Today - Monday, January 5th - was the day we had been expecting the official announcement from Kawasaki of their withdrawal from MotoGP, but so far, nothing has been heard from Akashi in Japan. No news is not necessarily good news though. What it does mean is that Kawasaki have probably come under a lot of pressure from both Dorna and the management of their MotoGP team to either reconsider their decision, or find a way to allow the team to continue in a drastically revised form.
But while it's been quiet in Japan, news has once again been filtering in from around Europe about the possibilities created by Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal. The main attention focuses on Jorge Martinez Aspar, who runs the Aspar team in 125s and 250s, and whose earlier attempt to form a one-man Kawasaki satellite team foundered on the choice of riders. Martinez has spoken to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo about his attempts to take over the Kawasaki team, should the Japanese manufacturer decide to go ahead.
"At the moment, it's all up in the air," Martinez told Motociclismo. "I spoke to Dorna about it, and we won't know anything for certain until Carmelo [Ezpeleta] returns from the meeting with the MSMA in Japan."
Martinez also made it clear that he wouldn't take on the project at any price. "For me, the most important thing is a Spanish rider, but I also need some guarantees from Kawasaki about the bikes for 2009, such as the development of the bike, the supply of parts, and the maintenance." He also said that the speed with which all this had happened meant there were still a few question marks over the viability of the project. He told Motociclismo he expected that it would be "ten or twelve days" before he knew anything for certain.
While Jorge Martinez has never made a secret of his desire to run a Spanish rider - a preference dictated mainly by his sponsors - this leaves Kawasaki's current lineup looking fairly precarious. And on that front, Motorcycle News has bad news for both Marco Melandri and John Hopkins.
Melandri is the rider whose name seems to pop up in just about every rumor regarding the situation. But MCN puts one suggestion to bed: Matthew Birt spoke to Lucio Cecchinello about rumors of running Melandri alongside LCR Honda's current rider, Randy de Puniet, and Cecchinello denied them. The Italian team manager acknowledged that he'd been approached by Melandri's manager, Alberto Vergani, about the situation, but Cecchinello told Vergani it wasn't possible with just two machines.
But a bigger problem for LCR Honda would have been the increased costs, and the fact that these would require raising extra sponsorship. With Melandri's miserable season from last year, finding sponsors prepared to cover the costs of running the Italian would be difficult, according to Cecchinello.
Melandri's team mate, John Hopkins, is likely to fare little better in finding a team. The American had been linked to the Tech 3 Yamaha team, but Herve Poncharal, once again speaking to MCN's Matthew Birt, also denied the suggestion. "Changing our line-up for the forthcoming season is simply not under consideration and not an option," Poncharal told MCN, adding that he was very happy with both James Toseland and Colin Edwards.
Though Hopkins has a contract which will pay him handsomely, whether he rides or not, the American is a racer through and through, and will not want to sit out the season. Finding a place to race, however, is not going to be easy.