Intrigue haunts the World Superbike paddock at the moment, after rumors emerged that British rider Tommy Hill was to be replaced at Althea Honda. There was a quick response from the Althea Honda team, who issued a press release officially denying the story. The press release stated: "With reference to reports on several websites and forums regarding the substitution of our Superbike rider Tommy Hill with Lorenzo Lanzi, the Honda Althea Racing team wishes to deny this news, which is considered to be totally groundless."
A comprehensive denial. So what is fueling the rumor? Part of the problem is the replacement rider being named: Lorenzo Lanzi is an undeniably talented rider, and a winner at Valencia last year. The Italian started the season riding for Stefano Caracchi's KTM Scuderia Corse team in the Italian Superbike championship, but on the eve of the first round of the season, Caracchi and Lanzi have issued a joint statement announcing that Lanzi had been released from his contract to allow him to pursue opportunities in World Superbikes.
That press release is one of the things fueling the speculation, for it is refreshingly honest in why Lanzi is being released:
"Lorenzo Lanzi and Stefano Caracchi have decided to end their agreement for 2009 season, but not due to a disagreement between the two, on the contrary! A rider with Lorenzo's talent was never going to be out of the WSBK arena for long, and when the World Superbike circus returned to Europe, some teams, not completely satisfied with the choices made at the beginning of the season, contacted him. Stefano Caracchi has not had the heart to stop Lorenzo seizing this opportunity, and dissolved the agreement with him, though of course with great regret."
So though the Althea Honda team have denied that Tommy Hill will be replaced, it looks certain that Lorenzo Lanzi will be coming to World Superbikes. A number of rumors are doing the round, but they are nothing more than rumors. One possible option is that Lanzi could end up running alongside Hill, rather than replacing him, a possibility only if Lanzi could bring enough sponsorship to the team to cover at least part of the extra costs of running two bikes instead of one. But Lanzi's name is also being mentioned in connection with the Guandalini Racing team, where the team is said to be disappointed with the results of both Jakub Smrz and Brendan Roberts.
Though we must take Althea Honda's denial that Hill would be replaced at face value, they didn't help their case with the wording of the press statement. The statement went on to say, "as reported in the team press release on the tests carried out last week at Monza, we wish to confirm that Tommy will take part in the Assen races on the Honda CBR 1000 RR prepared by Massimo Tulli and his technical staff, in order to continue with the development of our bike and reach the results that our team and rider are capable of." The statement that Hill will take part at Assen merely fuels speculation about the rest of the season. After all, there are ten more rounds after Assen, and those with fevered imaginations will be wondering why there was no mention of those races.
The truth of the matter is likely to be revealed at Assen next week. Now freed from his contract with Caracchi, Lorenzo Lanzi is almost certain to be in the paddock at the event, even if only as a visitor. We shall keep a close eye on his whereabouts, and check which garage he spends most of his time in.