matched his talent, even if there were a few issues with the gearbox.

“This year the already-strong Kawasaki has been upgraded, and I expect
it to be leading from the front again. He’s fast, consistent and doesn’t make many mistakes.

“But he won’t have it all own way, and Chaz Davies finished the second half of last season in the form of his life. He’s kept the momentum going into testing and the Ducati Panigale R is a just gets better and better. His new team-mate Marco Melandri has also looked fast in testing, and I can’t wait to see how Chaz deals with the threat.”

“There’s also the news Honda Fireblade, and it will be interesting to see how it goes. Hayden and Bradl are both fast, but the bike is unproven. Expect a few podium finishes.

“And the Yamaha R1 is now in its second year of development, which means the team should kick on. Guintoli has gone, and been replaced by Van Der Mark, who is talented, and hungry. His team-mate Alex Lowes has been instrumental in developing the bike, and his sheer raw talent and speed mean he’s bound to be in the mix too.”

MotoGP – Neil Hodgson 2017 preview

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Neil Hodgson is a BSB and WSBK champion 
and a commentator 
for BT Sport. He’s got
 his finger on the pulse
 in the MotoGP, WSBK, and BSB paddocks
 and his encyclopedic knowledge of bike racing make him perfectly placed to preview the season ahead.

MOTOGP:

“I’m really excited about this season. Last year was the best season I
 can ever remember and we had nine different race winners.

“Marquez played the long game and showed a maturity we’d not seen before, happy to take points instead of pushing hard for the win. This consistency saw him take the title, on a bike many claimed was ‘unrideable’, and he’s still the man to beat.

“Vinales has been the fastest man in pre-season testing and he’s adjusted quickly to the Yamaha. He’ll be oozing confidence, and it will be fascinating to see the team dynamics unfold between him and Rossi. Both will be desperate to be the fastest and it won’t be long until there are fireworks.

“Lorenzo is another rider who has switched manufacturers, and he’ll be desperate to show his speed after a so-so 2016. On his day he can be unbeatable, but he had too many off days last season, especially in the wet. The Ducati is fast and it will be interesting to see whether Lorenzo has to adjust his style to make it work.

“Iannone could be the dark horse. He’s fearless and quick, when he’s not crashing, and the bike is proven. He could well be fighting for the odd win if he can keep the Suzuki upright.”