In a surprising, if not shocking move, speedweek.eu is reporting that Chris Vermeulen has made a two-year commitment to Paul Bird Kawasaki to ride the ZX-10 Superbike in the World Superbike series. Vermeulen, who will be replaced by Alvaro Bautista at Rizla Suzuki next year, was rumored to be on every team manager in WSBK's short list of desirable riders, but whispers of serious discussions with Kawasaki had just surfaced a few days ago. The ZX-10 package has been a relatively uncompetitive one but wild-card rides by Jamie Hacking at Salt Lake City and by Sheridan Morais at Kyalami indicated that maybe the hardware wasn't the sole culprit.
With the demise of Kawasaki's MotoGP program it is expected that resources devoted to that effort will be reallocated toward the superbike program with the Vermeulen signing the first visable result. Just who will be pairing with Vermeulen is currently unknown but Sterilgarda Ducati rider Shakey Byrne and soon to be former Sterigarda Yamaha rider Tom Sykes have also been thought to be in discussions with the British team.
Further information has surfaced on the Speedtv site that clarifies the state of negotiations between Chris Vermeulen and Paul Bird Kawasaki.
According to Vermeulen, "The Kawasaki deal looks good, we've spoken about a lot details and how it would work and agreed on the money, and it is for two years," he added. "The main goal would be to win the championship in 2011 on the new bike but that is not to say we would not be trying to do it next year. Kawasaki have a really good plan.
"I am told Yoda is coming to Estoril for a meeting and that's when I expect to see the final paperwork. We have agreed on how a lot of things would work in the team but I actually haven't signed a contract yet."
While Vermeulen is being understandably reluctant to commit publicly that the deal is done, Kawasaki European Race Planning Manager Steve Guttridge is not being nearly as coy: “Everything is looking good and we expect to be able announce a confirmation this week. We’ve spent time with Chris’ manager and as far as we are all concerned Chris is 100% happy with the deal and he’s ready to sign. He’s spoken to Yoda-san and has been convinced about the strength of the package."
Although Vermeulen has also had discussions with Aprilia and Pramac Ducati, it is considered unlikely that he will sign with either team. Whatever happens, Vermeulen says that he hopes to be able to make an announcement this weekend.