Down The Rabbit Hole: The Next Installment Of The Lorenzo Saga

In any exciting story, there comes a point where the author is tempted to push the action up another notch, in the hope of making it more exciting still. The danger is that by pushing the envelope, you push the audience from suspending their disbelief into outright incredulity at the improbability of the storyline, and lose them altogether. As an example, think of the sequence in the first Mission Impossible movie, where the scene in which a helicopter is chasing a high-speed train transitions from the exciting to the ridiculous, as the helicopter continues its pursuit by flying into the Channel Tunnel, and does so without crashing due to the incredible turbulence a train generates in a tunnel.

That's just about where we are with the Jorge Lorenzo-to-Ducati story. Rumors started to arise that Ducati had upped their pursuit of Lorenzo during the early part of the Brno MotoGP weekend, and at the time sounded entirely reasonable. With Casey Stoner's health situation unknown, and his return to racing and full fitness for next season uncertain, it made a lot of sense to renew the approach that Ducati had made to Lorenzo earlier in the season. Obviously, to coax him away from both Yamaha and Honda, the early reports of salary offers between 3 and 5 million seemed entirely plausible.

Jorge Lorenzo at Laguna Seca

On Monday, the credulity of MotoGP fans was put to the test a little more, when the numbers being bandied around leapt to around the 7 million euro a year mark, for a two year contract. Twice the money reportedly on offer from Yamaha, and a little under double what Casey Stoner is currently paid by Ducati. Though the sums involved seemed a little far fetched, the justification behind the amounts make the offer sound a little more logical. Ducati need someone who can replace Stoner if he doesn't come back, and provide development for the bike if Stoner does come back, but is not fully fit. Lorenzo has a history of doing well on ill-handling machines, and his results showed that he is not afraid to go in search of a bike's limits, and can learn to back off once he reaches them. As a small factory with a very large sponsor, Ducati need to be on the podium as often as possible, to justify the amount of money Philip Morris puts into the Ducati MotoGP program.

Further stretching the credulity of MotoGP fans were reports that Lorenzo is being offered the undisputed number one status at Ducati, with Ducati's focus being switched from proven winner and former World Champion with the Borgo Panigale factory, Casey Stoner, to unproven gamble stepping in where so many have failed, Jorge Lorenzo. And yet even here, some rationalization was possible. Though Stoner brought Ducati and Marlboro the wins - and therefore the publicity - the two brands craved, the Australian was loath to engage in the kind of extra-curricular promotional activity that is the bread and butter of any sponsorship campaign. Ducati and Marlboro had their winner, but it was almost impossible to show that winner off. Making things worse for the Australian was the way in which he reportedly handled the issue of his non-appearance at Brno and the following races. According to Motocuatro.com, Stoner simply informed the team of his condition and his intention not to ride, without first consulting them or being prepared to discuss the situation.

The rumors now starting to emerge in the Italian and Spanish media have become so convoluted and bizarre that the story has reached the point rather quaintly referred to as having jumped the shark. For some of the possibilities surrounding Ducati's predicament sound as if they are exploring the realms of fantasy, despite the fact they are probably still grounded in truth. For example, AS.com is suggesting that Ducati have a backup plan for their backup plan, and if Jorge Lorenzo doesn't sign for Ducati, then the Borgo Panigale factory will try to secure the services of Dani Pedrosa, instead. If Lorenzo does leave Yamaha and join Ducati, the man who he would displace - Nicky Hayden - could easily slot into the seat Lorenzo just vacated, and make a return as Valentino Rossi's team mate, this time at Fiat Yamaha. The plan, according to GPOne.com, already has Rossi's blessing, as Hayden would be competitive, but probably not as competitive as that young upstart Jorge Lorenzo has proven to be.

Whatever the truth of the matter, all is to be revealed soon. Motocuatro reported earlier that Lorenzo's manager, Marcos Hirsch, met with representatives from Ducati in Barcelona earlier today, to discuss the factory's final offer and clear up the details of any such deal. After the meeting, Hirsch was due to put the offer he had received from Ducati to Lorenzo, and Lorenzo would make the final decision on a switch in the next few days.

Lorenzo has had to bring his decision forward due to the pressure being put on him by Yamaha. Tired of being made to wait, and leave their own plans in limbo while Jorge Lorenzo makes up his mind, the Japanese factory has reportedly issued Lorenzo an ultimatum, and he will have to make a decision by the time the MotoGP circus reaches Indianapolis.

At Indy, Lorenzo is due to give a press conference to announce his decision, and put all this wild speculation to bed. In a little over a week's time, we will finally find out how much of all this has been the product of hyperactive journalistic imaginations, and how much has a basis in fact. Whatever the outcome, a lot of people are likely to be relieved that the whole rigmarole is finally over.

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Comments

We all know how shady and forked tongued Livio Suppo is, so nothing would surprise me. But something is REALLY wrong at that camp and with Stoner for things to get this silly. Bautista rejects them, then Kallio to the factory was weird, then Fabrizio to Pramac when Smrz or numerous uninjured others could have ridden? Then Pasini testing but Espargaro getting the job and Hopkins turning down his only chance back into GPs? Something is up!

Nicky moved $2.1 million of bikes in one day and helped develop 'the best bike' Stoner has 'ever had underneath' him. He's a press darling and DORNA asset. But he still hasn't signed and Ducati didn't give Nicky the new swingarm he requested for testing. Maybe they are just stupid?

Finally, that chassis needs more lateral flex. Hayden was never a big crasher almost never highsided until riding at Ducati.

" Nicky moved $2.1 million of bikes in one day and helped develop 'the best bike' Stoner has 'ever had underneath' him. He's a press darling and DORNA asset "

Great ! Employ Nicky as DUCATI Saleman and PR guy. After 8 months at DUCATI, he still isn't as fast as a sick Stoner.

It will be nice when all this rubbish dies down. Lets see, Stoner has given DUCATI how many wins since he joined DUCATI ? If it wasn't for Stoner's ability, the DUCATI team would not have won a MOTOGP Championship.
So, Casey doesn't care too much for PR work. What helps sell bikes, nice PR or race wins ?
If I were Stoner, I would be mighty pxxxxd that the team sponsor was reportedly offering huge amounts to get a rider who regularly decks the bike....

"So, Casey doesn't care too much for PR work. What helps sell bikes, nice PR or race wins ?"

Nice PR sells bikes. I just spent some quality time in Chicago Cycle, one of the largest motorcycle dealerships in the States, and the entire Ducati area was plastered with Hayden's face. Stoner's picture only appeared in the brochures.

All of the Ducati specialists there were talking about Hayden. All of the MotoGP enthusiasts were talking about Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa... and Hayden. Hayden sells bikes in America. And he's selling a lot of them, and *fast*.

Ducati Corse is a subsidiary of Ducati Motor Holding. Thusly, it is in Ducati Corse's best interest to do what is in the best interest of Ducati Motor Holding. And Hayden is, by far, the more valuable asset to Ducati as a whole.

Even purely from the racing perspective, Ducati has every right to be worried about Stoner. If the Aussie has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as it is widely rumored (but not confirmed), then he's done. Forever. Kaput. You don't recover from CFS. You live with it for the rest of your life. And that means that one of their two world champions enters an early retirement.

I'm American, so I'm slightly biased in Hayden's favor. That being said, I think he's been performing of a calibre recently that shows he's hardly washed up. He'll never win a world championship in MotoGP again, but he's far, far away from being done. If we as a sport can still give Capirex a factory ride, why can't we give Hayden a second year?

Well I'm Australian, so I'm slightly biased in Stoners favour : ) I'm sure nice PR sells bikes in the US, but when it comes to units shifted, over the last 20 years Australia has often been Ducati's largest single market outside of Italy. Aussies just love the fastest bikes available, it's incredible how many new Ducs are out and about every weekend, given what they cost here. And I know from talking to Ducatista (I'm a Honda guy) just how much Stoner has stoked the fire here since 2007. Obviously Ducati wants to increase volume in the ginormous US market, but I reckon they'll also want to continue to sell plenty of their bikes down under too.

Some figures found with a quick search, Australian sportsbikes first quarter of 2008:

1 - CBR1000RR - 199 units
2 - GSX-R1000 - 194 units
3 - CBR600RR - 186 units
4 - 1098 - 172 units
5 - YZF-R1 - 167 units

http://www.mcnews.com.au/NewsArchives/2008/Sales_Quarter/top_sportsbike.htm

1098s are around $26k here, the Fireblade (and co.) goes for $19.5k - so, a small market compared to the potential in the US, but not a market _share_ to scoff at. FIRST QUARTER tally for the plain jane 1098: nearly $4.5m... what was Hayden's figure again? And that's ONE model... 800-odd sales in a year for it alone, and there are Monsters, STs and Multistradas everywhere here too. As well as more 1098S and 1098Rs than you can shake a stick at. Population - 21 million.

Hard to find equivalent US data, but here's a comparison - for overall sales forecasts for motorcycle manufacturers, 2002:

1. Honda - 278,003
< 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9>
10. Ducati - 6,698

http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/141069.html

300 million people. You can see why they wanted to increase sales. They cracked 10,000 sales in 2007, but I reckon the Australian market would have sold nearly that too. Do the per capita math...

So, not so easy to write Stoner off as a unit-shifting failure - at least when it comes to bikes. And who cares how many fags Phillip Morris sells? Stoner couldn't give a rats, he was most distressed when his Young Australian Of the Year award was questioned by anti-smoking lobbies due to his team's principle sponsor.

For the record, I hope Hayden keeps his seat and comes to terms with the bike, but he's going to need to dig deep - if Ducati takes the sharp edges off it they will be an also ran against Yamaha and Honda. It has to stay the way it is. I read a wonderful quote once - 'Ducati race for the same reason that wolves howl at the moon'.

Ducati cares how many fags PM sells. Without that, they have no racing team. Or at least not one with enough funding to actually compete.

Bike sales are important but they are a long way from being able to race without sponsorship.

I'm a Brit, so I'm slightly biased in Hayden's favor (!). And I wonder just how much Stoner's antipathy towards the Brits[1] affects Ducati sales in the UK. It's not good when your top rider is hated or ignored in your top two markets.

Seriously though, It's hardly surprising that Hayden is all that's being talked about in the USA. It's the USA way isn't it?

[1] Tiny Tears could have won us around if he'd used a little Australian humour and laid into the noisy, drunken Brits. If he'd stuck two fingers up and told them to FOAD, the rest of us would have cheered. But just moaning about them means we all joined in as well.

I had CFS a few years ago after a bout of a virus followed immediately by glandular fever. To a much less extreme degree than Stoner, I attempted to push through the illness, and apparently that is where the CFS really grabbed hold.

It isn't permanent. I was floored for a few months, and then was able to gradually rebuild my strength over a period of about 6 months. It has definitely not lasted all my life.

Whilst I would have some empathy for Hayden losing his seat, I can't see that he has done huge amounts to keep it on the track. Off the track he is a brilliant driver of US sales, but on the track his performance as a former World Champ has been sub-par on board the Ducati.

If Lorenzo was to take his seat (and I think this is a rather big 'if'), then perhaps it would be best for everyone - Hayden might have a chance to move onto the Yamaha, the undisputed best bike in the paddock, and regain some of the respect as a racer that he once had. And perhaps Lorenzo would give Stoner that extra push that he needs to keep results flowing, just as he has done for Rossi in the Yamaha garage.

It will be an interesting few weeks as this all pans out.

Great reporting David, many thanks.

"Seriously though, It's hardly surprising that Hayden is all that's being talked about in the USA. It's the USA way isn't it?"

No... sometimes we talk about Ben Spies.

The posts on this thread are CLASSIC--on a scale FAR beyond my measly, lilliputian, low-rent, neanderthal, philistine abilities.

You guys make some great points, as well as some SERIOUSLY enjoyable reading.

We seriously have the best members--with the best writing skills--in any online MotoGP community.

KEEP IT GOIN', GUYS!

p.s.

jbond: "Tiny Tears". Priceless. An obscure reference to an antiquated toy (Do they still make it? I remember my mom AND my grandmother each saying that they had one when they were kids...). Just...well...priceless. I am in awe. You ROCK.

Hamish: Without question, "Yorgay" has been refreshing--the BEST non-surprise of the year--, but Rossi doesn't need anyone around to keep producing the results. It's just that the gap has been closer, and has made the wins a LOT more thrilling. The results will be there, regardless. Winning is what the "pronunciatively-challenged" Doctor does. But "Yorgay" has definitely made the entire season a LOT more fun--while simultaneously highlighting Rossi's continued brilliance. I'm THANKFUL for the presence of Jor Lor. [hopefully, "The Catalunya Pass" won't render him mysteriously ill sometime next year :)...]

MrFeetZ: If we can't laugh at ourselves, then at whom--pray tell--can we laugh? (And I can attest to the fact that people in Texas are often worse than others...)

And as always, David, you treat us to the best bits of the most credible intel. And ALWAYS with the best writing...

BRAVO!!!