Though Toni Elias had already leaked details of the deal at Indianapolis, today, Gresini Honda officially confirmed that the Spaniard would be joining the team for 2009. And the specifics of the deal seem to justify Elias' decision to make a return to the team he left at the end of 2007.
For Elias is to be provided with a factory-spec Honda RC212V to campaign in the 2009 MotoGP season. This will bring the total number of factory Hondas on the grid to 3, alongside the 2 bikes which the Repsol Honda team will have for Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso.
With the amount of progress that Honda has made on their 800cc machine since its introduction, the factory-spec RC212V should be the best machine on the grid next year. With rumors rife that Dani Pedrosa has been given one more year to win a championship for Honda, or else seek gainful employment elsewhere, there can be no doubting that Pedrosa and his personal manager Alberto Puig will be putting as much pressure as possible on Honda to produce a bike capable of dominating the competition.
In the press release confirming Elias' signing, the Gresini team also confirmed a few other details. Alex de Angelis will be riding the satellite spec version of the Honda RC212V, though it remains unclear whether de Angelis would be given the factory spec bike should Elias be injured during the season. Gresini also announced that San Carlo, an Italian manufacturer of potato chips and other snack products, will be sponsoring the team again next year.
Gresini also confirmed its position as a key strategic partner with HRC. Fausto Gresini has worked very closely with Honda for several years, especially when Sete Gibernau and Marco Melandri were with the team. The relationship suffered a setback during 2007, after HRC switched its resources to focus completely on the factory Repsol Honda team, after it became painfully apparent that Honda had completely misjudged what it would take to produce an 800cc bike capable of winning races. Any new parts which became available went straight to the factory teams, and satellite teams were left with a very mediocre bike for a long time, a position they weren't used to being in.
That period saw Marco Melandri grow increasingly disillusioned with Honda, and may have been the catalyst which led the Italian to jump ship to Ducati. After that proved to be a positively disastrous move for Melandri, his experience with HRC during 2007 may also have made him reluctant to return to the Honda fold, despite their proven record of winning, and take a chance with Kawasaki.