Newly sacked German rider Max Neukirchner has quickly found gainful employment, signing a deal that will see him partnering with Jonny Rea on a Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR in the World Superbike series in 2010. This year, Neukirchner has battled injuries incurred at Monza and Imola and his contract with Alstare Suzuki was terminated in late September by team owner Frankie Batta, allegedly over concerns about his level of fitness. Current Ten Kate rider Carlos Checa, despite a flurry of late season activity, will not return to the Ten Kate team, who are downsizing to two riders in 2010. Checa is thought to be in line for a testing gig with the Ducati MotoGp team. Checa has a history with Ducati, having ridden for the team in MotoGP in 2005, alongside Loris Capirossi.
Amid a recent raft of rumors that Max Neukirchner has left/been fired from the Alstare Suzuki team, owner Frankie Batta has acknowledged that Neukirchner will not be riding for the team in 2010. According to GPone.com, Batta says that the team declined to exercise an option on the German in late September because he wasn't forthright about his physical condition. Specifically, Batta says that Neukirchner underwent a delicate operation on his back that the team was not informed of and when it was discovered, declined to meet with the team at Magny-Cours and undergo a physical in Belgium, where the Alstare team is located. Batta went on to say that the second seat on the team will be filled by Sylvain Guintoli, currently riding for the Worx Crescent Suzuki team in the British Superbike series. Exactly how the team came to avail itself of Guintoli's services is unclear, as the Frenchman is under contract to the Worx team for 2010.
Alstare has issued a press release confirming that Max Neukirchner's contract has not been extended and their reasons why it hasn't.
Leon Haslam, speaking to Tony Carter on the Eurosport coverage of the first race of the Oulton BSB round, has confirmed one of the worst-held secrets of the World Superbike silly season, namely that he'll moving over to the factory Alstare Suzuki team in 2010. Haslam didn't speculate on who might be his teammate, claiming that he has no knowledge of who it would be. Recent rampant speculation has placed current Alstare rider Max Neukirchner at odds with team owner Frankie Batta, with the German touted to leave the team and sign with Ten Kate Honda. The Haslam signing also suggests that long-time Suzuki favorite, Yukio "Crash" Kagayama, will not return to the Alstare team. Kagayama, who hasn't had a win since 2006, is widely tipped to return to the BSB.
British racing site Bike Sport News is reporting that soon-to-be ex-Yamaha rider Tom Sykes will partner with Chris Vermeulen at Paul Bird Kawasaki in 2010. Sykes, who currently lies 8th in the point standings, has had a creditable year but has had the misfortune of being paired with the best pure rookie in recent times, Ben Spies, and has perhaps unfairly suffered in comparison. Paul Bird, interviewed on the Eurosport coverage of the Oulton BSB round, commented that there was a good chance that Sykes would be joining the team and exactly who would be occupying the seat would be sorted by the middle of next week. Bird also commented that the team's second rider would be British, which doesn't eliminate Shane "Shakey" Byrne, who has been heavily rumored to join the team. Bird's statement does, however, confirm rumors that Australian Broc Parkes will not return to the team.
A variety of sources are reporting that Max Neukirchner will make a shocking jump to ride alongside Jonny Rea on the Ten Kate Honda team in 2010. Although the young German rider had a contract with Alstare Suzuki for 2010, it is believed that the pact was terminated as early as the first of October by the team due to fitness concerns based on injuries incurred at the mid-summer Imola test. Rumor has it that Alstare owner Frankie Batta used the fitness issue to clear the decks so that a French ex-MotoGP rider (although who that could be is kind of hazy with Sylvain Guintoli already signed to the BSB Worx team for next year) could come aboard the sinking Alstare ship bearing a bucketload of Francs to rescue the cash-strapped team.
Ten Kate had been thought to be on the verge of re-signing current rider Carlos Checa after former riders James Toseland and Chris Vermeulen inked deals with different teams. The Neukirchner/Ten Kate agreement will reportedly be sealed sometime next week.
Astare Suzuki, on a post on the team's website, has expressed surprise that Max Neukirchner, who incurred grave injuries to his back at the mid-summer Imola WSBK test, would be available for the apres-season test at Portimao, Portugal. Citing a recent physical exam at Imola, the team claims that "...doctors Costa, Corbascio and neuro-surgeon Professor Bollini all declared that they would not take responsibility for allowing Max to ride a bike again this year. "
The usually well informed Italian site GPone.com is reporting that Stiggy Honda will release rising British star Leon Haslam from whatever contractual relationship they have with the Pocket Rocket immediately after the final round at Portimao. It has been widely rumored for weeks that Haslam will sign (if he hasn't already) with Frankie Batta's Alstare Suzuki team. This release would allow Haslam to test with the team immediately following the Portugese round. Stiggy, whose financial problems have forced the team to cut their involvement in WSBK and WSS to one rider per series for the last three races of 2009 and forced a dissolution of their partnership with S2 Racing, will reportedly divulge which direction the team will take in 2010 at Portimao.
Phillip Island will kick off the year with Portimao to follow in the former Qatar slot. Magny Cours will regain the season-ending race it had from 2003-2007.
Motorcycle racers, journalists and fans tend to talk about the sport in terms of a physical struggle. Riders and teams are always fighting or battling for the lead, championship or what have you. To be sure, there are parallells between the sweet science and racing; fighters and racers both spend endless hours training to be in top condition and both have to ply their trade hurting as often as not. Strategy is important too, as the combatants look to defend their position or deliver a knock-out blow that will defeat their opponent. The two men that are left in the ring in the 2009 World Superbike series championship, Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga, came into the next to last round at Magny Cours, nearly too close to call on points, each looking for the advantage that would KO their rival or serve to let them live to fight another day.
Race 1: Don't Look Back, Something Might be Gaining on You
British site Visordown.com is reporting that the last two British Superbike champions, Leon Camier and Shane "Shakey" Byrne, will reunite on a team that will campaign the Aprilia RSV4. Speculation has been rife that the Italian manufacturer would increase their presence in the series in 2010 and Aprilia PR flack Alain Roger stated as much recently in an interview with Caradisiac.com. Byrne and Camier were teammates on the Airwaves Ducati team in 2008, the year that Byrne won the BSB championship. That championship paved the way for Byrne's current ride with Sterilgarda Ducati, a relationship that hasn't gone exactly as planned. Byrne, speaking on Onthethrottle.com has said that he has two offers in 2010 and it has been assumed that he would sign with Paul Bird Kawaski. However, with PBM's recent signing of soon to be ex-Rizla Suzuki rider Chris Vermuelen, it would appear that the postion of lead rider has been filled on the green team.
The tragic accident which came so close to crippling Regis Laconi at Kyalami generated a huge wave of sympathy. The Frenchman had a huge crash on his very first lap during World Superbike practice at the South African track, was knocked out and cracked his C3 and C5 vertebrae. Only surgery to insert a plate to fix the vertebrae in place prevented further injury to Laconi, and after a long and grueling rehabilitation period the Frenchman is almost back to full fitness.
To celebrate his return to rude health, Laconi will take to the track aboard his #55 DFX Ducati, and do three laps of honor at the Magny-Cours circuit at 11:15 am local time, 45 minutes before the first World Superbike race is due to start. The ceremony is meant as a gesture of thanks for the support his fans and friends inside and outside the World Superbike paddock have shown the Frenchman, and also as a sign that Laconi is determined to make his way back into racing.