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KTM Confirm Smith And Espargaro As 2018 MotoGP Rider Line Up

After months of speculation of an impending rider change at KTM, the Austrian factory has issued a press release clarifying its 2018 line up in MotoGP. The KTM factory team will continue with both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as their contracted race riders, while Mika Kallio remains contracted as a test rider. 

The move will be welcomed inside the team, restoring stability and removing the uncertainty which had surrounded Bradley Smith and his future as a factory rider. The Englishman had struggled badly to be competitive in the first part of the season, while his teammate Espargaro seemed to go from strength to strength. Smith's position was made even more tenuous when test rider Mika Kallio easily outperformed him during the Finn's wildcard appearances, especially at the team's home race at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.

That performances spawned the idea of swapping Kallio and Smith in the factory team. Kallio would become a full-time racer again, as he had made clear was his prime objective. Smith would take on the role as development and test rider, making occasional wildcard appearances. By Smith's own admission, he had been focused too much on developing the bike, and not enough on racing it. (See for an example of this, Steve English' excellent interview with Bradley Smith published here yesterday.)

Those rumors gained even more strength after another strong result by Kallio as a wildcard at Aragon, where Smith finished 19 seconds behind the Finnish test rider. When KTM announced that Kallio would get one final wildcard at Valencia, many believed the decision had been made.

That now appears not to have been the case. After meetings in Austria, KTM have decided to clarify the situation, and remove any doubt. In an interview with German-language publication Speedweek, KTM boss Pit Beirer said that Smith had "not deserved" to be dropped, and they had seen that the pressure coming from the media was starting to weigh on Smith's performance. They wanted to end that, Beirer said.

There is also a question of just how serious the proposals to replace Smith actually were. In the interview I did with KTM team manager Mike Leitner at Aragon, Leitner was speaking of Bradley Smith as if it was a given he would be remaining as factory rider in 2018. That, it turns out, was the official position all along. The press release issued today by KTM confirms that.

Below is the press release announcing the 2018 KTM MotoGP line up:


Red Bull KTM MotoGP Factory Racing look forward to 2018 clarifying rider line up

MotoGP Announcement

KTM are about to complete their first year competing in MotoGP but the team are already looking forward to next year with knowledge and data gained from races in 2017. Further to the team’s announcement before the season, KTM clarifies their rider line up for 2018 with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith following top ten finishes for the pair of them during this opening season with the KTM RC16 motorcycle. The team remains committed to both riders who have remained steadfast and unwavering in their commitment to furthering the biggest motorsport programme KTM has ever undertaken since the company started in 1953.

Pol Espargaro has been resolute and relentless in his drive to take the KTM MotoGP project forward to further success during one of the closest seasons in MotoGP history. Espargaro has taken the best result for KTM so far – ninth at Brno – and has taken some qualifying positions much higher than the team though of before the first wheels were turned at the start of the year. To have the former Moto2 World Champion on board for the second season is fantastic for the Austrian squad.

KTM have supported Bradley Smith from the very first test on the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike in Valencia 2016. He has fitted into the team well and has worked hard at every test, practice and race as a new motorcycle is developed with new parts coming into the garage for every race. The team want to confirm that 2018 will remain as committed to Smith as before as we both look forward to bettering results and lap times. He is a Grand Prix winner and a podium man over the three classes of Grand Prix racing he’s contested, something that KTM wish to repeat with an orange motorcycle underneath him.

Mika Kallio will remain as the team’s test rider for 2018 with selected wildcard rides for the Finn. He has been a huge part of the progress of the MotoGP project through his vast experience in Grand Prix that go back 17 years, knowledge that has been a major factor in the project exceeding the initial expectations for 2017. KTM look forward to Kallio’s ongoing speed and support so the motorcycle can jump forward to the next step in 2018 and beyond. His three races so far this year have been some of the most impressive for a wildcard in recent times with his commitment and speed, something that KTM look forward to seeing again at the season final in Valencia in a month’s time.

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Making Motegi A Little More Japanese: Aoyama And Nakasuga To Race At Their Home Grand Prix

In the week in which MotoGP marks ten years since the remarkable Norick Abe tragically died in a traffic accident (an occasion which MotoGP.com is marking by posting videoes of some of Abe's career highlights on their Facebook page), news comes of extra Japanese presence at the Motegi round of MotoGP. There will be at least two Japanese riders on the grid for the start of the race on Sunday, 15th October.

With Australian rider Jack Miller out through injury, the Marc VDS Honda team will be fielding Hiroshi Aoyama as a replacement at Motegi. The choice of Aoyama should come as no real surprise: the former 250cc champion is one of HRC's official test riders, and still heavily involved in Honda's MotoGP effort, and especially with the development of the Honda RC213V. With Miller being under contract to HRC, it was Honda's prerogative to choose a replacement for the Australian. And Aoyama's work as a test rider means he already knows many of the HRC staff currently working with Jack Miller.

Marc VDS team boss Michael Bartholemy explained the role HRC played in the press release previewing Motegi, and announcing Aoyama as a replacement. "Firstly I'd like to say a big thank you to Hiroshi for stepping in at the last minute to replace Jack in Motegi and to HRC for arranging everything at such short notice," Bartholemy stated in the press release. "I am looking forward to welcoming Hiroshi into the team this weekend. It won't be completely new for him, as he's worked with many of our technical staff previously, so we start already from a good position. I am sure he will do a good job for us this weekend and I hope he enjoys this opportunity to race once again in front of his home crowd."

The other Japanese rider at Motegi is Katsuyuki Nakasuga. The Yamaha test rider - and the driving force behind Yamaha's three victories at the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hour race - will be making his customary appearance at Motegi as a wildcard. Nakasuga is likely to be racing a 2018 Yamaha M1 prototype in factory colors. The five-time All Japan Superbike champion will be racing for the Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing team, a separate effort from the Movistar Yamaha factory team of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales.

Aoyama's return to MotoGP is likely to be extremely brief. Jack Miller is making excellent progress in recovering from the broken right leg he suffered just over a week ago. Miller posted a video on his Instagram feed on Friday, showing himself cycling on a stationary bike, just five days after having surgery to fixate the fractured tibia in his right leg with a titanium plate. Miller is well on the way to being fit enough to race at his home Grand Prix in Phillip Island, on Sunday, 22nd October.

 

No idea how happy I was to get on this today!! 5 days since operation!

A post shared by Jack Miller (@jackmilleraus) on

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Ducati Superbike Boss Ernesto Marinelli To Leave Ducati At End Of 2017

A major surprise out of Borgo Panigale this afternoon. Ernesto Marinelli, the man behind so much of Ducati's World Superbike success, is to leave the company at the end of 2017 for pastures new.

Marinelli has been a lynchpin in Ducati's WSBK operation, working with the company for 22 years. He started as a track engineer, working with both Carl Fogarty and Neil Hodgson, but soon took on a major role in Ducati's racing operations. The Italian led Ducati's AMA racing program at the end of last century, working with such legendary riders as Troy Bayliss, Ben Bostron, Anthony Gobert, and John Kocinski. After returning to Europe, he took over the role of technical director, then project manager of Ducati's WorldSBK project.

Marinelli leaves big boots to fill. At the moment, it is not known either where he is headed to for next year, nor who will take on the role once he departs. But it does allow his replacement a year of breathing space, as 2018 will be the last year of the Ducati 1199 Panigale V twin, before the Italian factory switches over to the V4 bike to be launched at the end of this year.

Below is the Ducati press release announcing Marinelli's departure:


Ducati Corse Superbike Project Leader Ernesto Marinelli to leave the Bologna company at the end of this year

Ducati wishes to announce that Ernesto Marinelli, Superbike Project Leader, has decided to leave the company at the end of 2017. Ever since he joined Ducati in 1995, Marinelli has always been involved in Superbike racing for the Bologna-based manufacturer. In 1997 he worked as track engineer in the factory team with Carl Fogarty and Neil Hodgson in the production-based world championship and then from 1998 to 2000 he was head of Ducati’s AMA Superbike programme in the USA with riders Anthony Gobert, Ben Bostrom, Troy Bayliss and John Kocinski.

On his return to Europe in 2001 Ernesto Marinelli was Ben Bostrom’s track engineer for two years in the Superbike World Championship before taking on the role of SBK Technical Director in 2003 and then Ducati SBK Project Manager starting in 2010.

During his career in Ducati Ernesto Marinelli has contributed to the conquest of numerous world titles and in particular, under his technical direction, the Italian manufacturer won five Riders’ world titles (Hodgson in 2003, Toseland in 2004, Bayliss in 2006 and 2008 and Checa in 2011) as well as six Manufacturers’ world titles (2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011). In November 2006 Marinelli was also track engineer for Troy Bayliss in that fantastic MotoGP race at Valencia, which the Australian rider won in his only race that year as replacement for Sete Gibernau.

Claudio Domenicali (CEO of Ducati Motor Holding SpA): “I began to work with Ernesto back in 1995, the year he joined Ducati, and since then I’ve learnt to appreciate his qualities of expertise, commitment, perseverance and passion for racing. Together we have shared success and disappointment, sacrifice and satisfaction, but I have never seen him lose the enthusiasm that has always distinguished him in his work. Under his guidance, Ducati has obtained numerous successes in the Superbike championship and of course I’m very sorry that he has decided to leave our company at the end of this year. I’d like to wish him all the best for his new professional challenge and I am sure that in the future he will continue to follow and support Ducati with the affection he has always has.”

Ernesto Marinelli (Ducati Corse Superbike Project Leader): “After 22 years it’s not easy to say goodbye and turn over a new leaf and if you leave a company like Ducati, the decision becomes even more difficult. Nevertheless, for each and every one of us, the time comes to raise the bar and face up to further challenges. I’m leaving Ducati in the knowledge that I have lived numerous unforgettable and successful moments, sharing passion, dreams and satisfaction, as well as defeats, disappointments and difficulties. All of these have marked and shaped my professional career and they have helped me to understand that “never give up” is not just a saying but to all intents and purposes a style of life. For my future, I’ve decided to accept a new professional challenge and put myself to the test again, albeit with the awareness that everything I leave behind will always have an important place in my memories and my heart.

A big thanks to Ducati. Thank you to all the many fantastic people who have shared with me these years of hard work, travel and circuits all over the world. There are still four races to go before the end of my final season in SBK, and it will be an even more special and motivating reason for me to continue to fight and win together, before saying farewell to all my colleagues and the Ducatisti, with whom I’ll continue to share friendship and passion, and with whom I’ll still be supporting our red bikes from Borgo Panigale!”

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Jack Miller Breaks Leg In Training Accident, To Miss Motegi

The 2017 season has claimed another training victim. This time, Jack Miller is the victim of misfortune, the Australian breaking his right leg while out trials riding in Andorra.

Miller was relatively fortunate, in that he suffered the injury at very low speed, putting his foot down trying to save the front end from washing out. However, his foot got stuck, causing the tibia to fracture just below the knee. He was taken to the Dexeus Institut in Barcelona, where a plate and eight screws were fitted, to pin the bone fragments back together again.

Miller already has some movement in the leg, promising a speedy recovery. However, he will not be fit in time for the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi on 15th October. Miller has chosen to focus instead on his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island a week later, and is concentrating his efforts on recovering for that race.

The Marc VDS Racing team is unlikely to field a replacement at Motegi, with the prospect of Miller making a return at Phillip Island. The press release from the team appears below:


Training accident rules Miller out of Motegi

Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS MotoGP rider Jack Miller will not race in the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi, after fracturing the tibia in his right leg in a training accident on Friday.

Miller was training on a trials bike near his European base in Andorra and fractured the top of the tibia when he put his right foot down to save a slow speed front-end crash.

The Australian immediately travelled to the Hospital Universitari Dexeus in Barcelona, where he underwent surgery on Saturday morning. A plate and eight screws were inserted to stabilise the fracture.

Miller already has some mobility in the injured leg, but will head back to Andorra today to start an intense program of physiotherapy designed to get him back on the bike for the Australian Grand Prix, which takes place at Phillip Island in just over two weeks time.

Jack Miller:

"Obviously I'm both disappointed and frustrated to have to sit out the Japanese Grand Prix through an injury sustained while training, especially as it wasn't even a crash! We were out trials riding and I put a foot down when I lost traction from the front tyre. Nine times out of ten that would have been the end of the story, especially at such a low speed, but this time I must have caught my foot on something and ended up fracturing my right tibia close to the knee. The injury has been stabilised with a plate and screws and I already have some movement, but it's clear that I won't be fit for Motegi. However, I am determined to be back on the bike at Phillip Island and that's what I'll be working towards now with the physiotherapist."

Michael Bartholemy: Team Principal

"Jack was extremely unfortunate to end up with a fractured tibia from such a seemingly innocuous incident; it was just bad luck. The timing is also unfortunate, as we're about to head overseas for three races in as many weekends, but Jack is adamant that he will miss only next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. His aim is to be back on the bike for his home race at Phillip Island and the prognosis is good. He will work now with a physiotherapist to increase mobility in the injury and, together with his doctors, we will make a decision on whether he is fit to ride in Phillip Island immediately after the Japanese Grand Prix."


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Stefan Bradl To Miss Rest Of Season

Stefan Bradl is to miss the rest of the 2017 WorldSBK season. The Red Bull Honda rider's wrist injury, sustained in a crash at Portimao, is more serious than initially thought, and the recovery period required means he will not be fit for either the Jerez or Qatar rounds of WorldSBK.

The decision was taken after surgery on Bradl's right wrist. Pins were inserted and a torn scaphulonate ligament reattached, damage sustained in the crash. The surgeons who performed the operation have ordered Bradl to keep his wrist immobilized to allow the damage to heal. This effectively makes it impossible for him to ride for the rest of the season.

The absence of Bradl puts the team in a difficult position. They are already having to substitute one rider, after the tragic death of Nicky Hayden in a cycling accident earlier this year. Now, they will also also have to replace Bradl as well. Takumi Takahashi replaced Hayden at Portimao, and will fill in at Jerez as well, but a clash with the All Japan Superbike series means he is unavailable for Qatar. Davide Giugliano is currently on one Honda at Magny-Cours, while American Jake Gagne takes the second seat. It is likely that some combination of those two riders will be used for the two remaining rounds.

The press release from the Red Bull Honda WorldSBK team appears below:


Stefan Bradl to miss the final two rounds of the 2017 WorldSBK season

Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team’s Stefan Bradl will miss the remaining two rounds of the 2017 FIM Superbike World Championship. The 27-year-old German highsided in the early stages of race one at Portimão on September 16th and was forced to miss the second encounter due to strong pain in his right wrist.

Following extensive medical checks back home in Augsburg, Germany, and being diagnosed with a torn scaphulonate ligament, Bradl underwent arthroscopy surgery on Thursday, September 28th, in which doctors inserted pins and wire to put back the two sides of the torn ligament in position – so that the healing process can begin. A seven-week full rest of the right forearm has been ordered by the group of doctors who performed the surgery, with a total of eight weeks required before Stefan will be able to begin with physiotherapy.

On October 11th, a new evaluation of Bradl’s wrist condition will be made in order to determine the exact date for the second surgery, in which pins and wire will be removed.

The team has not yet determined Bradl’s replacement rider for the remaining two rounds of the season.

Stefan Bradl 6

Obviously it’s quite a difficult time for me, as it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to race for the rest of the season. I have to stay positive, though, and try to do everything needed to make sure that my hand and wrist are fully healed. Rest is now priority number one for the healing process. Luck hasn’t been on our side this year, but I couldn’t imagine that the consequences of my crash in Portimão were going to be so severe. I want to thank everybody who worked with me this year: it hasn’t been an easy one, not only from the sporting side but also for the tragedy we all had to endure early on. There’s not much I can do right now, but I will follow the races on TV and support the team from here.

- Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team

Marco Chini

Honda's WorldSBK Operations Manager

First of all, we want to with Stefan a speedy and full recovery, because that’s the most important thing. We felt things were going in the right direction at Portimão and we enjoyed seeing him improve his feeling and his speed on board the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2, so that’s a real pity that we cannot have his talent by our side in the remaining rounds of the season. Jerez and Losail were two tracks he knew well, so we were looking forward to seeing him perform there. We will follow his recovery as we head into the last leg of the season.

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Pirelli Extends Contract As Official Tire Supplier To WorldSBK

Pirelli will continue to supply tires to all classes in the World Superbike championship for the foreseeable future. The Italian tire manufacturer has extended their current contract with Dorna through the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Pirelli first took on the role of single tire supplier in 2004, and sparked a revolution in motorcycle racing. With the favoritism of competing tire factories for sponsored teams removed, and a much more level playing field for privateer teams, the World Superbike model would come to be replicated in many different road racing championships, with MotoGP eventually following suit in 2009.

The press release announcing the contract extension appears below:


Pirelli confirmed as official tyre supplier for MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship
Italian tyre company confirm partnership for 2019 and 2020

Pirelli and Dorna WSBK Organization have announced they will continue as the Official Tyre Supplier for all classes of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. This announcement means Pirelli will be the longest running control tyre supplier in history, as the contract is extended for two more seasons.

First signing in 2004, the technical partnership established by Pirelli with the World Superbike Championship is currently into its 14th consecutive season, and continues to impress. The single tyre formula proposed by Pirelli was initially designed to reduce the overall costs of running the Championship whilst at the same time, increase competitiveness. This is achieved by offering riders and teams the same opportunities to compete for victory year after year, through a fair and identical tyre supply for all.

Right from the outset, Pirelli, realised that the production bike derived series was a great development platform for its tyres, therefore and decided to give the Championship production tyres. Undoubtedly, this choice proved to be one of the best: based on the motto "We sell what we race, we race what we sell".

This confirmation in the role of Sole Tyre Supplier demonstrates the passion and dedication that Pirelli has always played in motorsport, confirming an important feature of the Italian company's DNA. The commitment placed in the control tyre championships however, has not deprived Pirelli of being leader also in open tyre championships and competitions.

To remain faithful to the philosophy that has always characterised Pirelli's commitment and strategy in the FIM Superbike World Championship - to use production not prototype tyres - Pirelli in 2013, became the first brand to abandon 16.5 inch sizes, introducing new 17” DIABLO™ Superbike tyres, a size most commonly used by motorcyclists.

Giorgio Barbier, Racing Activities Director of Pirelli’s Business Unit Moto, said: "We are historically a strong sporty DNA brand. This year we celebrated 110 years of Motorsports activity, and this renewal is a strong sign of our continued business strategy that has enabled our company to establish itself as a benchmark in racing. First of all in the segment of racing and Supersport tyres, and then with great success in both development and sales across the range. The bond between Pirelli and the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has always been solid, over the years we have strongly contributed to the growth of this Championship and, at the same time, thanks to our participation we have succeeded in developing successful products which we have made available to all motorcyclists. Now we are thinking about the future, we will work together with Dorna on the growth of the Championship and especially with the new World Supersport 300 class, because today's young riders will be the future protagonists of tomorrow's World Superbike Championship."

Marc Saurina, WorldSBK Commercial and Marketing director adds: “To have Pirelli on board for another two seasons is fantastic news for the Championship, and to reach the milestone of the longest running sole tyre supplier really shows the strong relationship the two companies have. Providing all classes with such an important asset as tyres is something we take seriously, and we believe Pirelli are the perfect company to continue with.”

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2017 Aragon Updated Sunday Race Time Schedule

Due to the long delay of morning warm ups due to fog, Dorna has had to rejig the race schedule for Sunday's Aragon MotoGP round. Moto3 and Moto3 races will start later than normal, and the Moto3 race has been cut from 20 to 13 laps. Below is the race schedule:

11:40 Moto3 Race (13 laps)

12:40 Moto2 Race (21 laps)

14:00 MotoGP Race (23 laps)

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Fog Delays Sunday Morning Warm Ups At Motorland Aragon

A fog has descended on the Motorland Aragon circuit, and brought on-track proceedings to a halt. A combination of cool nights and moisture in the air causes frequent morning fogs here, but a near absence of wind means it is failing to blow away so far. 

So far, the Moto3 warm up session remains red flagged, but the most likely scenario (as of 10am) is that all morning warm up will be canceled, and the riders given extra sighting laps to check their bikes before each race. 

UPDATE

The fog has lifted, and Moto3 warm up is underway again. Moto2 and MotoGP warm ups have been shortened by 15 minutes, and the Moto3 race will start later than normal. No time yet.

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2018 MotoGP Final Rider Line Up

With the announcement that Xavier Simeon will be signing for the Avintia Ducati team, the 2018 MotoGP rider line up is complete.

The full rider line up, complete with contract duration, appears below:

Teams/Riders Bike Contract ends
Factory Teams
Movistar Yamaha
Valentino Rossi Yamaha M1 2018
Maverick Viñales Yamaha M1 2018
     
Repsol Honda
Dani Pedrosa Honda RC213V 2018
Marc Márquez Honda RC213V 2018
     
Ecstar Suzuki
Andrea Iannone Suzuki GSX-RR 2018
Alex Rins Suzuki GSX-RR 2018
     
Gresini Aprilia
Scott Redding Aprilia RS-GP 2018
Aleix Espargaro Aprilia RS-GP 2018
     
KTM Factory
Bradley Smith*1 KTM RC16 2018
Pol Espargaro KTM RC16 2018
     
Factory Ducati
Jorge Lorenzo Ducati GP18 2018
Andrea Dovizioso Ducati GP18 2018
     
Satellite Teams
Pramac Ducati
Danilo Petrucci Ducati GP18 2018
Jack Miller Ducati GP17 2018
     
LCR Honda
Cal Crutchlow Honda RC213V 2019
Taka Nakagami Honda RC213V 2018
     
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha
Jonas Folger Yamaha M1 2018
Johann Zarco Yamaha M1 2018
     
Marc VDS Honda
Franco Morbidelli Honda RC213V 2019
Tom Luthi Honda RC213V 2018
     
Aspar Ducati
Alvaro Bautista Ducati GP17 2018
Karel Abraham Ducati GP16 2018
     
Avintia Ducati
Tito Rabat Ducati GP17 2018
Xavier Simeon Ducati GP16 2019

1. Since Austria, reports have continued that KTM is losing patience with Bradley Smith, and that they may swap his role with Mika Kallio, promoting Kallio to the MotoGP team and making Smith the test rider.

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Valentino Rossi To Travel To Aragon And Attempt To Ride

Valentino Rossi is to travel to Aragon and attempt to race in the fourteenth round of MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit. After evaluating his fitness on a Yamaha R1M at Misano on Monday and Tuesday, the Italian had his leg assessed by Dr Pascarella, who performed the surgery on his broken tibia and fibula. After that examination, Rossi decided he was fit enough to travel to Aragon and attempt to race.

Rossi faces one more hurdle before he is allowed to race. He will be subject to a further assessment by the circuit doctors at the Motorland Aragon track, who will have to evaluate whether he is fit enough to race. Rossi will have to demonstrate that his leg is capable of bearing the strains of riding a MotoGP bike, which will mean standing on the broken leg, and being able to jump and land on.

Michael van der Mark will also travel to Motorland Aragon, as originally planned, but the Dutchman will initially be on standby in case Rossi can't ride. Yamaha have until two hours before qualifying to replace Rossi, so in theory, Rossi could ride in FP3 and assess his fitness immediately after that session. In practice, he is more likely to know whether he can actually race either directly after FP1, or on Saturday morning, after his leg has had a night to recover from the rigors of practice. 

If Rossi does ride the bike in FP1, then pulls out, that will take some of the pressure off Van der Mark to score a result. With very limited time on the bike, expections on the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK rider will be very low indeed.

There is also a chance that Yamaha decides not to put Van der Mark on the bike at all if Rossi rides the first day. The precedent for this would be Loris Capirossi at Assen in 2008. The Italian suffered a nasty puncture wound in his right arm after crashing in FP2 at Assen, and Ben Spies, who had traveled to Assen to replace Capirossi should he decide not to start the race after returning from a broken hand picked up at an earlier round in Barcelona. As Capirossi had started the round, Suzuki were free not to replace him. That will also be the case if Rossi rides FP1, and decides he can't continue.

Below is the press release from the Movistar Yamaha Team:

Movistar Yamaha to Attend the Aragon GP in Full Force

Setup

The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team arrives in Spain for a very special 14th round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship. Not only is the Gran Premio Movistar de Aragón the last European round before the overseas races and Maverick Viñales' home Grand Prix, but it's also a home race for the team's title sponsor, Movistar, and the scene for either Valentino Rossi's return from injury, or Yamaha WorldSBK rider Michael van der Mark's MotoGP debut as a replacement rider.

At the previous race in Misano, Viñales flew the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP flag alone. His fourth place at a very wet San Marino race was labelled as good progress by the Spaniard, as it was his first time trying the 2018 chassis in these conditions.

He currently holds third place in the championship standings, 16 points behind the joint leaders and - as the 2017 season has four more rounds after this weekend and there are still 125 points up for grabs - the number 25-rider has all to play for. This weekend he will focus on getting his Yamaha set up for the elevation changes and multiple flowing corners at the Alcañiz track as soon as possible on the Friday, so he can make another step forward in his championship challenge in Sunday's race.

The young gun has stood on the podium in Aragón three times before, thanks to a third place in 2011 in the 125cc class, a Moto3 second place finish in 2013 and a Moto2 victory in 2014. Last year he just missed out on the premier class podium, securing a best MotoGP placement in Alcañiz of fourth position. This year he fancies his chances to secure a place in the top-3.

After 17 days of recovering, Rossi got his first laps in at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli last Monday and Tuesday, before undergoing a medical examination today. Following the check-up, the Italian decided to make his way to Aragón in order to try to participate in this weekend's race. He will have to successfully complete a mandatory physical check by the MotorLand Aragón Chief Medical Officer to be declared fit to take part in the Grand Prix weekend.

Despite missing the previous race due to injury, Rossi arrives at the 14th round holding fourth place in the championship, 42 points from the top of the standings. While his leg hasn't fully healed yet, the nine-time World Champion is happy he might have the opportunity to attempt riding his YZR-M1 again and greet the Spanish fans in Alcañiz, where he stood on the podium three times before (three third places in 2013, 2015 and 2016).

Yamaha WorldSBK rider Van der Mark will still attend the Gran Premio Movistar de Aragón as a replacement rider, in case Rossi is declared unfit or if he feels he can't compete in Sunday's race after any of the Free Practice sessions. Should he be stepping aboard the YZR-M1 this weekend, he will do so without any prior testing. Nevertheless, he is looking forward to the challenge and to taking in as much information as possible, should Rossi not be able to ride.

The MotorLand Aragón is situated near the town of Alcañiz in Northern Spain and is only a few hours' drive from Barcelona. The circuit was added to the MotoGP calendar in 2010 and was given the IRTA Best Grand Prix of the Year award that same year, reflecting the riders' and the fans' appreciation of the venue. The fast and challenging 5.1km long track has ten left and seven right corners and a 968m longest straight. It draws thousands of fans, especially as it's the last European race before the triple header overseas, making it a round motorsport enthusiasts don't want to miss.

Maverick Viñales
Championship: 3rd - Points: 183

"I'm very happy to head to Aragón because for us it's like a second home Grand Prix and we know that we can do a good performance there with the M1. It's one of my favourite tracks because of its lay-out, in Aragón we can be very fast. We are 16 points behind and we need to close that gap as soon as possible. For that reason, it's very important to push and believe that we can do it. In Misano we made a big step and I'm sure that we will do another important step this weekend. It's very important to stay focused."

Valentino Rossi
Championship: 4th - Points: 157

"Fortunately, yesterday I had a good test with my YZF-R1M in Misano. I tried also the day before, but the rain stopped me after a few laps. Yesterday I managed to complete 20 laps and find the answers I was looking for. Eventually, the test was positive and I want to say thanks to Dr. Lucidi and his staff, who helped me find the best solutions to feel the least amount of pain possible in my leg when I'm riding. Obviously at the end of the test I was in a little bit of pain, but this morning I went to Dr. Pascarella for a medical check, and it came out with a positive result. At the end I decided I will leave for Aragón and will try to ride my M1 this weekend. If I will be declared fit to ride, I'll have the real answer after FP1, because riding the M1 will be a much bigger challenge. We'll see. See you in Aragon!"

Michael van der Mark

"Though it remains uncertain if I will get to ride the YZR-M1 this weekend, I'm still looking forward to it. While I would like to get to step aboard the YZR-M1, I'm also fully supporting Valentino making his return. I'll either get to make my MotoGP debut or, should I not be able to ride, I will get to see Valentino live in action as he makes his comeback. As I said earlier, I've not been able to ride a MotoGP bike before the Grand Prix kicks off so, if Valentino ends up withdrawing from the Aragón GP, I will have to jump in at the deep end at the start of the next session and just try my best. However, after securing my first WorldSBK podium of the 2017 season in Portimão, I'm having a good momentum to step up to the challenge. I want to thank Yamaha again for giving me this opportunity. I'm sure it will be a good experience either way."

Massimo Merigali

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP - Team Director

"First of all, the team is looking forward to welcoming back Valentino and his crew in the pit box! The Aragón GP is very special for the team as we share the title sponsor with this round of the MotoGP championship, and we are very happy that we might get to start the event with a 'complete' team and rider line-up. It remains to be seen if Valentino feels he can complete the entire race weekend, which is very demanding, especially at a circuit like MotorLand Aragón, with big elevation changes. Should Vale feel that his injury is causing him too much discomfort, then Michael van der Mark will step in as the replacement rider. If that is the case, the team will put in maximal effort to help him adapt to the YZR-M1 as quick as possible. He didn't get the opportunity to test the bike before, so it would be a very exciting but also interesting weekend for him. As for the other side of the box, we are fully engrossed with the fight for the championship. Maverick is 16 points behind the joint leaders, with five races to go, so we are as determined as ever to get a top result and decrease the margin to the top in the standings. He really likes this circuit and, as it's also his home race, he will be pushing hard this weekend to confirm his status as a key protagonist."

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