Over the weekend of the Assen round of World Superbikes, Dutch regional newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden spoke to Ronald ten Kate, head of the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda Superbike and Supersport team, about their plans to go to MotoGP. It's an open secret that these plans exist, but so far, Ronald ten Kate has refused to be pinned down on specifics. However, the Dutch paper was rather more successful.
They reported that currently, the team is engaged in a feasibility study of their MotoGP plans, and what they have found so far looks encouraging. Sources inside MotoGP had told Ronald ten Kate that the team would need a budget of around 14 million Euros to be competitive in MotoGP, but Ten Kate's own research suggests they should be able to build a two-rider team capable of scoring podiums with around 9-10 million Euros. Ten Kate expects to make a decision by the end of June on whether to proceed for 2007.
The possibility of a Ten Kate team raises a number of interesting questions. First and foremost is the question of funds. The Superbike and Supersport teams are sponsored by the Taiwanese LCD screen manufacturer Hannspree, and the logical step would be for Hannspree to continue this sponsorship into MotoGP. However, Hannspree currently also sponsor Marco Melandri and Toni Elias' Gresini Honda team, and the prospect of Hannspree sponsoring two teams at the premier level has to be rather remote. Undoubtedly, if Ten Kate enter, that will leave Fausto Gresini looking for funds for next year.
But Gresini could be looking for more than just funds. The Ten Kate team have excellent contacts with Honda, running their bikes in both World Superbikes and World Supersports, and having taken the World Supersport title for Honda every year since 2002. This would mean that if Ten Kate are to enter MotoGP, they would almost certainly run Hondas. But Honda already field 6 bikes in MotoGP, and it is doubtful that even a factory as wealthy as Honda could afford to run 8 of the very expensive V4 800s. Which would mean that two of the current riders on a Honda could be looking for new machinery. Which means, in effect, that either Suzuki or Kawasaki would have to produce more MotoGP bikes. But as the Aspar team is rumored to be talking to Suzuki about running a satellite MotoGP team, realistically, that would leave only Kawasaki.
As far as the riders are concerned, James Toseland is not just the obvious choice, but virtually a dead certainty. Asked about riders, ten Kate had the following to say:
"We would dearly love to finish the job with a rider we have invested in. That's one of our main motivations."
A Ten Kate MotoGP team would also make them an even more attractive proposition for young talent in World Supersport and World Superbike, offering a route through to motorcycle racing's premier class. For ten Kate is very clear about the impact of a MotoGP team on their efforts in World Superbike:
"We will only make the jump if we can take part on all three fronts, World Superbikes, World Supersport, and MotoGP. Why? Our client base is in World Supers, that's what we've built our company on. Let me be clear about one thing: We will always be active in World Superbikes. We have the knowledge and the experience, and we do the tuning in our own race department. By participating in such a broad platform, we can take advantage of huge synergies in technology and organization."
More detail is available on the Dutch-language site Motorfreaks.nl.