When the split between the JIR and Team Scot sections of Team Scot JIR was announced at Laguna Seca in July, speculation immediately began on who would get the Honda RC212V the joint team was running. JIR - Japan Italy Racing, run by Luca Montiron - held the contract with Honda for a bike and a start license, while Team Scot brought sponsorship money, an outstanding pit crew, and the extraordinarily talented Andrea Dovizioso.
Though JIR held all the paperwork and contracts, the team had been heading ever more rapidly downhill since they switched from Bridgestone tires to Michelins in 2005, eventually fatally injuring the careers of Makoto Tamada and Shinya Nakano. By joining forces with Team Scot, who have been immensely successful in the 250 and 125 classes despite riding seriously underpowered Hondas, and fielding the extremely talented Andrea Dovizioso, the team had been transformed, with Dovi currently standing 5th in the championship, and the team not far behind the Gresini and Alice teams in the team standings, despite scoring points with only one rider.
So the decision was always likely to come down to Honda's view of the future of the team. JIR's track record of running and managing a team was patchy at best, and though Luca Montiron was rumored to have an option on triple AMA Superbike champion Ben Spies, he looked to have the weaker hand.
Team Scot, by contrast, has a strong track record in the smaller classes, and perhaps more importantly for Honda, they also had Yuki Takahashi, a rider who, like Dovizioso before him, is punching well above his weight on the underpower Honda 250. What's more, Takahashi is Japanese, and with Shinya Nakano likely to be transitioned into a role as test rider for HRC, Honda will be very keen to keep a Japanese rider in the series.
Now, it looks like the stronger half of the partnership has won out. Motorcycle News is reporting that Honda have decided to drop JIR in favor of Team Scot. Luca Montiron told MCN's Matthew Birt that Honda had informed him at the beginning of September that they wouldn't have a machine for him, and that therefore, Team Scot will be getting the 6th Honda RC212V.
Montiron claims that he still holds a contract with Honda which gives him priority when it comes to the allocation of bikes, and is determined to pursue what he regards as his right to run a team in MotoGP, but with Honda controlling the bikes, Montiron's efforts are likely to come to very little. Honda have apparently decided that they want a successful team running a Japanese rider, rather than taking a chance on a big American name.
There is some merit to this argument. The JIR part of the partnership consisted almost solely of Luca Montiron, with Team Scot providing the lion's share of the team personnel. For Montiron to strike out on his own, he would have to recruit an entire pit crew as well as other ancilliary staff to help run the team, starting out more or less from scratch. Honda most likely felt that their best chance of success lies with Yuki Takahashi and Team Scot.
This almost certainly means the end of any chance Ben Spies still had remaining of running in MotoGP next year. Spies has repeated told the press that he has several options outside of MotoGP, but with the state of motorcycle racing in the US in complete turmoil, as the DMG battles it out with the manufacturers to stage a racing series, those options are becoming more limited.
The most interesting recent rumor is that Spies will be signed by Yamaha Motor Italia to run the new long bang Yamaha R1 in World Superbikes. This would be a huge boost for Yamaha USA, which could benefit hugely from the marketing value of having a big name star in a prestigious global series, but competition is fierce. The Yamaha Motor Italia team recently signed up-and-coming BSB star Tom Sykes to replace the departing Nori Haga, and Troy Corser is also rumored to be departing to join the new BMW team. But as reported earlier, Sylvain Guintoli has been testing Haga's R1, and is said to have clocked some pretty decent times on the bike.
With Montiron forced out of MotoGP, silly season is almost concluded. We are still awaiting the formal announcement that Mika Kallio and Niccolo Canepa will be joining the Alice Ducati team, and there's some doubt about the 3rd Kawasaki and 5th Ducati which could be joining the grid. But mostly, silly season is over. And sadly for a lot of American fans, so are Ben Spies' chances of riding in MotoGP.