There's an interesting guest at Assen this weekend: Giampiero Sacchi, VP Racing for the Piaggio Group, here to watch the progress of Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano aboard Aprilia's latest superbike, the RSV4 Factory. But what is surprising the Italian journalists is that the otherwise talkative Sacchi is so uncharacteristically silent. Sacchi's reticence to talk is generating rumors, also emerging from Motegi that Aprilia is about to make a big announcement in the very near future about their vision on motorcycle racing.
What the rumors are predicting, according to two different stories on GPOne.com, one from the World Superbike round at Assen, the other from the MotoGP round at Motegi, is that Aprilia is on the verge of announcing its complete withdrawal from the 250 class from next season. The rumors have some credibility to them, as Aprilia have made no secret of their disgust at the way the decision to dump the two-stroke 250s in favor of a 600cc four-cylinder four-stroke engine was taken, with no regard for either the interests of or the suggestions made by Aprilia. But the rumors must very much be regarded as just rumors, as one of the key pieces of evidence put forward by Claudio Porozzi of GPOne.com is Sacchi's very refusal to discuss the matter.
Another interesting, if rather puzzling, angle to this story is that it would only be Aprilia pulling out of the 250 class. Piaggio, the parent company of Aprilia, would continue to field the two Gilera bikes (currently ridden by Marco Simoncelli and Roberto Locatelli). As the Gilera is basically just a rebadged Aprilia, this would still leave Aprilia with some involvement with the class. The only conceivable explanation for the Gilera decision is to compare it to leaving a ten cent tip on a fifty dollar restaurant bill: a small involvement, like a small tip, would be a greater insult than complete withdrawal. And if it is the Piaggio Group who signed the contract to participate in the 250 class, rather than Aprilia, then Aprilia could withdraw without leaving Piaggio open to the kind of legal threats it is believed was used to coerce Kawasaki into making the Hayate project possible.
But even if Gilera stays, the withdrawal of Aprilia would be a huge blow to the 250 series, and force the hands of Dorna, the FIM and the MSMA. The Grand Prix Commission would have no option but to bring the launch of the Moto2 class forward, and with only 6 months to go until testing for the 2010 season begins, that would leave the teams with little time to prepare their bikes for the coming season. And with an engine supplier yet to be selected - Kawasaki is said to be worried it will be unable to provide the engines for a complete series - this cuts down on preparation time for the teams even further. Revenge for Aprilia could well be served chilled to a tee.