When the management of the Donington Park circuit announced that it was planning major changes to the track, to entice Formula 1 to race there, after Silverstone lost the British F1 Grand Prix, speculation ran rife that if F1 did make the switch, MotoGP would leave Donington. And so far, that speculation looks like it could be correct: Visordown is reporting that inside sources have confirmed that this is going to happen, and from 2010, MotoGP will race at Silverstone rather than Donington.
The news came after Donington received planning permission from the local authorities for the proposed track changes and new buildings, which include a new location for the pits and paddock; a new super-fast front straight, and another rolling downhill section between what is now Goddards and Redgate corner. Once the track changes have been made, then the track would be long enough to host a Formula 1 race.
The fly in the ointment is the small matter of raising 40 million pounds sterling, the first part of a total 100 million pound package of redevelopment. With the financial crisis in full swing, and the British economy suffering badly after the implosion of the housing bubble, the prospect of trying to raise such vast quantities of cash is daunting, to say the very least.
Even if the changes are made - and new facilities are sorely needed, as the current buildings and organization are "the worst in Europe," according to one paddock insider - there's the small matter of getting all the fans into the circuit. Currently, getting in and out of Donington for the 60,000 or so MotoGP fans, many of whom are on congestion-busting motorcycles, is utter mayhem, and a task lasting many hours due to the fact that a large part of the roads leading from the motorway to the circuit are a single lane in either direction. What happens when double the number turn up, almost all in cars, is anyone's guess.
Silverstone already hosts a World Superbike round, and adding MotoGP would put it at the heart of international motorcycle racing in the UK. The tragedy is that while Donington has some of the most glorious sections of racetrack in Europe, Silverstone is flat, featureless, and prone to flooding. For US racing fans, the change would be akin to MotoGP dropping Laguna Seca in favor of Auto Club Speedway, affectionately known as "Fontucky." If MotoGP does make the switch from Donington to Silverstone, the biggest losers will be racing fans.
Since the end of the 2008 season, Valentino Rossi has been very public about his admiration of the World Superbike series. So much so that the revealed he had tried to arrange to race in the final World Superbike round of 2008 at Portimao in Portugal. After that proved impossible to arrange, Rossi then spoke of his desire to race triple world champion Troy Bayliss aboard a World Superbike some time in 2009.
Bayliss may have turned down Rossi's offer - or perhaps we should call it a challenge - but Rossi remains undeterred. The Doctor continues to press for a chance to ride in World Superbikes.
Now, according to the British motorcycle racing website bikesportnews.com, it looks like he could get his chance. BSN's Edgar Jessop has revealed that Valentino Rossi hopes to line up at the second race of the World Superbike season at Qatar in March.
The report cites unnamed sources inside the Yamaha Motor Italia team, but despite there being no official statement, the chances of Rossi actually racing in World Superbikes are pretty good. Rossi's MotoGP team boss Davide Brivio has already stated publicly that he is prepared to support Rossi in his bid for a World Superbike wildcard, so The Doctor would appear to have Yamaha's official blessing.
The prospect of Rossi riding in World Superbikes must be have Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta in a cold sweat. This has already been a very bad week for MotoGP, and the chance of MotoGP losing the goose that lays Dorna's golden eggs would see MotoGP's status as the premier motorcycle racing class showing some serious cracks. The next few years promise to be interesting times for motorcycle racing fans.
In the turbulent times which MotoGP is passing through, the first casualty is truth. Throughout the Kawasaki saga, rumors persisted in the Italian press that any deal which kept Kawasaki bikes on the grid would leave them in the hands of Jorge Martinez, head of the Aspar team.
After Kawasaki announced its official withdrawal from MotoGP, speculation continued that Aspar would get the Kawasaki bikes, despite that deal looking much further from reality. Now, the Dutch website Motorfreaks.nl is reporting that Kawasaki have categorically denied the rumors that Aspar would field the former factory Kawasakis in a private team structure. What's more, Kawasaki say that there will be no Kawasakis at all in MotoGP in 2009.
"As soon as the economic situation improves, we definitely intend to return to the MotoGP arena, but for next season, there will be no Kawasakis in MotoGP. Consequently, there's no truth in the rumors that Martinez would be running our bikes," Kawasaki told Motorfreaks.
As for the fine for breach of contract which Kawasaki will incur by pulling out before their contract ends in 2011, the Akashi factory is still in talks with Dorna. "This won't affect our decision to withdraw from MotoGP, however," Kawasaki said.
After weeks of speculation, finally an official announcement has been made. Kawasaki Heavy Industries announced that it was officially pulling out of MotoGP. All the rumors and hopes of Dorna somehow being able to put together a deal have come to nothing: the economic situation is too bleak, with no hope of relief in the immediate future, for Kawasaki to be able to justify the necessary investment.
But for those with a penchant for exegesis, the news is not quite as dark as it may seem. The official statement (shown below) says that Kawasaki will "suspend its factory MotoGP racing activities from 2009." The two key words there are "suspend" and "factory".
For it looks like there will still be 19 motorcycles on the MotoGP grid. The main speculation in the press is that Jorge Martinez is still looking to run the team for 2009, but there are good reasons to doubt this is the case. The Spanish manager of the Aspar team had previously told reporters that a commitment to developing the MotoGP bikes and a three-year deal were the minimum requirements if he was to get involved in running the team, and that is very clearly missing from this statement.
The Italian website GPOne.com is reporting that it will not be Martinez, but current manager Michael Bartholemy who will be running the team. Under the alleged deal, Bartholemy would be given the Kawasaki ZX-RRs, together with a guarantee of spare parts and a maintenance agreement which would mean that Kawasaki would rebuild the engines sent back to Akashi by the team. However, development on the bike would effectively cease, and as the bike in its current state is basically a slightly revamped version of the totally uncompetitive 2008 bike, the chances of it being a perennial backmarker are substantial.
Below is the official press release issued by Kawasaki:
09/01/2009 - For Immediate Release
KAWASAKI PRESS RELEASE
Tokyo, January 9, 2009 -- Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. announced today that it has decided to suspend its factory MotoGP racing activities from 2009 season.
Amid quickly changing business environment, Kawasaki has been promptly taking countermeasures to cope with the situation. As the world economy is not likely to recover in a short period due to the major impact of the financial crisis, Kawasaki decided to suspend its MotoGP racing activities from 2009 season onward and reallocate management resources more efficiently.
Kawasaki will continue racing activities using mass-produced motorcycles as well as supporting general race-oriented customers.
Kawasaki would like to thank all the fans and all those who have forwarded us great help.
Mr.Yoshio Kawamura, the Managing Director of Kawasaki Motors Racing B.V. deeply appreciates the contribution and the dedication brought by staff members of the MotoGP team.
News is starting to filter out of Akashi, Japan, by way of Italy, that Kawasaki will not after all be pulling out of MotoGP. After long negotiation with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Japanese manufacturer has rolled back its decision to withdraw from the premier class, probably after Ezpeleta spelled out the financial consequences of withdrawal.
The exact details are as yet unknown, but it looks like Jorge Martinez will be given the Kawasaki team to run, while Michael Bartholemy will remain team manager. At least, that's what GPOne.com says, the Italian news site Mediaset believes that Martinez will be given the team to run as he seems fit. Martinez had earlier told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he was only interested if he could have a three year contract to run the team.
All this is still speculation, though. An official announcement with full details - including what will happen to the riders John Hopkins and Marco Melandri, one of whom will have to make way for a Spanish rider if Martinez gets to run the team - is expected sometime in the next few hours.
Last season, Ben Spies made no secret of his desire to get into MotoGP. He and his manager, Doug Gonda, spent a long time trying to find the promising young American a ride, but one by one, Spies' options disappeared, leaving Spies to look to World Superbikes to make an impact on the global stage.
So far - even though it's only testing - that's exactly what Spies has done, and the Texan is already setting his sights higher. In an interview with Motorcycle News, Spies confirmed that Yamaha are also interested in fielding him in MotoGP if a seat becomes available.
Whether those seats will be open in 2010 is a question. Dorna's keenness to keep a British rider in the series means James Toseland is likely to keep his ride for 2010. Which leaves only Colin Edwards. Edwards is a veteran with very close ties to Yamaha, and helps Yamaha sell a lot of bikes in the US, but the Texas Tornado is approaching the age where he could be thinking of retiring.
A swap between Edwards and Spies is possible in 2010, but Spies is likely to have to win the World Superbike title at his first attempt if he is to go straight to MotoGP next season. Given the stiff competition in World Superbikes, that's not going to be easy. And given the worries about the future of MotoGP, Spies may well change his mind as the season progresses.
While the future of Kawasaki in MotoGP remains uncertain, speculation has been rife about the likely fates of their two contracted riders, John Hopkins and Marco Melandri. Many rumors have been spread about Melandri, but fewer have been heard about John Hopkins, despite the fact that the American rider is the heir apparent of the Monster Millions, the substantial amount of money the energy drinks maker contributes to Kawasaki's MotoGP team.
It was exactly that money which gave rise to speculation that John Hopkins was to be placed in Kawasaki USA's AMA Superbike team, replacing Jamie Hacking, whose contract has still not been signed by Kawasaki. Monster Energy is the title sponsor of the AMA Superbike team, and Kawasaki will have to pay Hopkins anyway, so the logical move would be to put the two together.
That is not how John Hopkins sees it, however. In an interview with the respected American racing publication Roadracing World, Hopkins flatly denied he would be racing in AMA Superbike in 2009. His choice of words, "Definitely not!" would seem to be a pretty definitive denial.
But the matter may not necessarily be in Hopkins' hands. The American is still under contract to Kawasaki, and if he wants to continue to receive his paycheck, he may be forced to race wherever Kawasaki tell him. Even so, it is still not certain that Kawasaki USA will be racing in the AMA. So far, Yamaha is the only manufacturer to have openly announced their direct involvement with AMA Superbike, while American Honda have announced they will not be entering a factory team. Suzuki and Kawasaki have been silent on the issue, and so their intentions are unknown. Both teams missed the Daytona tire test in December, a fact which can hardly be seen as a ringing endorsement of the DMG's new format.
While MotoGP fans around the world are on tenterhooks for news of Kawasaki, the first bits and pieces of news are dribbling out of the MSMA meeting currently being held in Japan. The Italian news sites are on top of the case - possibly thanks to the Italian representation on the MSMA - and the big news is that Kawasaki is currently reconsidering its withdrawal, news of which had leaked shortly after Christmas.
The pressure applied by Dorna appears to have worked, helped along perhaps by the fact that any withdrawal would have cost at least 20 million euros, including fines and money already spent on bikes and rider salaries, according to GPOne.com. Team boss Michael Bartholemy is apparently on his way to Japan to discuss the options with Kawasaki.
The meeting of the manufacturers involved in MotoGP discussed several proposals for cutting costs in MotoGP, including restricting testing even further, and extending engine life, which is put unofficially at around 300km. These would be the only changes possible for the 2009 season, as the teams already have too much invested in their 2009 bikes to make dramatic changes.
For 2010, more radical steps could be taken. First item on the agenda would be a ban on carbon brakes, a move which several team bosses, including Fausto Gresini and Lucio Cecchinello, have called for, as well as more drastic extensions of engine life, with engines to last multiple grand prix weeknds, and yet more restrictions on testing.
A proposal to limit the maximum revs engines could run was rejected, with Ducati's Livio Suppo telling Mediaset. "Most of the work should be left to the manufacturers. They should be able to decide how to make their engines last longer."
The other idea that was rejected was a salary cap. Such a move would be too difficult to enforce, and more likely to see teams finding ways of circumventing the salary cap, rather than holding fast to it, a practice which is often seen in US sports as well.
One thing that the MSMA seems to have missed is that although making engines last longer would reduce costs for shipping them to Japan and back to be stripped and rebuilt, a practice Lucio Cecchinello complained of to MCN, the development costs to make the highly-strung MotoGP engines durable enough to last several races are likely to be astronomical. The idea that the factories would reduce the power outputs of the engines to make them last longer seems unlikely given the history of the manufacturers in MotoGP. And similar measures in Formula 1 have yet to have any discernible impact on costs in that series.
So the Kawasaki saga has been prolonged a little longer. More news is sure to come over the next few days.
Various sources are reporting that Kawasaki have finally made an official announcement, but the announcement is that there's nothing to tell at the moment.
The news emanating from the Japanese news agency Kyodo is that Kawasaki have admitted that they are considering pulling out of MotoGP, but that no decision has yet been taken. "We are in contact with the parties concerned to decide our future course of action," Kawasaki is quoted as saying by the press agencies.
The "parties concerned" almost certainly include the riders and the team, but Jorge Martinez of the Aspar team is likely also to be one of the participants in the conversation, as well as MotoGP rights holders Dorna. No news yet of the MSMA meeting supposed to have been held today, which was also meant to discuss the situation.
More news as and when we receive it.
With still no news about Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP coming out of Japan, rumor feeding frenzy continues. The latest, and perhaps least likely, rumor is that John Hopkins has been approached by Kawasaki USA to take the place of Jamie Hacking aboard the Kawasaki Superbike entry in AMA.
The rumor, published by Italian site GPOne.com, is that Hacking will be pushed aside because his salary demands were too high. With the Kawasaki Superbike team having Monster Energy as a title sponsor, and Hopkins being so closely linked to Monster, the move would seem to be an obvious one.
Yet there are good reasons to doubt this speculation. Firstly, and most obviously, is that if Hacking is being dropped because he wanted too much money, how will Kawasaki USA justify the 4 million dollars which Hopper's salary is believed to be? And secondly, though Kawasaki has a title sponsor, bikes and riders, they have still to confirm that they will be competing in the AMA Superbike series next year. Kawasaki, along with Honda and Suzuki, were the most vociferous opponents of the rule changes and class reorganization proposed by the DMG, who bought the rights to the American domestic series. Kawasaki was also a very prominent absentee at the recent Daytona tire test, traditionally the kick-off to the AMA pre-season.
The MSMA is scheduled to meet with Dorna on Wednesday in Japan. After that meeting, the situation around Kawasaki is likely be clarified, and some of this speculation can be consigned to the circular storage facility, where it belongs.