After weeks of persistent rumors that Suzuki would be pulling out of MotoGP, confirmation has finally come Japan that the bikes will be on the grid in 2009. Talking to Matthew Birt of Motorcycle News, Suzuki team boss Paul Denning said that "senior management" within Suzuki had given the green light to the project for 2009.
Denning also told MCN that Suzuki was not the kind of company which would renege on its contracts with its riders and with Dorna, and even if circumstances had forced them to consider such a move, a decision would not have been made so late. "If Suzuki had seriously thought about that option I’m sure it would have been done in a way that wasn’t at the end of January when we are just about to leave to start winter testing in Sepang," he said to MCN.
There was still no official news about the Rizla sponsorship, however. Denning would only say that the deadline by which a decision must be made was fast approaching, and that by mid-February, they would be able to make an announcement. But the longer the announcement is in coming, the more likely it is that Rizla will be pulling out. Rumors of Rizla's withdrawal have been floating round the paddock since the end of last year, and as we reported yesterday, the Italian media is reporting the loss of Rizla's sponsorship as fact.
With Suzuki set to stay in MotoGP, a catastrophe for the series has been averted. At least 17 bikes will line up at Qatar in April for the start of the season, and with four manufacturers on the grid, as well as the racing and marketing phenomenon that is Valentino Rossi, MotoGP can still claim to be the world's premier motorcycle racing series. But unless the grid starts to fill out, MotoGP's hold on that title could start to slip rather rapidly.