Honda Silly Season Update: Three Repsols And Elias At LCR
MotoGP's silly season is almost at an end, with only a few loose ends left to tie up. The names of the riders are all known now, though contracts remain to be signed and announcements to be made, as the final details of deals are hammered out among the various parties.
While Honda's factory line up has been known for a couple of months now, the exact line up and organization has remained unclear. HRC had three riders under contract to ride in the factory team, with Casey Stoner joining Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa for 2011, but there was some doubt about the way the trio would be organized. At Aragon, HRC Marketing Director Livio Suppo told MotoMatters.com that there would be four factory Honda riders for 2011: Stoner, Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli, who also has a contract with HRC directly. After talks failed to tempt another sponsor in to run Casey Stoner in a separate team, Honda put pressure on Andrea Dovizioso to take a seat in the San Carlo Gresini Honda team alongside Simoncelli, with the promise of full factory support in the Gresini squad.
But at Phillip Island, news emerged that Repsol had finally been persuaded to step up their sponsorship for the factory Honda squad to allow three riders to run in the Spanish petroleum giant's colors. Repsol is rumored to have upped sponsorship from 10 million a year to 15 million for 2011, which will allow HRC to run Casey Stoner, Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa inside the Repsol Honda team. The team will not see a separate structure for Casey Stoner, as was first expected, but all three riders will have their own management structure, similar to the set up of the Fiat Yamaha squad this season.
With Dovizioso staying inside the Repsol team, this leaves a space at the Gresini Honda squad. That spot is almost certain to be taken by Hiroshi Aoyama, who has had a difficult rookie season in MotoGP, fracturing a vertebra at Silverstone and missing a number of races this year. Both Dorna and Honda are keen to keep a Japanese rider in the series, and so Aoyama will slot in alongside Simoncelli at Gresini.
This leaves one small problem to be solved: the question of where to place Moto2 champion Toni Elias. Many people believed Elias should never have been dropped from MotoGP at the end of the 2009 season, in which the Spaniard finished 7th in the championship. After dominating the brand new Moto2 class, Dorna is keen to see Elias reinstated in MotoGP, in part to emphasize the value of Moto2 as preparation for the premier class. At first, Elias had been penciled in at the Pramac Ducati squad, but that option met with considerable opposition from the Spaniard, who has bad memories of his year with the team in 2008. Lucio Cecchinello has also been very keen to sign the Spaniard, and in front of a huge crowd celebrating his Moto2 title in Manresa, Spain, Elias confirmed that he would be back in MotoGP: "I can't tell you where," he told the crowd, "but it will be on a great bike and with a great team!"
With Elias edging into the LCR team, this leaves Randy de Puniet with only one option, to sign with Pramac Ducati. Speaking to the French website Sportbikes.fr, De Puniet's manager Eric Mahe confirmed that "it is 99% certain that Elias will ride for Cecchinello next year." Mahe denied that talks had been opened with the Pramac team, but with Dorna keen to keep the Frenchman in MotoGP - and De Puniet's strong riding early in the year building him a strong fan following - there is little doubt that De Puniet will take the Pramac Ducati ride for 2011. Talks between De Puniet and Pramac are expected to take place next weekend, at Estoril.