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Spies Looking At MotoGP For 2010

Last season, Ben Spies made no secret of his desire to get into MotoGP. He and his manager, Doug Gonda, spent a long time trying to find the promising young American a ride, but one by one, Spies' options disappeared, leaving Spies to look to World Superbikes to make an impact on the global stage.

So far - even though it's only testing - that's exactly what Spies has done, and the Texan is already setting his sights higher. In an interview with Motorcycle News, Spies confirmed that Yamaha are also interested in fielding him in MotoGP if a seat becomes available.

Whether those seats will be open in 2010 is a question. Dorna's keenness to keep a British rider in the series means James Toseland is likely to keep his ride for 2010. Which leaves only Colin Edwards. Edwards is a veteran with very close ties to Yamaha, and helps Yamaha sell a lot of bikes in the US, but the Texas Tornado is approaching the age where he could be thinking of retiring.

A swap between Edwards and Spies is possible in 2010, but Spies is likely to have to win the World Superbike title at his first attempt if he is to go straight to MotoGP next season. Given the stiff competition in World Superbikes, that's not going to be easy. And given the worries about the future of MotoGP, Spies may well change his mind as the season progresses.

Hopkins Not Interested In AMA

While the future of Kawasaki in MotoGP remains uncertain, speculation has been rife about the likely fates of their two contracted riders, John Hopkins and Marco Melandri. Many rumors have been spread about Melandri, but fewer have been heard about John Hopkins, despite the fact that the American rider is the heir apparent of the Monster Millions, the substantial amount of money the energy drinks maker contributes to Kawasaki's MotoGP team.

It was exactly that money which gave rise to speculation that John Hopkins was to be placed in Kawasaki USA's AMA Superbike team, replacing Jamie Hacking, whose contract has still not been signed by Kawasaki. Monster Energy is the title sponsor of the AMA Superbike team, and Kawasaki will have to pay Hopkins anyway, so the logical move would be to put the two together.

That is not how John Hopkins sees it, however. In an interview with the respected American racing publication Roadracing World, Hopkins flatly denied he would be racing in AMA Superbike in 2009. His choice of words, "Definitely not!" would seem to be a pretty definitive denial.

But the matter may not necessarily be in Hopkins' hands. The American is still under contract to Kawasaki, and if he wants to continue to receive his paycheck, he may be forced to race wherever Kawasaki tell him. Even so, it is still not certain that Kawasaki USA will be racing in the AMA. So far, Yamaha is the only manufacturer to have openly announced their direct involvement with AMA Superbike, while American Honda have announced they will not be entering a factory team. Suzuki and Kawasaki have been silent on the issue, and so their intentions are unknown. Both teams missed the Daytona tire test in December, a fact which can hardly be seen as a ringing endorsement of the DMG's new format. 

Latest From Japan: Kawasaki Reconsidering Decision

While MotoGP fans around the world are on tenterhooks for news of Kawasaki, the first bits and pieces of news are dribbling out of the MSMA meeting currently being held in Japan. The Italian news sites are on top of the case - possibly thanks to the Italian representation on the MSMA - and the big news is that Kawasaki is currently reconsidering its withdrawal, news of which had leaked shortly after Christmas.

The pressure applied by Dorna appears to have worked, helped along perhaps by the fact that any withdrawal would have cost at least 20 million euros, including fines and money already spent on bikes and rider salaries, according to GPOne.com. Team boss Michael Bartholemy is apparently on his way to Japan to discuss the options with Kawasaki.

The meeting of the manufacturers involved in MotoGP discussed several proposals for cutting costs in MotoGP, including restricting testing even further, and extending engine life, which is put unofficially at around 300km. These would be the only changes possible for the 2009 season, as the teams already have too much invested in their 2009 bikes to make dramatic changes.

For 2010, more radical steps could be taken. First item on the agenda would be a ban on carbon brakes, a move which several team bosses, including Fausto Gresini and Lucio Cecchinello, have called for, as well as more drastic extensions of engine life, with engines to last multiple grand prix weeknds, and yet more restrictions on testing.

A proposal to limit the maximum revs engines could run was rejected, with Ducati's Livio Suppo telling Mediaset. "Most of the work should be left to the manufacturers. They should be able to decide how to make their engines last longer."

The other idea that was rejected was a salary cap. Such a move would be too difficult to enforce, and more likely to see teams finding ways of circumventing the salary cap, rather than holding fast to it, a practice which is often seen in US sports as well.

One thing that the MSMA seems to have missed is that although making engines last longer would reduce costs for shipping them to Japan and back to be stripped and rebuilt, a practice Lucio Cecchinello complained of to MCN, the development costs to make the highly-strung MotoGP engines durable enough to last several races are likely to be astronomical. The idea that the factories would reduce the power outputs of the engines to make them last longer seems unlikely given the history of the manufacturers in MotoGP. And similar measures in Formula 1 have yet to have any discernible impact on costs in that series.

So the Kawasaki saga has been prolonged a little longer. More news is sure to come over the next few days.

Kawasaki Speak: "No Decision Yet"

Various sources are reporting that Kawasaki have finally made an official announcement, but the announcement is that there's nothing to tell at the moment.

The news emanating from the Japanese news agency Kyodo is that Kawasaki have admitted that they are considering pulling out of MotoGP, but that no decision has yet been taken. "We are in contact with the parties concerned to decide our future course of action," Kawasaki is quoted as saying by the press agencies.

The "parties concerned" almost certainly include the riders and the team, but Jorge Martinez of the Aspar team is likely also to be one of the participants in the conversation, as well as MotoGP rights holders Dorna. No news yet of the MSMA meeting supposed to have been held today, which was also meant to discuss the situation.

More news as and when we receive it.

Wildest Kawasaki Rumor Yet: Hopper To Return To AMA?

With still no news about Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP coming out of Japan, rumor feeding frenzy continues. The latest, and perhaps least likely, rumor is that John Hopkins has been approached by Kawasaki USA to take the place of Jamie Hacking aboard the Kawasaki Superbike entry in AMA.

The rumor, published by Italian site GPOne.com, is that Hacking will be pushed aside because his salary demands were too high. With the Kawasaki Superbike team having Monster Energy as a title sponsor, and Hopkins being so closely linked to Monster, the move would seem to be an obvious one.

Yet there are good reasons to doubt this speculation. Firstly, and most obviously, is that if Hacking is being dropped because he wanted too much money, how will Kawasaki USA justify the 4 million dollars which Hopper's salary is believed to be? And secondly, though Kawasaki has a title sponsor, bikes and riders, they have still to confirm that they will be competing in the AMA Superbike series next year. Kawasaki, along with Honda and Suzuki, were the most vociferous opponents of the rule changes and class reorganization proposed by the DMG, who bought the rights to the American domestic series. Kawasaki was also a very prominent absentee at the recent Daytona tire test, traditionally the kick-off to the AMA pre-season.

The MSMA is scheduled to meet with Dorna on Wednesday in Japan. After that meeting, the situation around Kawasaki is likely be clarified, and some of this speculation can be consigned to the circular storage facility, where it belongs.

Kawasaki Update: Nothing From Japan, But Plenty From Europe

Today - Monday, January 5th - was the day we had been expecting the official announcement from Kawasaki of their withdrawal from MotoGP, but so far, nothing has been heard from Akashi in Japan. No news is not necessarily good news though. What it does mean is that Kawasaki have probably come under a lot of pressure from both Dorna and the management of their MotoGP team to either reconsider their decision, or find a way to allow the team to continue in a drastically revised form.

But while it's been quiet in Japan, news has once again been filtering in from around Europe about the possibilities created by Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal. The main attention focuses on Jorge Martinez Aspar, who runs the Aspar team in 125s and 250s, and whose earlier attempt to form a one-man Kawasaki satellite team foundered on the choice of riders. Martinez has spoken to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo about his attempts to take over the Kawasaki team, should the Japanese manufacturer decide to go ahead.

"At the moment, it's all up in the air," Martinez told Motociclismo. "I spoke to Dorna about it, and we won't know anything for certain until Carmelo [Ezpeleta] returns from the meeting with the MSMA in Japan."

Martinez also made it clear that he wouldn't take on the project at any price. "For me, the most important thing is a Spanish rider, but I also need some guarantees from Kawasaki about the bikes for 2009, such as the development of the bike, the supply of parts, and the maintenance." He also said that the speed with which all this had happened meant there were still a few question marks over the viability of the project. He told Motociclismo he expected that it would be "ten or twelve days" before he knew anything for certain.

While Jorge Martinez has never made a secret of his desire to run a Spanish rider - a preference dictated mainly by his sponsors - this leaves Kawasaki's current lineup looking fairly precarious. And on that front, Motorcycle News has bad news for both Marco Melandri and John Hopkins.

Melandri is the rider whose name seems to pop up in just about every rumor regarding the situation. But MCN puts one suggestion to bed: Matthew Birt spoke to Lucio Cecchinello about rumors of running Melandri alongside LCR Honda's current rider, Randy de Puniet, and Cecchinello denied them. The Italian team manager acknowledged that he'd been approached by Melandri's manager, Alberto Vergani, about the situation, but Cecchinello told Vergani it wasn't possible with just two machines.

But a bigger problem for LCR Honda would have been the increased costs, and the fact that these would require raising extra sponsorship. With Melandri's miserable season from last year, finding sponsors prepared to cover the costs of running the Italian would be difficult, according to Cecchinello.

Melandri's team mate, John Hopkins, is likely to fare little better in finding a team. The American had been linked to the Tech 3 Yamaha team, but Herve Poncharal, once again speaking to MCN's Matthew Birt, also denied the suggestion. "Changing our line-up for the forthcoming season is simply not under consideration and not an option," Poncharal told MCN, adding that he was very happy with both James Toseland and Colin Edwards.

Though Hopkins has a contract which will pay him handsomely, whether he rides or not, the American is a racer through and through, and will not want to sit out the season. Finding a place to race, however, is not going to be easy.

Aspar Could Just Run One Kawasaki - And Without Hopkins?

Though Kawasaki is likely to announce its withdrawal from MotoGP officially on Monday, there's still reason to believe that there will be Kawasakis on the grid in 2009. As we reported earlier, Dorna has spent the last few days trying to convince both Kawasaki and Jorge "Aspar" Martinez to take over the Kawasaki team, and keep the bikes on the grid.

Martinez has made no secret of his desire to run a MotoGP team. The Valencian has been incredibly successful in both 125s and 250s, and wants to extend that success into the premier class. This came very close to happening towards the end of last season, when a deal between Kawasaki and Aspar finally foundered on a difference over riders, Kawasaki insisting on Shinya Nakano, Martinez saying his Spanish sponsors demanded a Spanish rider.

Initial reports by the Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport suggested that Kawasaki could hand over the team to Jorge Martinez, who would run the team. But though it was thought that this would include both John Hopkins and Marco Melandri, Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that the Aspar team may only field a single Kawasaki in 2009, not two.

The problem, unsurprisingly, is money. Though Jorge Martinez would effectively get the Kawasaki team for nothing, that would still leave the Spaniard to find a large sum of money for the running costs of the teams. The 3 million euros in Monster Energy sponsorship is just about sufficient to cover John Hopkins' salary, and would leave the Aspar team to find both Marco Melandri's salary - which despite his poor year in 2008 is not likely to be cheap - as well as the funds to cover running the team for the entire year.

And so the option which GPOne.com suggests is likely is that Aspar would field just a single Kawasaki, with Dorna covering the team's expenses. Dorna would be prepared to stump up this kind of cash to support Aspar, as the company has a contract with the FIM requiring 18 bikes to be entered for the season if the series is to be earn the title of a world championship. And if MotoGP loses the status of a world championship, TV companies may be inclined to renegotiate their broadcast contracts with Dorna.

So providing Aspar with enough cash to run a single Kawasaki would get Dorna out of a sticky situation as well as providing Aspar with a new opportunity. Indeed, it may even offer Martinez the chance to run a Spanish rider, as he wanted to for his satellite project: With Dorna footing the bill, Martinez would be free to turn down the Monster Energy money, most of which would disappear into John Hopkins' bank account anyway. Martinez could then possibly offer a ride to Alex Debon again, a move which would help him sign the Spanish sponsors who were interested in his satellite project.

But this is all still speculation. An official announcement by Kawasaki is expected on Monday (January 5th). After that, it should be possible to make more realistic plans.

Melandri: Team Scot, Gresini, Or Something In Between?

Since news of Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal from MotoGP hit the internet, speculation has positively boiled over about the future of the two riders under contract to Team Green, John Hopkins and Marco Melandri. Hopkins' future is thought to be relatively secure, as the Monster Energy sponsorship money which helped fund the team is firmly tied to the American, and will go wherever Hopkins goes.

Melandri, though, is another matter altogether. Although highly popular, he doesn't have a huge sponsorship deal tied directly to him personally which would ease his way into another team. However, his popularity in Italy and beyond, as well as his previous success (Melandri's manager Alberto Vergani likes to point out that Melandri has 5 MotoGP victories to Dani Pedrosa's 6) mean that he is a popular target for the Italian satellite teams.

Initally, speculation centered on Melandri making a possible return to the Gresini Honda team. The switch seemed plausible, as Fausto Gresini had made no secret of his attempts to get Melandri to return to the team he left at the end of 2007. Now, though, GPOne.com is suggesting that Fausto Gresini was forced to turn down Melandri's offer to ride for the Honda satellite squad for virtually nothing, Gresini not wanting to release the two riders - Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis - he already has under contract.

Instead, it looks like Melandri could be heading to Team Scot, the team which fielded Andrea Dovizioso in 2008. Team Scot currently have 250cc rider Yuki Takahashi under contract for next year, and as with some of the earlier suggestions - such as a possible move to LCR Honda alongside Randy de Puniet - Melandri would not displace Takahashi, but join the team alongside him.

The problem, as with the LCR Honda proposal, would of course be equipment. Honda has made it perfectly clear that it is not able to field extra bikes, upping its participation from six bikes to seven in MotoGP. Though, in this case, one motorcycle actually means two motorcycles, as each rider has two bikes at his disposal at each race weekend.

And so if Melandri joined Takahashi at Team Scot, the two riders would have to share the two Honda RC212Vs allotted to Team Scot for Yuki Takahashi under the existing agreement with HRC. The problems with this arrangement are self-evident, as any crash during practice would mean a lot of time spent waiting in the pits for mechanics to repair the damage.

But intriguingly, GPOne.com suggests that an agreement has been found to get around this. Under the arrangement, Gresini would hand over one of its bikes to Team Scot, meaning that each team would then have three bikes at its disposal, one spare machine for each pair of riders. The benefits for Team Scot are clear, giving them the chance to field an extra rider next year, while Gresini could make some of the substantial cost savings he has been asking for recently in the press.

Of course, Team Scot would be forced to take on the financial liabilities for the extra machine, but even this need not be a big problem. If such an agreement could be reached, Dorna would be almost certain to foot the bill for the extra expenses incurred. After all, Dorna has a vital interest in keeping at least 18 bikes on the grid, as any number under this total would breach the contract Dorna has with the FIM to allow it to call MotoGP a world championship. And if MotoGP loses its world championship status, then Dorna is likely to find itself facing problems with TV rights contracts it has concluded around the world. Ominously, Melandri's manager Vergani has already said that Melandri's fate is in Dorna's hands, so it's clear that Vergani is thinking along the same lines.

There is, of course, one obvious fly in the ointment in this arrangement. Any plan to share three bikes among two riders require that all three bikes are of the same spec. However, Gresini's original arrangements with HRC allowed for two factory-spec RC212Vs for Toni Elias, and two satellite-spec RC212Vs for Alex de Angelis. If Gresini hands over a satellite spec bike to Team Scot, then de Angelis' motivation to fall out and bend the handlebars of his satellite-spec bike would be greatly increased. After all, if his satellite-spec bike is out of action, then he would be "forced" to go out on the factory-spec spare bike normally assigned to Toni Elias. And just how Elias would react to this is another matter entirely. The alternative arrangement - whereby Gresini hands over a factory-spec RC212V seems even more unlikely to happen, without Toni Elias going justifiably ballistic and fanning the flames of the Italian-Spanish MotoGP war even further.

While it's an attractive proposition, it's clear that any arrangement whereby Gresini hands over an extra bike to Team Scot is fraught with difficulties. This story is set to run and run.

Pramac Manager Wants Satellite Team Association

It seemed like just a footnote to another story, but when Paolo Campinoti spoke to GPOne.com about the future of Niccolo Canepa, he had a very interesting suggestion to make. For the manager of the Pramac Ducati team told GPOne.com that he was interested in setting up a separate association for the satellite teams. "It's true, I wanted an assocation for the satellite teams. My team (Pramac), Fausto Gresini, Herve Poncharal and Lucio Cecchinello put on seven bikes, nearly half the grid. It would be a good thing for our ideas to be heard. I talked to those directly involved about it, but it came to nothing. In the end, there's IRTA for this kind of thing."

IRTA - the International Road Racing Teams Association - represents all of the teams, riders and service companies present in MotoGP. Together with the MSMA, they represent the teams and manufacturers in the Grand Prix Commission, along with Dorna as organizers of the series, and the FIM, as the federation overseeing all motorcycle racing. But the MSMA also has a profound influence over IRTA: after all, all of the factory teams run by the members of the MSMA also have a vote in the IRTA, giving them the power to influence the vote of two of the four members of the Grand Prix Commission.

A separate satellite teams association could potentially give the satellite teams a clearer voice in the decisions which run MotoGP, and more control over rule changes, perhaps even giving themselves a better chance of actually winning a race. But this would still leave them in a difficult position. Dorna pays the team a lot of money to participate in the series, supplying a big chunk of the cash they need to run the teams. It could prove very difficult for a separate satellite teams association to face up to Dorna, and go against rule changes that Dorna may want to force through. That could be seen as biting the hand that feeds them, and such ingratitude is not likely to go down well at Dorna HQ in Barcelona.

 

Pramac And Pernat Deny Canepa Switch

Confusion reigns in MotoGP, and not just about the future of Kawasaki. On Wednesday, reports emerged from Spain that Niccolo Canepa would switch from the Pramac Ducati team to the Team Grupo Francisco Hernando (the Onde 2000 team), a move made necessary by Alice's withdrawal as title sponsor for the Pramac team. But today, both Carlo Pernat, Canepa's manager, and Paolo Campinoti denied that any such more had been agreed.

Pernat, who manages Loris Capirossi as well as Niccolo Canepa, was the most emphatic when asked about the rumors by the Italian press agency Mediaset: "It's a hoax," Pernat said. "Canepa is staying at Pramac. The Spanish reports saying he will be going to join the Nieto brothers are completely baseless. I spoke to (Paolo) Campinoti, the team manager, and he confirmed that Canepa will be riding with Pramac."

Pramac manager was equally firm, but his choice of words left a little more room for maneuver: "I can confirm that there will be two Ducati-Pramacs on the track next year," Campinoti told GPOne.com. "But it's true that we lost our title sponsor Alice, and we are busy looking for a replacement. This could lead to a situation where the two riders, Canepa and Kallio, race in different liveries, while remaining under contract to Pramac."

When asked by GPOne.com about the possibility of Canepa moving to the Onde 2000 team, Campinoti again left some room for doubt. "Not in the sense that he will remain with the Pramac team. At the moment, nothing has been fixed, except that we will have two riders. We could have a single pit box with different sponsors, or two separate garages, but honestly, we haven't even discussed this yet."

Though at first sight, the words of Pernat and Campinoti suggest that Canepa will not be joining Sete Gibernau at Onde 2000, Campinoti seems to be leaving himself some negotiating room with Francisco Hernando, the man behind the Onde 2000 team. This could see Canepa running the same colors as Gibernau, whilst remaining in the Pramac garage. But given the ambitions of the Spanish property tycoon, he is unlikely to want to relinquish control of the situation.

 

 

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