Daniele Romagnoli's decision to depart from his role as team manager for Jorge Lorenzo's side of the Fiat Yamaha garage led to some fervent speculation among paddock regulars over who would take his place. Names from all around the MotoGP paddock were mentioned, along with one or two from the support classes. But developments in the World Superbike paddock were eventually to provide the answer.
For today, Yamaha confirmed that Wilco Zeelenberg is to take over as Lorenzo's team manager, as we reported he would before Christmas. The Dutchman was previously team manager of Yamaha's World Supersport team, helping Cal Crutchlow to Yamaha's first WSS title since Jorg Teuchert in 2000. But the financial crisis and its aftermath forced Yamaha to reevaluate its racing program, with their World Supersport program as the most significant victim.
As we reported back in September, Yamaha had originally hoped to salvage the WSS program, supplying bikes and engineering support to a privateer team, who would take on the job of actually running the team and riders and contesting the World Supersport championship. In this situation, Zeelenberg would have remained inside Yamaha, and taken on the role of liaising between Yamaha and the team selected to run the program. The failure to find a team with both the financial and technical ability to ensure that Yamaha's R6 would be campaigned competitively put an end to such ideas, and the website of the leading Dutch magazine MOTOR is reporting that Yamaha has now finally canned its entire World Supersport program.
World Supersport's loss was Yamaha's gain, and Zeelenberg's experience is sure to come in useful in his new role. The Dutchman was an outstanding racer in his day, competing in over 100 Grand Prix, achieving his greatest success in the 250cc class, winning at the Nurburgring in 1990. After leaving the 250cc class, Zeelenberg moved to the World Supersport series, where he also won the Monza race in 1999, finishing ahead of his Dee Cee Jeans Yamaha team mate Ruben Xaus.
Since his retirement from racing, Zeelenberg has worked with the Yamaha World Supersport team, first in a technical role and becoming team manager in 2008. He also runs a highly successful race school which convenes twice a year at the Almeria circuit in Southern Spain.