With Jorge Lorenzo finally signed up to Yamaha and Dani Pedrosa back at Honda, the next domino to fall in the MotoGP and World Superbike silly season is surely Ben Spies. Shortly before the Misano MotoGP round, Yamaha made an announcement that seemed to tie up Spies' future, were it not for a probably deliberate and certainly unusual choice of words. The press release said that the agreement between Spies and Yamaha "foresees" Spies being in World Superbikes in 2010, but the word "foresees" sent the English-language press reaching for their dictionaries and discussing its many various subtleties in depth and at length worthy of a roomful of Kremlinologists. Did "foresee" mean that Spies would definitely be in WSBK for 2010 and MotoGP in 2011? Could he come to MotoGP a year early? Could it potentially even mean that Spies could decide to stay in World Superbikes for 2011 as well?
The first clue was provided by Roger Burnett, James Toseland's manager. Burnett told the BBC before the race that Monster Tech 3 Yamaha boss Herve Poncharal had been asked by Yamaha to make Colin Edwards an offer, a fitting reward for a successful season. After the race, Edwards confirmed to journalists that an agreement had been reached, and as Colin Young over at SpeedTV is reporting, Edwards will be staying with the Tech 3 team for 2010. "It's been a great team this year. My crew chief is awesome, the team owner Herve Poncharal is a great guy, so the whole package fits so why change it? Herve wanted me to stay, we just had to get the funding right," Edwards told SpeedTV.
Though Edwards is staying with the same team, the crucial detail here is the subtle change in his position. If Edwards has a contract from Poncharal rather than Yamaha Japan, then he no longer occupies the seat that Yamaha Japan has inside the Tech 3 team, but has been shifted sideways into James Toseland's seat. That would appear to mean that Yamaha is now holding open a seat for someone at the Tech 3 team. And that someone can surely only be Ben Spies, although Lin Jarvis, speaking to the Spanish daily AS.com, would not be drawn on who would be placed there. "Edwards has an offer for another year, and I would prefer not to talk about the fourth Yamaha," Jarvis told AS. "It depends on a series of circumstances." Jarvis acknowledged that out of work Spanish rider Toni Elias was one option for the seat but "He is not our first choice."
With Spies looking increasingly likely to wrap up the World Superbike title a year earlier than expected, his move to MotoGP is looking increasingly imminent. His stratospheric performance in the World Superbike series has complicated Yamaha's initial plans, which were to give Spies a year to learn the tracks, a year to win the title, then move him into MotoGP. But it is widely believed that Spies extracted promises of promotion to MotoGP after he won the title, and if he does so a year earlier than expected, he will be expecting his MotoGP ride to be brought forward as well.
That leaves us with the question of Yamaha's announcement of Spies staying with the factory for two more years, and their strange selection of the word "foresees". If Yamaha are not going to offer Spies a place in MotoGP, why not just state plainly that Spies WILL go to World Superbikes in 2010? Similarly, if he is coming to MotoGP, then why not just say so and be done with it? If it depends on whether Spies wins the World Superbike title or not, why not just wait until the title has been decided, why make such a premature announcement? The best answer to this question has been put forward by the Italian site GPOne.com. The announcement was made early as a defensive move, to keep Spies in the Yamaha fold. It seems that Ducati had been making approaches to Spies, trying to tempt him into riding the Desmosedici next season in the Pramac team, and Yamaha felt the need to head Ducati off at the pass. With the race at Magny Cours in early October the earliest that the World Superbike title could be decided, waiting until that championship was decided one way or the other provided the competition with too much time to try to lure Spies away.
American MotoGP fans have been hoping for Team Texas - the pairing of Texas Tornado Colin Edwards with Texas Terror Ben Spies - for some time now. To many paddock insiders - including ourselves here at MotoGPMatters.com - it did not seem likely, as both Edwards and Spies were in contention for the same seat. Yamaha may be about to prove us wrong, however.