As the World Superbike opener in Qatar approaches, the media is focusing its attention on some of the more unusual aspects of the World Superbike paddock. One of those anomalies is the HANNSpree Ten Kate Honda team, which is fielding not 2 but 3 top names in the Superbike championship: former MotoGP veteran Carlos Checa, double British Superbike champion Ryuichi Kiyonari, and reigning World Supersport title holder Kenan Sofuoglu. An unusual step, as every other team consists of either 2 riders, or a senior team of 2 experienced veterans, and a junior team comprising 2 up and coming talents.
This unusual team line up has had the Dutch motorcycling press asking questions. In an online interview (in Dutch) with team boss Ronald ten Kate, the magazine MOTO73 asked whether the three-man team was part of a plan for a MotoGP entry in 2009. Ten Kate's response was interesting: Instead of flat out denying it, as you would expect, the Ten Kate team boss was flustered, telling the interviewer, Marjo Muntjewerf, "You've caught me off guard, there..." He then went on to say that running three top riders was part of a plan to build up a team structure "to allow us to possibly do something alongside our current efforts in the future. You don't run a third rider without a reason, a third rider is part of realizing our future plans. Those plans could be to introduce a proper Junior team in World Superbikes ... On the other hand, we could use that same structure as a basis for an entry into MotoGP."
Whatever the current status of their plans, running a third rider in World Superbikes means that by the end of the season, Ten Kate Honda will have three fully-trained teams of mechanics, and enough personnel to mount a serious MotoGP effort. With Lucio Cecchinello, team boss of Team LCR speaking publicly about his plans to achieve even better results in 2009, before the 2008 season has even started, it looks like the race for 2009 satellite Hondas is in full swing already. With so many titles in World Superbike and World Supersport under their belts, Ten Kate surely have a very strong hand indeed when it comes to getting support for a MotoGP entry in 2009.