After the tragic death of Nicky Hayden, the Red Bull Honda team has struggled to fill the American's place in their WorldSBK team. Jake Gagne filled in at Laguna Seca, putting an American on the bike at the US round. Davide Giugliano had a modest outing on the Honda CBR1000RR at the Lausitzring, but he was not the long-term solution for the Ten Kate squad either.
For two of the next three WorldSBK rounds, the Red Bull team is to turn to Japanese rider Takumi Takahashi for assistance. The 27-year-old will take over the reins of the Honda CBR1000RR at both Portimao and Jerez. Takahashi will not be able to ride the bike at Magny-Cours, as it clashes with the Okayama round of the All-Japan Superbike Championship, in which he is currently second, five points behind the leader.
The addition of Takahashi is an interesting move by the Ten Kate squad. Takahashi is an official HRC test rider, and has extensive experience on the Honda CBR1000RR, and has had an important role in helping develop the bike in both the Japanese championship and the Suzuka 8 Hour race. Takahashi brings a wealth of knowledge to the Red Bull Honda team.
The question is, how much of a signal is this that HRC are willing to back the Honda WorldSBK project? Both Stefan Bradl and Nicky Hayden, before his untimely demise, roundly criticized the lack of support the project was getting, and the lack of development going into the bike. The 2017 bike seems to be a step backward from last year, results having gone downhill in the first half of this season. The Red Bull team is yet to sign anyone for the 2018 season, and Stefan Bradl is said to have demanded progress with the bike before making a commitment for next year. Takahashi coming over from HRC could be a sign that they are aware of Bradl's, and the team's, concerns.
Below is the press release from the Red Bull Honda squad confirming Takahashi as a replacement:
Takahashi to race with the Red Bull Honda World Superbike team at Portimão and Jerez
The Red Bull Honda World Superbike team is pleased to announce that 27-year-old Japanese rider Takumi Takahashi will be racing alongside full-time rider Stefan Bradl in the 2017 FIM Superbike World Championship at the Portimão and Jerez rounds.
Takahashi, who is an official test rider of Honda Racing Corporation (HRC), has a vast experience with the CBR1000RR Fireblade, winning the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race three times with the Fireblade in 2010, 2013 and 2014 and also in the JSB1000 class of the MFJ All-Japan Road Race Championship Series (JRR) where he rides for the MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda team.
This year, Takahashi has won the first two rounds of the All-Japan Superbike Championship on board the all-new Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2, and he is currently second in the Championship standings, five points behind the leader.
Takahashi’s vast experience will help Honda and the team in their ongoing development of the WorldSBK-spec version of the new CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2.
Honda's WorldSBK Operations Manager
We are happy to welcome Takumi-san into the team and are looking forward to seeing him on track at Portimão and Jerez. He is a very talented rider and this year has really stepped up his game; he is definitely among the quickest riders in Japan. Honda has always had an extremely high regard of his skills as a racer and test rider, and his long-term experience with the Fireblade will surely help the team and Honda to have a clearer idea of the current package in order to plan future developments.
- Honda Motor Europe
I’m honoured, as a rider who has continuously fought to race on the world stage, that my achievements and experience have been recognized, and I have been given the opportunity to race in the World Superbike Championship. I’ll use all of the experience I’ve gained racing the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 in the All-Japan championship to aim high and contribute to the team. I’d like to ride my best in front of the world’s Superbike fans, so I hope they’ll look forward to seeing me.