Why Hiroshi Aoyama Is Replacing Dani Pedrosa At Repsol Honda

Dani Pedrosa's announcement after the Qatar Grand Prix that he would be withdrawing from racing to seek urgent treatment for arm pump immediately triggered an explosion of speculation over who might replace the Spaniard during his absence. Fans and pundits offered a barrage of possible names to take Pedrosa's place: Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, Michael van der Mark, Jack Miller, Nicky Hayden. Coming as it did just before April Fool's day, it even triggered a spate of hoax stories: Casey Stoner, Mick Doohan, Alex Marquez and Fabio Quartararo were all offered in jest.

Hiroshi Aoyama was always going to be the man to replace Pedrosa, however. For a range of reasons, Aoyama is the only reasonable candidate to take the place of Pedrosa in the short term, all the other names being bandied about subject to sponsor conflicts, race conflicts, contractual obligations or just plain unwillingness. Here's a rundown of why Aoayama got the call, and the others didn't.

Hiroshi Aoyama

Aoyama arrived in MotoGP in 2010 as the last ever 250cc world champion, having taken the final two stroke title before the class was replaced by Moto2. He failed to set the world alight, struggling to adapt to four-stroke bikes after many seasons racing two strokes. After a brief stint in World Superbikes, he returned to MotoGP last season to ride Honda's RCV1000R production racer. Out of a job at the end of 2014, he was recruited by HRC to work as their test rider, and help push the development of their MotoGP project.

Though Aoyama is unlikely to come in to the Repsol Honda team and start taking podiums, he is sure to acquit himself respectably. He has recent experience of racing in MotoGP, testing experience with the factory Honda RC213V - he tested the bike at the first Sepang test, where he ended as 14th fastest overall. He has experience of the 2015 Bridgestone tires, and he has raced at both Austin and Argentina. Knowledge of those two tracks is important: both circuits feature only on the MotoGP calendar, Austin being added in 2013, and Argentina in 2014. 

Riders coming in from other series would face some formidable obstacles. Not only would they have to learn the formidable Honda RC213V MotoGP machine, they would also have to learn the Bridgestone tires - not as hard as it used to be, but still requiring some experience to master - and the layout of two new circuits. Aoyama's experience is what gives him the advantage.

Cal Crutchlow

If experience and speed is needed, why not replace him with an existing rider in the class? Prime candidate in this instance would be Cal Crutchlow: he is now a veteran of MotoGP, has spent the winter testing on the Honda RC213V, and after finishing as the first satellite bike at Qatar, proved he has the pace to earn the ride.

But Crutchlow was never going to be an option to replace Pedrosa, for commercial reasons. First and foremost is a clash of sponsors: Crutchlow has had Monster backing for many years, and is well embedded into the energy firm's marketing and athlete support programs. Repsol Honda have strong financial support from Red Bull, with the sponsorship prominent on both bike and riders. Untangling that conflict would be contractually impossible, with both Repsol Honda and Crutchlow tied in by too many clauses to escape.

But the surrender of a top rider would also be hugely unpopular with the LCR Honda team. For a satellite team, the riders are their main marketing asset. The riders are out to get results, and the riders are a key part of the package which the team sells to its sponsors. Riders spend a good part of the weekend in meet and greet sessions with sponsors and business partners of the team, shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries, sharing the occasional meal. Factory teams have the might of their manufacturer behind them, offering much deeper partnerships. Repsol gets to work with Honda, for example, providing much more than just the backing of a rider. The main attraction of the LCR Honda team is its riders, Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, men capable of grabbing attention. 

Several years ago, when one factory rider was out with injury, I had a long conversation with the manager of a satellite team. He expressed his fear that the factory would take his star rider away, making it much more difficult for the coming races. "What can I give my sponsors, my guests if he is not here?" the manager asked rhetorically.

Jack Miller

What about Jack Miller? Taking Miller from LCR Honda would leave the team with Cal Crutchlow, and Miller's Red Bull contract means no conflict of sponsors. Miller is already on a three-year HRC contract, and is already tipped to take Pedrosa's place at Repsol Honda once the Spaniard's contract expires at the end of 2016.

Yet putting Miller into the Repsol Honda team is exactly what HRC are trying to avoid. The Australian has already made a major leap, going straight from Moto3 to MotoGP, and managing the pressure on Miller is one of Honda's main objectives for this year. He is being brought on carefully, given the assistance of Cristian Gabarrini, one of the most highly-rated crew chiefs in MotoGP. It would be impossible to bring Miller into Repsol Honda without the young Australian being subject to enormous pressure to perform. If Miller tries to hard to live up to that, he risks pushing too hard and crashing, and the potential for serious injury.

Miller is in the LCR Honda team, on the Open class RC213V-RS, to learn, and gain experience of MotoGP, so that he can show his potential in years to come. Not to go straight to the factory team.

Michael van der Mark / Sylvain Guintoli

The last time a rider in the Repsol Honda team was injured, HRC turned to the Pata Honda team in World Superbikes. Jonathan Rea was brought in to replace Casey Stoner in 2012, after the Australian had broken bones in his ankle in Indianapolis. Despite an incredibly hectic schedule - five weeks of back-to-back racing, alternating between WSBK and MotoGP every weekend - Rea acquitted himself exceptionally well, scoring a 7th and an 8th at Aragon and Misano, coming in after half a day of testing at Brno, still jet-lagged from his flight back from Japan. 

Bringing a World Superbike rider in is impossible this time around, though. The two upcoming rounds of MotoGP at Austin and Argentina clash with the next two rounds of World Superbike. The Aragon round of WSBK is on the same weekend as Austin, while a week later, MotoGP heads to Argentina and World Superbikes head to Assen. Sylvain Guintoli is the defending WSBK champion, and he, Honda and WSBK series owners Dorna will want to have the champion's #1 plate on display at both races. The Assen round is the Pata Honda team's home race, and not having either the reigning champion or Dutchman Van der Mark at Assen is completely unthinkable. 

Guintoli's objective for 2015 is to defend his WSBK title. Van der Mark is focused on learning the ropes in World Superbikes - something he has already shown he is getting to grips with incredibly quickly - and preparing for a title challenge in 2016. Neither man wishes to jeopardize their 2015 season for a chance to ride a bike they have never tested on tires they have never used at tracks they have never seen. They have far more to lose than to gain.

Casey Stoner

If the fans had their say, there would be only one candidate to replace Pedrosa at Repsol Honda. After all, if you want to replace the man who came second in the championship for Repsol Honda, who better than the man who came first? What's more, the fans would relish the chance to see the reigning champion and current fastest man in MotoGP up against the man he replaced, and the previous holder of his title. Stoner is fast enough, he knows the bikes, the tires, and has a contract to test the Honda RC213V for HRC. He still has plenty of competitive spirit in him, racing RC model cars in Australia, following his friend Ryan Villopoto in the MXGP world championship, and is set to race in the Suzuka 8 hour later this year.

There is only one person standing between MotoGP and Casey Stoner, and that is the most important person in that equation: Stoner himself. The Australian has said repeatedly and publicly that he has no desire to return to the Grand Prix paddock, and no desire to race in MotoGP again. He has two world championships, enough money to enjoy a very comfortable retirement, and nothing left to prove. He is enjoying life with his family, spending time with his family and watching his daughter growing up. Stoner has nothing to gain from a return to MotoGP: he is enjoing being a human being too much to give it all up, and have to deal with the atmosphere and politics of the paddock again.

 

 

Total votes: 102
Total votes: 71

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Comments

...but no additional comment on Nicky? I know all of the arguments, but he's still my sentimental favorite - I'd sure like to see him on a worthwhile bike again.

Total votes: 118

Not even one word about Nicky, David? I'm surprised. Why is it so hard to believe that Nicky would not be a viable choice for this seat? Even a one-off for the Austin round, and then put Aoyama in the seat after that. Think of the buzz that would generate! We have no idea when Dani might be able to come back, if he can come back at all.

And as far as the whole Drive/Aspar angle, who knows where that situation is going. Seems to me like those folks are in serious trouble, so it makes more sense to put Nicky in that seat if you look past the surface.

But if HRC wants to just settle for mid-pack, then fine, put Aoyama in there. He is a journeyman rider who will do a good job and bring the bike home. I'm surprised that Nakamoto-san would settle for that, but they are in a tough position for sure. I wish Hiroshi the best of luck. He just might perform better than many of us think.

The real focus though is still with Dani. I wish him all the best and I want him to return! I hope he can get the relief he needs from the treatment plan they have decided upon. He deserves to leave this sport on his terms.

Total votes: 99

If you want to read the situation about Hayden then just replace Crutchlow's name with his. it's pretty much a similar situation. Hayden is the name in that team. He's the Sponsor draw and whilst they have some title sponsor issues they also have an official sponsor in clothing outfit Pull & Bear. I might be wrong but I believe they may have just recently stepped up their sponsorship to fill some of that gap. Sponsors are as much invested in a rider as they are a team. They expect their rider to do the corporate thing as well as be seen on track.
Hayden rides a Honda but he does not ride for Honda. He's contracted to Aspar. As I have said elsewhere it's not like baseball where they can pluck someone from the minors. For Honda to try and poach another team's rider for a couple of rounds would be very poor form. It would cause all manner of legal issues with regards to contracts and Martinez would probably be very unwilling to let his star draw go. Who would then replace him?
Satellite teams can sometimes have no option when the big guns come calling but customer teams are likely to tell those guns to take a hike.

Total votes: 103

And why not Niki? With 2 rounds of MotoGP in the states and the current situation at Aspar, why not? Honda has no love for Americans.

Total votes: 108

Former honda world champion, experienced on a similar machine, faster than ayoyama on the same rcv-rs, no more wrist issues...if you add the fact that he is the only american left racing in the class and the next race is in the US it might seem like a Japanese to Japanese thing.

People and fans like those comeback stories and Nicky wouldn't say no like Casey. Maybe he could grab the chance and gives a proper farewell.

Total votes: 116

The exact same reasons that Crutchlow isn't getting a ride. Why would Aspar lend out their #1 rider, their most popular draw particularly when they are just about to head to the American market where he is most popular?

Total votes: 95

Well, they are barely getting any coverage now, possibly negative with all the sponsor issues. Put ayoama in his place, and let your rider show what he has got on a superior machine, in his country. Its two races, after those he is back.

Plus it may put you to a better negotiating position regarding more factory support for that damn-of-a-bike Honda sold you...

I'm just saying.

Total votes: 100

For money! If I were Nicky, I'd pay out of my own pocket if necessary for the chance at a factory ride at my home G.P.

And if that doesn't work out, Texas needs a Tornado! Colin Edwards is insanely popular and is arguably no slower than Aoyama.

Total votes: 85

Aoyama is the sensible choice because there isn't any conflict with anything else there. Not an exciting choice, though, but replacement riders rarely are. I would've like to see Nicky get a chance in Austin as I really feel this is his last year in GP. I'd hope he gets a better sendoff than Colin did.

Total votes: 91

While I think we'd be fooling ourselves by thinking that Nicky would get on the podium or even win a race being back on the factory bike, I'm sure he'd be well in the top 10 if not battling one or two of the factory bikes for a while. And ESPECIALLY since the next race is in Texas, it would create an incredible amount of exposure. And more to the point it would prove somebody right. Those who say that all he needs is a competitive bike to be back on top will finally know once and for all if that is correct, or maybe those who say he's finished would be right, but at least this particular conversation would be over. :-)
But in the end you are never going to make anybody happy except on person and that person this time around is Aoyama. I'm really not too disappointed as I really enjoyed watching him race to the championship in the 250 class and even though it may be unlikely, who knows? Maybe this will be his time? Will be fun to find out...

Total votes: 87

Not to mention it's Nicky's 200th Premier Class GP in Austin. Becomes only the 4th man in history to achieve that behind Rossi, Barros & Capirossi.

Total votes: 102

Hiroshi Aoyama isn't a very exciting choice, sure, but HRC's choosing him is great news for anyone, like me, who hopes Dani has an opportunity to make a competitive return to MotoGP. Had HRC tapped any of the daydream riders that might realistically battle for wins or podiums, it probably would have been safe to assume that Dani's career was over. The choice of Aoyama sends the message that HRC believes Dani's absence is temporary.

Of course, I'm sure HRC is well aware of this line of reasoning and could easily have chosen Aoyama as Dani's first replacement as a placeholder to avoid stirring up the rumor mill too early. If Dani doesn't return on schedule and HRC selects a more competitive rider to take Hiroshi's place? I'd consider that very bad news for fans of DP26.

Total votes: 93

It just sounds funny :)

Total votes: 80

The other issue when it comes to Stoner's return is that he will want to challenge for the title. Having missed one race, he will already be at a significant disadvantage. In his shoes, I'm not sure I would take the ride either.

Stoner on the RCV213 is a title contender, so it doesn't make sense to do a throwaway year. That being said, one race isn't make or break, but with how close this season is sure to be it may very well decide the championship.

Total votes: 95

... stoner is never coming back to motogp, at least not without massive changes to the series.

get over it.

Total votes: 83

Stoner has made it clear that he doesn't like the motogp circus (or the current state of rider aids on bikes) so there's no reason to think he'd want to compete for a championship. It's more likely (although still very unlikely) that he'd come back for a wildcard; he likes the racing, but not the press/corporate engagements.

Total votes: 75

So, no followup comments about Nicky Hayden as a replacement for Pedrosa. Sad, because Nicky on the factory Honda would be fighting for a podium each and every race.

Total votes: 106

It took 9 times world champion, probably the greatest rider of his generation, VR46 1 full year to adjust back to the Yamaha after having not ridden one for two years. Exactly why would NH be challenging for podiums after haven't ridden a Honda for 6+ years?

Total votes: 101

Did it really take Rossi a full year to adjust?

2013 was his first year back on the Yamaha:

Season Bike Race Win Pod Pole FLap Pts Plcd

2013 YZR-M1 18 1 6 0 1 237 4th

Granted, he did improve in 2014 with 2 wins, 13 podiums and 2nd place in the championship but 2013 wasn't too bad of a year for him.

As an American, I may have a biased opinion of Nicky...

Total votes: 123

Well, that's settled. I raised half an eyebrow that Toni Elias or Ayrton Badovini never got mentioned in this discussion.
Maybe they couldn't be separated from their contractual obligations to Carribean rum after the JR Racing team evaporated into thin tropical air.

Total votes: 85

Honda probably did not even think of Hayden. He may not be an 'Alien', but he is a solid racer for whoever is not in the elite group of riders which currently can be 5 people, (Dovi, Iannone, Lorenzo, Rossi, Marquez). The group of riders that follows those 5 is an exciting battle. The best of the also rans. Nicky may not have the raw speed of the best. But he can be 10 places ahead where he is currently running at if he was on the HRC Factory Bike. But as we have seen in the past. Even after getting a World Championship, he was treated like a non factor. So him getting a ride on the Factory Bike is just not going to happen. Feel for the guy. Out of all the racers on the grid he has the most to gripe about and STILL does not say a bad word. Aoyama makes sense from a business perspective. No extra red tape to cut through. Just grab him and place him on the bike. Still does not stop me from wanting to see Nicky get on a decent bike though.

Total votes: 98

The only reason Nicky was ever on a Honda is because the US market was gobbling up MASSIVE amounts of powersports volume at that time. What better way to sell some Alabama man and Fireblade then with the Kentucky Kid's face.

As for Aoyama I'm sure Asian fans will love seeing a Japanese on a Japanese Factory bike. To Honda they're all just wrists...

Total votes: 95

My take on it is that Nicky was promoted to GP after he won US superbike championship in 2002 on a Honda (beating the 7-time champion Mladin along the way). His rookie season in Europe in MGP he finished 5th. His on-track performance certainly was a benefit to marketing Honda and Honda USA for sure.

Total votes: 88

Simple - the primary test rider is the go to fill in. It is often expressed in their contract. The rest is mostly wishful thinking and speculation.

But with Troy Bayliss back in action in WSBK we sure got some great wishes churned up! I have hereby officially let go of the last little remnant of wondering about Stoner returning to MotoGP racing. It didn't come to mind.

Total votes: 76

The real question is: What will Marquez do now in Qualifying ? He cannot longer be sure that his teammate is ahead of his main rivals ( read = Yamaha riders ) and the Factory Ducatis are strong enough to be in front of him because of the soft tire. The lower he is in qualifying , the bigger the risk it is that he does end up 10+ after the first lap and he cannot longer rely on cutting through the field like he did in Moto2 days now that the competition have better bikes and "better" tyres ( at least in the first 5 laps ).

Total votes: 86

The contractual part of this sport stinks. The #1 satellite guy should be brought in, Cal. Hiroshi take his place on the satellite machinery. That's how it used to be and makes the most sense, even for points and the constructors. Cal would surely place higher at both rounds than Aoyoma. It is what it is.

Total votes: 94

Hayden and Aoyama, were not far apart last year, and Aoyama has experience of the RCV-213V and Honda can continue their test program while he is there.

Aoyama makes more sence for Honda

Total votes: 85

I love following Stoner on Facebook and seeing him post pictures of his RC cars. It's nice to see him enjoying life.

Total votes: 93

Is another reason. Honda need someone they can trust to not bin one of Pedrosa's motors.

At 5 units, this is creeping up on even Hondas safety margins.

No need for a local hero or someone whos unfamilar with the bike. That kind of added presure on a rider is exactly what Honda doesn't need.

Total votes: 80

https://twitter.com/official_cs27

Check this out,Stoner did want to ride but i guess HRC has refused....WOW thats a big blow as the fans would have gone crazy to see Casey back on the Honda...Well all you managers of Honda with all due respect.....WHY???????

Total votes: 103

That does indeed read like he honestly considered racing. I'm surprised. I've been past the point where I thought he still would.

Total votes: 82

Here's the tweet for context

HRC would never refuse a ride to Stoner. They would be insane to. They have tried many times to persuade him to race, but he keeps turning them down. My interpretation of this is that Stoner was paying his respects to Pedrosa, who he rates very highly.

There is no mention here of anyone turning him down.

Total votes: 130

Well ya even i would think HRC would not have turned him down...the line "It would have been an honour" is sure ambiguous enough to cause a debate in itself...He was is Argentina so iam not sure if they had a chance to speak to Casey properly. Iam sure a million more would watch the next GP is Casey was along side Marcus.Would be great PR as well....Iam hoping for a MIRACLE.....LIKE many others....

Total votes: 93

I totally agree with you about it being ambiguous. Then this story in GPOne muddies the waters even more. Livio Suppo appears to suggest that Stoner may have wanted to return. Yet directly after the race, Suppo said Stoner has always refused point blank to make a MotoGP return. Maybe, just maybe, Stoner considered a replacement ride.

Frankly, that would shock me. The impression I have got from all of the research I have done into this is that Stoner has no interest in racing again in MotoGP. But it would not be the first time I have been wrong about the Australian. He remains a real enigma.

As for the fans? Who wouldn't want to see Stoner go up against Marquez? What a spectacle that would be!

Total votes: 95

Wow...That is 1 hell of an article.if it is true that Livio Suppo had spoken and then refused to offer Casey the ride after he was intrested he has got to be the no 1 man i hate right now....I cant justify the fact that Hiroshi Aoyama is a better replacement than Casey Stoner....I do agree that racing has gone up another notch and it hard to expect a 2006 valencia Troy Bayliss kinda ride... I still hope things change after Casey lands in Australia..there is still time left....Fingers crossed David

Total votes: 91

Like any sane person, I would love nothing more than to see Casey Stoner mixing it up with Marc Marquez and a resurgent Rossi. But there is at least one person that I can imagine would be pretty gutted by that prospect: Dani Pedrosa.

Facing a potentially career-ending ailment would be stressful enough, but imagine battling through rehab while watching your former, revered teammate mount a miraculous and long dreamed-of returned from retirement? Imagine watching him out perform you on your own bike? Imagine facing the idea that people might be disappointed when you're ready to mount your return? Utter torture.

No matter your opinion of Dani Pedrosa, his loyalty to Honda is undeniable. That alone might have obligated Suppo to pass on a Stoner return, no matter how badly he might have wanted to do otherwise.

Total votes: 92

I get the sentiment you're expressing, but I doubt that Stoner would out-perform Pedrosa - who other than his arm pump issue is definitely at the top of his game. He'd have been challenging for the win at Qatar if not for his ailment.

Stoner would have at best been able to mount a podium challenge, much like Pedrosa has been managing for the last year or so despite arm pump.

I also reckon he'd have enjoyed seeing Casey on his bike just as much as the rest of us; racers are motorcycle racing fans too.

I do agree on your other points though.

Total votes: 79

Agreed, it's definitely not a given that Casey would out perform Dani.

My feelings are really just a reiteration of the thoughts I shared further upstream: Aoyama is very clearly a seat warmer. Putting him on the bike suggests that HRC are happy to keep their bets for the season placed on Dani and that they just want someone to safely escort the bike around the circuit for a few rounds without embarrassing them. Subbing in Casey would imply to many that there's a real fear that Dani might not return and that all available measures had been taken to salvage as many points for the season as possible.

TL;DR: Aoyama is a vote of confidence in Dani. Casey? Not so much.

Total votes: 85

Has put in solid performances on the Ducati for years. He had podiums and great battles. Sure, he was overshadowed by Stoner, who would't have been? But his performance was solid, competitive and far better than Aoyama. How do you think Nicky feels now watching Dovi and Iannone on the working version of the bike that he persevered with for years. It's a hard game.

Total votes: 92

Hayden will probably not ever get on a Factory Honda or Factory anything again in Motogp. But he should be given a medal for not being a hater on Factories that clearly think nothing much of him. Honda to Ducati let him go. If he was in illegal business he would be considered a standup guy. Not a snitch, compared to just about every rider on the grid and the way they gripes even when they have one of the best bikes. Aoyama is the best bet for Honda, contract, country, and business he is the best solution for them... unless someone bamboozles Stoner into coming back for a race. ;) (Which from all accounts from him is never going to happen.)

Total votes: 83

I'd think that Nicky on the factory bike in the USA would be a win for Honda, Aspar and MGP as a whole. Ride with his leathers with repsol colors on the bike. Increases the buzz in the USA. Aspar still gets the exposure with the leathers. Honda "proud of our son in the US". Former world champ. And so on.

Total votes: 79

Why not Marquez? When he finished racing the first bike he may catch up the others with the second. (Should have written it on the 1st). :D :D :D

Total votes: 83

After a year on the highly hyped third-rate Honda "production" racer and now another year on a second-rate Honda, Nicky DESERVES something better! After all, Nicky is a former World Champion whom Honda screwed over by designing the next years bike (2007) to only fit moto-midget Dani (who in all probability will NEVER be world champ!). The USA is a huge market for Honda---they could do better!!

Total votes: 75