Honda

MotoGP: Marquez extends Honda contract

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The 2018 season may not even have kicked off, but Marc Marquez has become the third rider to secure his long-term future after signing a contract extension with Honda to stay with the Repsol team for two more years, for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Marquez said: “I’m excited to continue to race for Honda’s factory team in the MotoGP class. I’m proud to race as a member of the Honda family, and I appreciate how Honda and the team always do their best to provide me with everything I need. I would also like to thank everyone who has given me such warm support over the years. The first two official tests went well and, with my contract renewed, I can focus on racing in the new season. I will continue to enjoy racing, share my joy with everybody and do my best to reach our shared goals. Thank you!”

The news makes sense – Marquez is very happy with Honda, and at this point in his career, his main ambition is to keep winning races and championships.

He has proven that he is capable of doing that with Honda. And the bike looks to be better than last season’s machine; Marquez has been both very fast and very comfortable in winter testing, his long runs an indication of just how fast he is, even in race trim. With Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow also quick on the bike, the RC213V looks like being extremely competitive this year.

Marquez is the third rider to sign a new contract before the season has even begun.

Maverick Viñales announced that he would be back with Yamaha for two more years at the Movistar Yamaha team launch, before he had even swung a leg over the bike, and Ducati announced they had signed Pecco Bagnaia to the Pramac team for two years.

With Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, and Xavier Simeon all having contracts for 2019 with their current teams, that brings the total number of riders already signed for next year up to six.

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Road racing – Hutchinson and Johnston sign for factory Honda squad

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Two road racing heavyweights – Ian Hutchinson and Lee Johnston – will be lining up on Honda machinery for the 2018 road racing season.

The experienced duo have signed for Honda Europe Motorsport factory backed outfit and will be contesting the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and the Ulster GP aboard the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 in the Superbike and Superstock 1000 classes.

Both Hutchinson and Johnston are no strangers to Honda machinery and in 2010 Hutchy claimed his historic five-TT wins with the Padgetts Honda team. Hugely successful on the roads the ‘Bingley Bullet’ is a 16-time TT winner with 27 TT podiums to his name and will be looking to further add to his tally, as well as claiming the maiden road-racing win for the Fireblade SP2.

Former National Superstock 600 Champion Johnston made his debut at the North West 200 in 2008 and it was 2012 when he first rode the famous TT Mountain Circuit. ‘The General’ has impressed during his time on the roads collecting three wins and six podiums at the NW200, as well as two podiums at the Isle of Man TT. Johnston also has strong links with the Louth-based squad, having worked closely with the Honda Endurance Racing team as its Le Mans 24-hour reserve rider.

Hutchinson said: “I’m really looking forward to getting started with Honda Racing; it’s a new challenge and a fresh start for me. I suppose I have quite a bit of history with Honda, ten years ago I rode with this official team and in 2009/2010 I rode with Padgetts Honda, where I scored five-TT wins in a week, so I know the Fireblade pretty well. I haven’t ridden the Fireblade SP2 yet and will have to wait until we go testing early next year, but I can’t wait to start making some progress. The Honda team has a lot of experience at the TT and its history speaks for itself with the wins and successes over the years, it’s also nice to see a lot of the team still here who I worked with in the past, so I’m confident that come the New Year we can get started and start aiming to where we want to be.”

Johnston was equally excited by the new challenge. He said: “I am genuinely excited about being with Honda Racing next year, I’m probably the most excited I’ve been in years if I’m honest! I have had two tough years and it’s nice to have everything organised and in place early so I have nothing to worry about apart from riding motorbikes. So that for me is the biggest thing and what I wanted more than anything, as I have no outside distractions and I can just concentrate on doing my job. I’ve ridden the Fireblade SP2 already at Le Mans, when I was a reserve rider for the Honda Endurance Racing team, so I’ve got a bit of a head start in that respect. I enjoy riding the CBR, the tank fits me well and it isn’t as big as it looks! I just can’t wait now for testing to start in March and just get going with the new programme for the year.”

MotoGP – Desmo Dovi wins scintillating wet race at Motegi

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Unprecedented weather at Motegi this weekend had seen every session declared wet – the first time in the MotoGP era – and race day was no exception as the skies opened and a torrential downpour covered the 4,801m Japanese circuit.

With rain in the air, the riders lined up on the grid, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech3) took pole position after setting the best time in yesterday’s qualifying. As the lights changed Marquez was ahead in the first corner, but was soon passed by Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team). The Spaniard held this position until Lap Two, before Danilo Petrucci (OCTO Pramac Racing) took his place at the head of the field. Petrucci then began stretching his lead at the front, as the remainder of the pack got involved in their own battles behind him.

As the race progressed, Marquez closed on the leader and overtook him on Lap 13, before Dovizioso snatched the lead from the reigning World Champion on Lap 19, with what was to be the first of many changes of leadership between the pair as the race drew to a close. Dovizioso’s surge to the front resulted in him setting the fastest time of the day, and the top-two in the championship then went head-to-head over the remainder of the race, before heading into the last-lap with Marquez out in front.

With rain still falling, Dovizioso lined up a successful pass at the 90° corner, only to see Marquez come past him straight away, before the Ducati-rider again got the best of the Honda-mounted man to take victory at the end of a scintillating race. Marquez crossed the line in second and saw his title-lead cut to just 11-points, with three races remaining. Petrucci finished third and had the distinction of taking the First Independent Rider honours.

Dovizioso said: “It was a difficult race because at the start there wasn’t much grip and I didn’t have a good feeling with the bike but I never gave up, not even when I was losing ground, and this made all the difference.

“Marc was really quick and he tried right until the end, but there were some places where I could attack and he also made a small mistake on the last lap which gave me a chance to catch him again and try and pass him at Turn 11.

“I knew that he was going to attack me in the final two corners but I was prepared for this, I closed the door on him and he had to go a bit wide to pass me. It was absolutely vital to win here and I’m really so pleased for the whole team and for the championship.”

The race was watched trackside by 52,439 fans who braved the awful weather and they were treated to battles throughout the race that almost matched the excitement at the front. Andrea Iannone (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR) took fourth, just ahead of team-mate Alex Rins (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR), both recording their best results of the season so far. Lorenzo was sixth, followed home by Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). Zarco took eighth and continues to lead both the Independent Team Rider and Rookie Championships. Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was ninth, with Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) rounding out the top-ten.

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.

 

 

Road racing – Martin signs for Factory Honda squad

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The fastest man to never win a TT has signed to race a new Fireblade for the Factory Honda outfit.

Martin was in talks with Neil Tuxworth to ride for Honda last year, with Honda desperate to see Martin on their machinery in 2016. Sources close to Martin revealed that the star was told he could name his price, but it isn’t money that drives Martin and he told Tuxworth so. Instead of a fat pay cheque, Martin said he’d race for nothing, so long as he could race the RCV, the road-going version of Marc Marquez’s bike.

Tuxworth left and contacted HRC, but the answer from the Japanese factory was that a road racing RCV wasn’t a possibility. And thus the talks between Tuxworth and Martin broke down.

However, Tuxworth believes Martin is the perfect rider to partner John McGuinness and continued to push the maverick truck mechanic to sign for his Honda Legends road racing squad.

Martin said: Neil [Tuxworth] has been talking to me for a while about joining the team, but I had a lot of thinking to do before I committed and said yes. I spent a lot of time on my push bike to and from work, thinking about what to do. I didn’t want to grow old regretting not giving the Honda a go, and the more time passes since making the decision, the more time I’ve thought it is the right decision.

“Honda is a great team and the Fireblade has always been a weapon on the roads, so with the new bike, I‘m keen to give it a go. We’ve got a busy testing schedule coming up and I’ve put some other stuff off to make time. John [McGuinness] is the man, I’ve got massive respect for him and I’m looking forward to racing on the Fireblade against him.”

The deal will see Martin ride the new Honda Fireblade in both the Superstock and Superbike races at the TT, and is also set to compete at the North West 200, Ulster GP, Southern 100 and some Irish meetings in the coming year.

Signing for the Factory Honda teams means Martin will ditch the spanners and focus solely on riding the new Fireblade, which may just free enough head space to allow him to take his maiden TT win.

It’s a big ask though – the bike is unproven. Watch this space…

 

 

Road racing – Martin makes shock return with Honda

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Guy Martin is making a shock return to the roads after signing a deal to ride the all-new Fireblade for Honda.

Honda had offered a ‘name your price’ contract last year, but the Lincolnshire maverick refused the offer, asking instead for a RCV213. Honda UK asked Japan but were unable to come to an agreement and the deal was dead in the water.

Or so we thought. Now it seems Guy has agreed terms to ride a 2017 Fireblade at the TT, although no details have been revealed about which team he’s riding for – the Honda TT Legends team or the Wilson Craig team.

And after sitting out last season altogether he’s got a point to prove.

New metal – Honda Fireblade

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One of the most eagerly-awaited sportsbikes of recent years has finally broken cover – the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR.

Honda has released two versions, the Fireblade, and the SP.

The new Blade isn’t the revolution we were expecting, think of it more as an evolution designed to bring the bike back on an equal footing with its rivals, which means there’s no new engine configuration (V4), ground-breaking technology or mindblowing performance figures.

However, the bike has been radically overhauled – power is up by 11bhp to 190bhp and a massive 15kg has been lopped off the bike’s weight, and this has led to a 14% increase in the Honda CBR1000RR’s power-to-weight ratio. The engine itself is a relatively unworked version of the existing unit, and the power hike is as a result of a higher compression ratio and revised cam timings, with the weight savings coming from the liberal use of magnesium, which is now used on the engine covers, and a titanium muffler and fuel tank.

Other changes include a stiffer swingarm and a new radiator design, which has allowed the bodywork to be much narrower.

The bike now features a plethora of electronic riding aids including traction control and engine braking management, and there’s also Öhlins semi-active suspension.

The SP is joined in the line-up by a track version – the SP2. Designed to appeal to racers and trackday enthusiasts, the limited edition Honda CBR1000RR SP2 features larger valves and lighter Marchesini wheels that are made from forged aluminum.

The SP and SP2 will be joined by a base model Honda CBR1000RR.

Road racing – Martin wanted RCV ride for 2016 TT

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Speculation continues to surround Guy Martin, with media channels across the globe wondering whether we will see the maverick road racer between the hedges in 2017.

Many are suggesting the fastest man to never win a TT has done with the roads for good, his huge off at the UlsterGP in 2015 proving to be the crash that broke the camel’s back.

However, we can reveal that the world’s fastest truck mechanic was in talks with Neil Tuxworth to ride for Honda last year, with Honda desperate to see Martin on their machinery in 2016.

Sources close to Martin revealed that the star was told he could name his price, but it isn’t money that drives Martin and he told Tuxworth so. Instead of a fat pay cheque, Martin said he’d race for nothing, so long as he could race the RCV, the road-going version of Marc Marquez’s bike.

Tuxworth left and contacted HRC, but the answer from the Japanese factory was that a road racing RCV wasn’t a possibility. And thus the talks between Tuxworth and Martin broke down.

But we did see an RCV ridden in anger at the TT after Clive Padgett prepared a privately-owned bike for Bruce Anstey, and the flying Kiwi finished eighth in the Superbike race on the MotoGP-inspired V4. Would Martin have fared any better? Let the discussions begin…

So Martin may not be racing on the roads anytime soon, but should a team offer him a left field choice, then the answer my just be a resounding YES.

 

 

MotoGP – bravery, audacity and talent see Marquez land pole in Brno

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Honda’s Marc Marquez dug deep in Brno today, earning pole with an audacious last lap during an intense qualifying session.

Reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo looked set to have put his recent crisis of confidence behind him with an imperious riding display, posting a blistering lap time to lead the field. However, Marquez had other ideas, and on the last lap of the session he posted the fastest time in the second and third sectors, quickly closing in on the Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Pol Espargaro. It looked like he was about to get held up by the duo ahead of him, but in an outrageous display of bravery, accuracy and skill, the Spaniard pounced, diving under Rossi to place his bike just inches behind Espargaro, gaining a handy tow from his compatriot on the drag to the line. It was enough to land him his 63rd pole position, a result which sees him equal Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in career poles.

Marquez said: “I honestly didn’t expect to get this pole position. I saw myself fighting for second place or to be on the front row, which was our main objective. Lorenzo had a great lap this morning that I believed would be difficult to match, but I was able to find a good reference that helped me during the qualifying session.

“Espargaro and Rossi were in front, and I was able to take advantage of their slipstream and overtake them in the final corner without losing time. In the end we did a very good time and I’m especially happy with how FP4 went, as we took a step forward in terms of our pace. “We’ve completely changed the set-up and things have gone much better. If the race is dry tomorrow it gives me hope, because I was finding things tough. If it rains then it will be more difficult, but I’m happy because we’re competitive.”

WSBK – Bradl joins Ten Kate Honda

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MotoGP pilot Stefan Bradl is the latest high profile racer to join WSBK, triggering another round of rider musical chairs.

The former Moto2 champion will be joining Honda’s WSBK outfit for 2017, partnering another MotoGP exile, American Nicky Hayden.

Bradl, who has endured difficult time in MotoGP, struggling to tame the LCR Honda, before jumping ship to the Aprilia Factory tame, was without a ride after Aprilia failed to renew his contract, and with options in the premier class limited, it was increasingly likely he would jump ship to WSBK. And with current Honda WSBK rider Michael van der Mark failing to trigger a contract extension at Laguna Seca, the German seized his chance, especially with Honda rumoured to be competing with an all-new Fireblade next year.

The German said: “I’m really happy to join the Honda WSBK Team for the 2017 season. It’s a great opportunity for me and I’m really looking forward to this new challenge with a really competitive team and I’m sure we’ll do great things together.”

“Of course, this is going to be a whole new experience for me but I will try to adapt as quickly as possible, in order to get some really good results. I can’t wait to try the Fireblade and, obviously, it’ll be fantastic to work together with Nicky: I think it’s a fantastic combination because we understand each other really well. We can all look forward to the future and I am super motivated for this new journey.”

The move is good for both parties. Bradl has strong ties with Honda, and enjoyed a factory contract while he was with LCR. He’s fast, if inconsistent, but if he gels with the new Fireblade he could well be the man to watch next season.

Mark van der Mark, the highly-rated Dutchman who started the season brightly, but has faded over recent rounds, is now expected to join the Yamaha WSBK squad, replacing former WSBK champion Sylvain Guintoli.