Aragon was a busy time for the riders and managers in all three Grand Prix classes. Wrapping up contract negotiations before the circus heads east for the Pacific Ocean flyaways was high on the list of priorities, though not everything ended up getting sorted before the teams packed up at Aragon. Plenty of agreements were reached, however, as we shall see below.
Though most of the loose ends have been tied up in MotoGP, a few question marks remain. The Aspar team was one of those question marks, which came much closer to a conclusion at Aragon. The original plan was to have Jack Miller join the team, bringing his crew with him, and covering most of the cost of riding, but various obstacles prevented that from happening. Money was a major factor, in part the amount Aspar were willing to pay to have Miller in their team, but perhaps a bigger factor was being left with Hondas.
The Open class Hondas have both been a huge disappointment for all of the teams which have run them. The 2014 RCV1000R was massively underpowered, and was getting blown away by the factory bikes along the straight. To remedy that situation, Honda offered the RC213V-RS, a cheaper version of the factory RC213V, but without the seamless transmission and using the spec electronics. That bike has also not been competitive, perhaps in part because it is a stripped down version of the original. "This bike was designed to use a seamless gearbox," Nicky Hayden explained last weekend. "You can't get the best out of it without one."
After losing their sponsor Drive M7 at the beginning of the season, Aspar realized that they could no longer afford to run the Honda. It was too expensive for an uncompetitive package, and they have been looking around for a replacement. Talks were held with Ducati during the Aragon weekend, and, sources say, an agreement was reached. Both Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti and Aspar's Gino Borsoi denied a deal had been struck, however. Ciabatti confirmed that Aspar had asked for bikes for 2016, and that Ducati had offered them a package consisting of Desmosedici GP14.2s with one chassis engineer and one data engineer for each rider, and that Aspar had requested packages for two riders.
Who will those two riders be? Today, Aspar announced they had reached agreement with Yonny Hernandez to race for them in 2016. Though the announcement contained no details of machinery, the fact that Hernandez has raced a Ducati for the last two years, and has strong support from Ducati, can be taken as confirmation that the team has found agreement with the Bologna factory.
Eugene Laverty should get the second seat at Aspar, not least because he has a contract to race with the team for 2016. Gino Borsoi confirmed that Laverty had a contract, but went on to add that results were an issue for the Irishman. He praised the speed which Laverty has shown in practice and qualifying, but said that sponsors needed results in the race. Laverty finished top Open class rider on Sunday, a result which helped his case enormously.
Borsoi went on to say that sponsorship remains an issue for the team. They had been talking to potential sponsors since the start of the season, but poor results had made it hard for them. Despite this, Aspar were confident of tying up a deal for 2016 with a title sponsor that would provide enough backing to allow the team to run two riders next year. That does mean that they need to get results, however. "We need to a minimum of results for 2016," Borsoi said. "There are five factories, which is ten bikes, so we have to finish behind them."
Once Aspar are confirmed with Ducati, that will put a grand total of eight Ducatis on the grid in 2016. From 2017, the rules change to forbid any factory from having more than six bikes (two factory and four satellite/privateer), meaning that one of the teams will lose their Ducatis. The 2017 rules mean that every factory must be willing to supply at least two satellite riders, and so there will be plenty of options for the team that loses out on Ducatis. Satellite Suzukis could be a very attractive option, as could a satellite Aprilia, if the new RS-GP to be debuted at Sepang next year is any good.
Aspar's move to Ducati leaves just five Hondas on the grid next year. Besides the two Repsol Hondas and Cal Crutchlow at LCR, there will be two Hondas at the Marc VDS team. With Scott Redding headed to Pramac Ducati, there is an empty seat at Marc VDS, which will be filled by Tito Rabat. On Sunday after the race, when Rabat was asked about the fact he would be riding the Honda RC213V at the test on Monday, Rabat looked around for the team's press officer, uncertain of what he could say. In the end, he settled on it being "a present from the team for winning the 2014 Moto2 championship," a phrase which raised a laugh among the assembled journalists. It has been an open secret that Rabat will be riding for the team since Redding announced his departure.
Rabat's contract is set to be announced on Thursday, 1st October, along with the rest of the line up for the Marc VDS / Estrella Galicia team in all three classes. Jack Miller will be slotted into the Marc VDS line up, bringing his team along with him from LCR. Franco Morbidelli is to set to join Alex Márquez in Moto2, while the Moto3 line up could be one of the most exciting in the class for 2016. With Gresini's Moto3 project set to shut up shop, Enea Bastianini will be placed alongside Jorge Navarro for next year. Bastianini has had a fantastic season in just his second year, pushing the far more experienced Danny Kent hard for the Moto3 crown. Navarro is in his first full year of Moto3, and has shown real flashes of talent, including a podium, a pole, and several front row starts.
The champion elect (or rather, very nearly, but not quite elect) Danny Kent is to move up to Moto2 with the Leopard Racing team run by the Kiefer brothers, the same team which has taken him nearly to the Moto3 title. His deal was signed on Saturday morning, after Kent rejected a late offer from Aspar to ride one of their Ducatis in MotoGP. He will take his crew chief Peter Bom to Moto2, and should fare much better this time in Moto2 than he did the last time he was in the class. He will be joined by Miguel Oliveira, who won the Moto3 race at Aragon in convincing style. They should form a formidable pairing.
In Moto3, Leopard confirmed the arrival of Fabio Quartararo this weekend, who will race along the promising young Spaniard Joan Mir. One reason for Quartararo's departure was to be reunited with his former crew chief from the CEV, Christian Lundberg, who helped him win the championship last season. But there have been persistent rumors of disharmony between Quartararo's manager and Emilio Alzamora, who oversees the Estrella Galicia effort in Moto3. The departure of Quartararo from Estrella Galicia means that Leopard could also switch from Honda to KTM. KTM boss Pit Beirer is keen to have the formidable talent of Quartararo on the bike, who many believe is capable of securing a title in his second year. However, the French youngster's unseemly departure from the Estrella Galicia squad could also be a factor in play, as Honda are less than impressed with the way the affair was handled by the Frenchman and his manager.
The other arrow in KTM's quiver is the Red Bull Ajo KTM squad. KTM's de facto factory team will retain the services of Brad Binder for 2016, but will also reduce from three riders to just two. One Red Bull Rookies Cup champion will replace another, with talented Dutch youngster Bo Bendsneyder taking the place of Karel Hanika. The Czech rider has failed to make an impression in Moto3, despite his obvious talent, and is off to the Outox Mahindra squad.
There will be more Mahindras on the grid in 2016, with Moto3 teams abandoning Honda because of cost considerations. Though the price of bikes, engines and parts are capped, it is rumored that running a Honda Moto3 bike costs somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 euros a season. No team manager will confirm that on the record, however, leading to suspicions that contracts may contain certain confidentiality clauses.
Some of the extra Mahindras may well be rebadged. Peugeot is set to make their entry into Moto3, using the marketing power of Grand Prix racing to help sell their scooters. At the moment, the French manufacturer is talking to the RW Racing GP team, but they face a potential hurdle. Peugeot want to field at least two bikes, but at the moment, RW Racing only has a single grid slot. RW are keen to hang on to their current rider Livio Loi, another talented youngster who is yet to fulfill his potential. Peugeot want to place another rider alongside Loi, but without confirmation of a second grid slot, that is not yet possible.
There were more rider confirmations in Moto2 over the weekend. Alex Rins revealed on his Instagram page that he will be joined by Edgar Pons in 2016. Pons has been impressive in the CEV, and the younger brother of Axel has had some good results in his wildcards in the world championship. Pons is due to finish out the 2015 season with the Italtrans team, after the departure of Mika Kallio to QMMF to ride a Speed Up.
Sam Lowes was confirmed with Gresini for 2016, where he will be riding a Kalex. The seat he leaves vacant at Speed Up will be filled by Simone Corsi, who is leaving Forward Racing. Forward will be back in Moto2 in 2016, though their slots in MotoGP look to have been forfeit once team owner Giovanni Cuzari was arrested on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. Lorenzo Baldassarri has been confirmed as riding for Forward in Moto2 for 2016, and rumors place Luca Marini alongside him. Marini is Valentino Rossi's half brother, and has been racing in the Spanish championship in 2015. He has had a solid season this year, his first aboard a Moto2 bike.
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