Ural Motorcycles recently announced plans to field a two-bike MotoGP team beginning in the 2016 season.
According to Ilya Khait, Ural President and CEO, the decision is based on two factors: the surprising competitiveness of Ducati’s current MotoGP team, running under the ‘Open’ rules, and the anticipation of a cooling trend in U.S.-Russian relations.
“The U.S. has been the single biggest export market for Ural,” notes Khait. “But thanks to Barack Obama’s inability to handle Vladimir Putin, it looks as if we’re in for a long-term cooling in U.S.-Russian relations. It’s just a question of time before the U.S. embargoes Russian motorcycles, and that means we need to shift our marketing effort to Asia, Europe, and South America.”
|The positive response to Ural's cameo appearance in the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremonies got Ural interested in using high-profile sports events to market the brand.|
According to Ural’s spokesperson Madina Merzhoeva, Ural got so much buzz from its recent exposure during the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony that the company decided to reevaluate participation in major sporting events.
“We considered entering the Dakar Rally,” Merzhoeva told Bikewriter.com in an exclusive interview. “But in the end we thought, considering the off-road capabilities of our sidecar combinations, it was too expected. Of course, in brainstorming sessions in Irbit, the idea of competing in MotoGP came up, but we didn’t think it was feasible.”
All that changed when the bikes running under the new ‘Open’ rules, which allow for 24 liters of fuel and softer tires, proved far more competitive than expected. As Ural CEO Khait told us, “We thought, it might be the vodka talking, but seriously if that dog of a Ducati is suddenly competitive, we can do probably run mid-pack too.”
|The surprising improvement of Ducati's MotoGP entry under Open rules convinced Ural's engineers that they too could be competitive.|
The decision to enter MotoGP wasn’t a slam dunk until Russia invaded Crimea. At that point, fears of an upcoming embargo enacted in a fit of pique by frustrated U.S. lawmakers meant that Ural needed a marketing plan that de-emphasized the U.S. market while reaching Europe, Asia and South America.
“Let’s face it,” said Merzhoeva, “that dovetails perfectly with MotoGP’s audience, which is pathetic in the U.S., but huge around the world.”
Engineers at Ural’s Irbit plant have already begun prototyping a MotoGP test mule, based on input from itinerant MotoGP development rider Jeremy McWilliams.
“They’ve got a long ways to go yet,” said McWilliams, “But they’ve already taken 300 pounds off the stock bike, just by removing the sidecar.”
Although Ural’s MotoGP plans are in fact in anticipation of a cooling in U.S.-Soviet relations, rumors are that John Hopkins has already signed a letter of intent. Although people have already joked about Vladimir Putin himself riding the second bike -- the Russian leader rarely misses a chance to prove his machismo -- informed sources suggest that ride is being held open for Mikhail Prokhorov.
More on this story as it develops!