Ducati have just announced at Laguna Seca that Marco Melandri has signed with Ducati for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, according to Superbikeplanet.com. Melandri and Livio Suppo, the Ducati team manager, go back a long way, Suppo helping Melandri get his first ride in 125s, and have maintained a close relationship through the years. The combination of Casey Stoner and Marco Melandri would seem to be an ideal one, possibly laying the foundation of a racing dynasty, the form that Stoner is in, and as good as the Ducati GP7 is.
This solves the problem of Ducati having an Italian rider, with Loris Capirossi being on his way out almost from the start of the season, and opens up a bunch of doors elsewhere in the paddock. Loris Capirossi is rumored to be going to either Kawasaki or Suzuki, with an announcement expected very soon, possibly as early as this week, which would leave a space at the manufacturer which Capirex doesn't join, and then there's the question of Melandri's Gresini Honda ride.
James Toseland is looking like a strong contender for any of those spare seats, as will be Alex de Angelis and Andrea Dovizioso. There is some talk of Ben Spies moving to MotoGP from AMA, but if that's next year, that would definitely be with Suzuki.
So, with Melandri finally officially announcing his move to Ducati, the next pawn to fall will be Loris Capirossi. Once Capirossi announces his intentions, then we will know which seats are left for newcomers.
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The usually very well-informed Italian site GPOne.com is saying that Ducati will be talking to Capirossi about running a third factory Ducati. Discussions are expected to take place next week.