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Aprilia Wants Simoncelli In World Superbikes In 2010

The death of 250 class has concentrated minds over at Aprilia. The race department at Italian factory is still fuming over the decision by the Grand Prix Commission to scrap the 250s and replace them with 600cc four strokes. The company is planning its revenge, however, which revolves in large part around a switch to the rival (a description which both Dorna and Infront Motor Sports deny) World Superbike series.

The factory already has two of their new and highly desirable Aprilia RSV4 superbikes running in the series, and according to the German-language weekly, Motorsport Aktuell, they are preparing to expand their involvement for next year. With the resources freed up by the demise of the 250s, Aprilia are looking to field two more RSV4s in a factory-supported satellite team in World Superbikes in 2010.

Prime candidate to run the team is Luca Montiron's JiR team, according to Motorsport Aktuell. Montiron, who previously ran the Konica Minolta-sponsored JiR team in MotoGP, before being forced out by Honda, is currently running two Aprilia RSV4 bikes in the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, to limited success.

Aprilia's Technical Director Gigi dall'Igna told MSA "Although our 2010 racing program hasn't been finalized yet, I think the JiR team will be running the other two machines in 2010. Our goal is to have another strong Aprilia team in the World Superbike Championship next season. JiR will have the same equipment as the factory team, and will receive full support from Noale."

The reason for the full factory backing of the JiR squad is to tempt a big name into the series: "We want to take talented riders from the 250 class and move them up to World Superbikes," Dall'Igna told MSA. "Our dream is to put Marco Simoncelli on the RSV4. The JiR team would be a suitable solution to getting Marco into World Superbikes."

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Gresini To Enter Two-Man Moto2 Team In 2010

When the Moto2 class was announced, its stated purpose was to make the intermediate class affordable for small teams once again, after a period in which the cost of leasing a factory-spec Aprilia RSA 250 - effectively, the only way to be competitive - had reached around one million euros. As the entry date for the class approaches, it seems that those "small teams" being targeted are increasingly being found in the MotoGP class, and not just among the many privateer teams currently racing in the 250 class.

Earlier this week, news emerged that Tech 3 had a very keen interest in the Moto2 class, and today, GPOne.com is reporting that another MotoGP team will be following their example. Fausto Gresini, owner of the San Carlo Gresini Honda team in MotoGP, told GPOne.com that he will be entering a two rider team in the series next season. "I will be entering a Moto2 team on Friday," he told the authoratitive Italian website. "It will be the first thing I do when I arrive at Mugello, after having talked to (Dorna CEO) Carmelo Ezpeleta."

The attraction for Gresini - as for Tech 3 - is the chance to enter a championship they have a chance of winning, an objective which is currently impossible in MotoGP. With engine performance expected to be identical - with engines to be allocated to the teams at random, and only handed over at the start of the weekend, to be returned immediately after the race - the series will be much more about having an efficient team and a talented rider, rather than enough money to afford competitive equipment.

That does not mean that the series will be cheap, however. "Initially, it won't be cheap to build a Moto2 bike," Gresini said. "I think the number will be around the same as the amount for a factory Aprilia. Obviously, though, that investment will pay off over time." At the moment, a factory Aprilia 250 has to be returned at the end season, leaving the teams with nothing. Whereas in Moto2, the teams will have a chassis to use as a basis for next year, or possibly even sell on to less well-funded teams.

But costs may be less of a factor. GPOne.com cites "well-informed sources" as saying that Dorna will be very generous towards MotoGP teams who decide to enter the class. That would be a logical step for the organization that runs MotoGP, as Dorna is very heavily invested in Moto2, and they have to ensure that the class is a success. If they can fill the grid with relatively competitive bikes and provide a training ground for up-and-coming riders, they will have achieved that objective.

The question of whether this new class will provide young riders with the skills they will need when they move up to MotoGP remains unanswered, however. The purists point to factors such as the lack of a cassette-style quick-change gear box in the proposed engine, which limits rider choices and encourages them to ride around a problem, rather than learn how to fix it. But with a full grid expected next year, right now the purists are very much in the minority. Only time will tell how big the step is from Moto2 to MotoGP.

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Haojue To Miss Mugello, And Possibly Catalunya

The road to the 125 World Championship has been long and hard for the Haojue team. First, they were forced to change their name from Maxtra, due to trademark conflicts earlier this year. Since then, there have been persistent reports of problems between the UK-based team run by Garry Taylor and Jan Witteveen, the man responsible for engine development. Adding to the team's troubles is a continuing lack of results, with both Matthew Hoyle and Michael Ranseder either failing to start or failing to qualify at Japan, Jerez and Le Mans.

The problem is down to a huge lack of top speed - as much as 22 km/h, according to team principal Garry Taylor. With the bikes so uncompetitive, the team have decided to skip the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello to focus on development. "The early GP results show that we are not yet competitive, so we have decided to concentrate our resources on developing and improving the situation," Garry Taylor said. Currently, the plan is to miss just the Italian round, but the race after at Barcelona is also at risk, the track, like Mugello, having a very high-speed front straight, precisely the area the team is weakest.

Haojue's withdrawal will fuel the speculation surrounding the split with Witteveen. The team has continually denied any rift, but Witteveen has been cited in the German press as having reduced his involvement to an absolute minimum, and given the Dutchman's previous record with Aprilia, the lack of performance for Haojue would seem to back this up. The hope must be that by missing the next race or two, the Haojue team will be able to find enough performance to at least get the bike to a point where it is confident of qualifying.

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Gregorio Lavilla To Replace Brendan Roberts For Rest Of Season

Stepping up from one series to another as champion can be very hard. Just ask Brendan Roberts. The reigning FIM Superstock 1000 Champion has struggled just to score points since moving up to the World Superbike class, despite riding a Superbike spec version of the Ducati 1098R he won the 2008 Superstock Cup on. To add insult to injury, or rather, adding injury to insult, Roberts was one of the riders caught up in the huge first-corner pile up at Monza, the Australian not breaking anything, but coming away from the incident severely battered and bruised.

At Kyalami in South Africa, Roberts seat aboard the Guandalini Ducati was taken by the former BSB champion Gregorio Lavilla. At the time, speculation abounded that the Kyalami ride was basically an audition for Lavilla, and if his results were good enough, Lavilla would take Roberts' place in the Guandalini team permanently. Lavilla finished 11th and 12th in the two South African races, beating Roberts' best finish of 13th at Assen.

That audition has been successful for Lavilla, as the Spanish veteran revealed to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo that he will be riding with the Guandalini team for the rest of the season. When asked by the magazine if he would be staying in World Superbikes, Lavilla replied: "I can confirm that I am. I am going to stay for the rest of the season." As Lavilla put it, "I've achieved my objective for the season, a return to the World Superbike series."

Lavilla also told Motociclismo that although the points he had scored had been important in the decision, there was more than just the points. "In reality, it wasn't so much the results as the way we worked in the pits, even though it's obvious that if you take more points in one weekend than in the five previous races, this helps to make a decision. But I didn't approach the race like an exam."

Lavilla's move leaves Brendan Roberts out in the cold. The Australian is still recovering from the effects of the crash, having sustained a very badly swollen leg. According to Roberts' website, he is having to wait for the swelling to subside and some of the fluid to drain from his leg before a further examination on whether there is any muscle damage or not, and whether he will require surgery. As a consequence, Roberts is unlikely to be even able to start looking for ride for another couple of weeks.

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Laconi Improving Slowly, No Paralysis Symptoms

Regis Laconi's condition continues to improve, as he recovers from the surgery required after his horrific crash at Kyalami. The Frenchman is awake again after surgery, and has already exchanged a few words with the medical staff at the Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg, where he is undergoing treatment. More importantly, Laconi is moving all of his limbs independently, confounding earlier reports that the Frenchman had shown signs of paralysis in his left leg.

The reports of Laconi's recovery was also confirmed by Ducati boss Davide Tardozzi. In a post on Ducati's blog, the Italian refuted earlier reports of Laconi's paralysis. "I spoke this morning to his technical chief who has remained in Johannesburg to support his rider and fortunately the rumours that have spread in the press about Regis' loss of mobility in his left leg are wholly untrue. Regis is a wonderful man who has always given 110%," Tardozzi wrote.

In defense of the press, the reports were more than rumors. MotoGPMatters.com received confirmation from three independent sources that Laconi had signs of paralysis. Of course, the problem is that all of those sources came from inside the World Superbike paddock, and as anyone who has ever had the privilege of spending any time there will be aware, that paddock is a like a miniature Italian village, where everyone knows everyone, and what's more, where everyone gossips with everyone. Try as we might, it is not always easy to distinguish gossip from distortion from fact.

If Regis Laconi's recovery continues as it is, the Frenchman is due to be flown back to France for further treatment in a specialist clinic in France. Once again, we send our best wishes to Regis Laconi, and wish him a speedy and full recovery.

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Tech 3 Team Could Swap MotoGP For Moto2

The Moto2 category, brought in to replace the 250 class, is proving to be a big hit with the people it was aimed at: The teams. The series organizer is already predicting that the 34 available places will be over-subscribed, meaning that the grid could feature no 250s at all in 2010.

Interest is not just coming from the current crop of 250 teams though. The Tech 3 team, currently active in MotoGP with Colin Edwards and James Toseland, has already expressed an interest, and in an interview with the French motorcycle magazine MotoRevue, the team manager Herve Poncharal explains just why.

"<Satellite> MotoGP teams like us have little more to do at a weekend than just adjust the bike and fiddle with the settings. We have nothing more to do, it's stipulated in our contracts that we are not allowed to make any modifications to the machines which have been placed at our disposal. If you have a highly-skilled team, it's hard to hang on to them if you don't have enough of a challenge for your boys for the entire year." Poncharal's problems are caused by the contracts by which the satellite teams are supplied bikes. The bikes are only leased to the team, and as a consequence, there's only a very limited number of options the teams have for setting the bikes up.

Poncharal sees Moto2 as a chance to hang on to the young engineers he is bringing into motorcycle racing, as well as a chance for fellow team founder Guy Coulon to get back to designing and building chassis, a skill he is currently unable to practice. "Moto2 will allow us to get back to what we used to do during the winter and the Grand Prix. We have young engineers who do fewer races than their counterparts in Supersport. If we can give them more work to do, they are more likely to want to stay with us."

The new category will also make it easier to find sponsorship. "Right now, a satellite squad can't sell their sponsors the possibility of a world title," Poncharal said. But Moto2 offered an opportunity for breeding talent. "We can take young riders from 125 or national championships, train them in Moto2 and then get them ready for MotoGP. I know that the people in charge at Monster are very interested in doing this."

The Moto2 class has so many advantages for Tech 3 that it could lead them to focus there efforts in the new class, and move away from MotoGP. "We are all being forced to reconsider our activities," Poncharal told MotoRevue.

Poncharal and Coulon's enthusiasm for the new class underlines a fundamental weakness with MotoGP. For the past 10 years or so, the factories have been tightening their grip on the machines they lease to private teams, allowing the teams to do less and less to the bikes. This discourages the teams in two different ways. Firstly, as Poncharal points out, it takes a lot of the fun out of being involved in MotoGP for the mechanics and engineers, as their creativity and problem-solving skills are limited more and more. The series is a lot less attractive to bright young engineers when the only challenge they face is working their way around the limitations imposed by the factory.

Secondly, of course, the restrictions prevent the teams from being competitive. While the factory continues to develop the factory bikes, improving them throughout the season, the satellite teams are left to wait for upgrades from the factory, and left without a means of taking their fate into their own hands, and testing their own modifications. If there is one thing the manufacturers fear more than being beaten by other factories, it's being beaten by their satellite teams. Restricting the flow of parts to the satellite teams and the amount of development they can do is one way of ensuring the factory teams don't get shown up.

If Tech 3 do pull out of MotoGP, there are plenty of people waiting to take their place. Not least the Aspar team, who have been engaged in discussions for over a year now about entering into the premier class. Aspar boss Jorge Martinez has hinted that Yamaha will be providing him with bikes in MotoGP next year, and while the current assumption has been that Martinez would be getting two extra machines to be provided by Yamaha - probably as a result of the one-bike-per-rider rule currently being suggested - it is entirely conceivable that instead, Aspar could find himself taking Tech 3's bikes. This would allow Aspar to bring Alvaro Bautista to MotoGP, something that Jorge Martinez has been working towards for some considerable time.

So far, though, Tech 3 are still in MotoGP. But with the Moto2 class such an attractive prospect, and so much more affordable than MotoGP, the new class could end up being as much of a threat to the premier class as World Superbikes.

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Talmacsi And Aspar Terminate Contract - Talmacsi Left Without A Ride

It's over. At a press conference in Budapest today, Gabor Talmacsi and Jorge Martinez, head of the Aspar team, announced that they had failed to reach an agreement over the media rights which had caused the split between the two parties in the first place. As a consequence, Talmacsi's split with the Aspar team was now permanent, and the Hungarian star would not be riding for the Aspar-run Balatonring team for the remainder of the years.

The press conference, a tense if respectful affair, was held after Talmacsi and Martinez had met to try and find a resolution for their differences. The sticking point remained the matter of media rights, a very important factor for Talmacsi, as the former 125 World Champion is one of Hungary's biggest sports stars, and a substantial source of income for him. Neither Talmacsi nor Martinez were prepared to go into detail about the exact nature of their dispute.

Both men emphasized that the break up had been relatively harmonious. Jorge Martinez praised Talmacsi's professionalism, saying "Our relationship with Gabor has been excellent, both personally and professionally. But for sure, I'm very sad about this." Martinez also stated that the Balatonring project would continue, and that it will continue with a Hungarian rider.

Just who that will be is a cause for feverish speculation in Hungary. The two hottest properties among Hungary's many up-and-coming riders are 2007 European 125 Champion Alen Györfi and former Red Bull Rookie Péter Sebestyén. Both men are tipped for big things in the future, but both men are also under contract with Faster Management, the company run by Stefano Favaro, who represents Gabor Talmacsi. With Martinez having earlier explicitly named Favaro as an obstacle to reaching a deal with Talmacsi, the chances of Favaro and Martinez agreeing terms on these two youngsters seems remote. The Hungarian website motorinfo.hu contacted Györfi about the Aspar situation, and Györfi denied having been approached by Martinez.

Another name doing the rounds is Gábor Rizmayer, who rode in the 250 class as a wildcard back in 2001, and has since ridden in the AMA Superbike series with the Safety First team and in the German IDM Superbike series. Rizmayer is currently under contract in Germany, and having spent so much time racing big four strokes may struggle to be competitive aboard a 250cc two stroke.

But the most likely replacement is Imre Toth. Toth is already in the paddock, riding for his father's Team Toth. What's more, at Le Mans, Jorge Martinez and Stefano Favaro were spotted on Saturday night deep in discussion in the Team Toth hospitality unit. At the time, it was thought that the subject under discussion was Mattia Pasini, the Italian star currently riding for the team who has voiced his dissatisfaction with the team on a number of occasions this year. But it is quite possible that the talks were about Imre Toth, and a switch from Team Toth to the Balatonring team.

As for Talmacsi, the former 125 champion's future is a lot less certain. Talmacsi himself said that "I stop riding now, which means I won't be seen on TV." The reference to being seen on TV was rather puzzling, as under normal circumstances, not having a ride would be a higher priority than appearing on TV. Any ride with another team for the Hungarian will require the approval and the signature of Jorge Martinez, though Martinez indicated that he would try to oblige where he could.

Most of the speculation so far for Talmacsi has centered around a move to either MotoGP or World Superbikes. Stefano Favaro has been seen speaking to Cirano Mularoni, the owner of Team Scot Honda, who Talmacsi rode for in 2006. Paddock rumors suggest that Talmacsi would be given Yuki Takahashi's spare bike, turning the one-man team into a two-man team, bringing much-needed cash into the team, and also allowing Dorna to test out the one-bike-per-rider rule which is currently under discussion for 2010. Such a move would require the blessing of both the IRTA teams association and Jorge Martinez, and the Spaniard may not be well-disposed to seeing Talmacsi promoted to MotoGP.

Perhaps a more likely scenario could see Talmacsi switch codes and move to World Superbikes. The speculation in Hungary is that Talma could end up riding a Ducati in the series, and as the series has a number of cash-strapped teams with injured or underperforming riders, this is a highly plausible suggestion, and a move Jorge Martinez is likely to look much more favorably upon.

Thanks once again to friend of MotoGPMatters.com, and Hungarian TV journalist Adam Haraszti for his help with this story.

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Colin Edwards To Return To WSBK In 2010?

Last year, we complained about the silly season starting early, yet in 2009 it seems to have started even earlier yet. With a host of young riders on the verge of entering MotoGP, there is already a veritable tsunami of speculation concerning who will be filling which seats next year. Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista look almost certain to move up to the premier class from 250s, and over in World Superbikes, Ben Spies is widely tipped to move across to MotoGP, while there are even whisperings of a couple of the standout young British riders - such as Leon Haslam and Johnny Rea - taking a chance.

With all these young guns getting ready to kick the door down, and any increase in the numbers of bikes on the grid extremely unlikely - whether or not the Grand Prix Commission decides to go to a single bike for 2010 - that means that some of the riders already in the series are going to have to make way. Some are safe by virtue of their nationality - James Toseland's seat in MotoGP is safe (though not necessarily his seat at Tech 3) for as long as the BBC has a deal to televise MotoGP,  or until another British rider can be found to take his place, and Yuki Takahashi is safe as long as Hiroshi Aoyama decides to stay in the 250cc / Moto2 class next year - but others are less fortunate.

One possible candidate for the transfer list is Colin Edwards. Despite the fact that the Texan is having a pretty good year and is a fair bet for at least one podium this season, the Yamaha veteran is simply becoming too expensive to maintain. The economic downturn has hit motorcycle sales in the US very hard, and as Yamaha is paying for most of Colin Edwards' considerable salary, it looks unlikely that they will be able or willing to do a similar deal for 2010.

This leaves Colin Edwards looking elsewhere, most notably towards World Superbikes, a series where he took two World Championships. According to the British weekly Motorcycle News, Edwards is already talking to Aprilia about a return to World Superbikes to ride their impressive RSV4 machine. Edwards has a good relationship with Aprilia, having ridden their terrifying RS3 Cube machine in the early days of MotoGP, and with the demise of the 250 class, the Italian factory is investing an increasing amount of resources in the World Superbike championship.

Edwards' father confirmed that the Texan has been talking to Aprilia about World Superbikes next year in a post on Colin Edwards' fan forum. Even more interestingly,  he also mentioned that Edwards had also been talking to Ducati. Colin senior did state that nothing firm had come from any of these talks so far, but a factory ride is the only place where Edwards would be able to retain anything like his current salary level, and after 6 years in MotoGP, a factory ride in the premier class is highly improbable. This leaves World Superbikes as Edwards most likely option.

A move to either the Ducati or Aprilia factory teams in World Superbikes faces a good many obstacles, not the least of which is the fact that the teams' current rosters are already well entrenched. If - and it's still a big if, this early in the season - Noriyuki Haga wins the 2009 World Superbike crown, he is unlikely to want to go elsewhere, and even less likely to be sacked. Michel Fabrizio's strong form, allied to Ducati's preference for at least one Italian rider in the factory squad, makes Fabrizio a strong candidate to keep his ride too. Over in the Aprilia garage, Max Biaggi looks like being a firm fixture with the team for next year, and has scored some outstanding results on what is a brand new bike, untested before this season.

Yet Aprilia looks like being the most likely destination for Edwards, if he does decide to move to World Superbikes. Biaggi's team mate Shinya Nakano has had a solid, if not spectacular season, scoring top ten finishes where Biaggi has been top five. Aprilia may well feel that a rider with the amount of development experience that Colin Edwards has would be a better bet for helping to develop the still new RSV4.

Of course, this is still just early speculation, based on early reports of talks. Deals are a very, very long way from being signed yet, and a couple of podiums - or better yet, a win or two - could completely turn Colin Edwards' position in MotoGP around. There's still a long way to go before contract season begins in earnest.

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Lanzi To Replace Laconi At Miller WSBK Round

More news of replacements at the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park. After Regis Laconi's horrific crash at Kyalami, an incident in which the charismatic Frenchman fractured two vertebrae and leaves him likely to be out of racing for remainder of the season, speculation naturally turned to who would replace Laconi at subsequent races.

With a host of talented riders currently available due to a dearth of sponsorship, forcing teams to pull out of already signed deals, the list of possible replacements for Laconi is long. The two prime candidates for the ride are former BSB champion Gregorio Lavilla, who filled in for the injured Brendan Roberts at Kyalami, and the Italian Lorenzo Lanzi, who was scheduled to race a KTM for Stefano Caracchi in the Italian Superbike championship, but withdrew after Lanzi claimed he was close to securing a ride in World Superbikes.

It now looks like Lanzi will be getting the ride. According to GPOne.com, DFX Corse manager Daniele Carli told the Italian TV program "Paddock, Uomini e Corse" (Paddock, Men And Racing) that he was already engaged in contract talks with Lanzi to take Laconi's place. Lanzi is very familiar with the Ducati 1098R, having raced one for the R.G. team last year in World Superbikes.

This does not mean that Gregorio Lavilla is definitely out of World Superbikes, however. Rumors have been growing that Guandalini Racing want to drop their current second rider Brendan Roberts, the reigning Superstock 1000 champion having difficulties adapting to the World Superbike spec version of the bike he won his title on last year. According to the paddock gossips, Lavilla is still very much in the frame for Roberts' ride.

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Hacking, Zemke And Paris To Race At Utah World Superbike Round

As MotoGPMatters.com revealed last week, Jamie Hacking has been confirmed as Makoto Tamada's replacement at PBM Kawasaki for the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park, Utah. The American - born in Oswaldtwistle, in the north of England - has seen action in the World Superbike series before, running as a wildcard in 1998 and 1999 at Laguna Seca, his best result a 7th place finish. However, Hacking has been one of the few riders in the world to make the Kawasaki ZX-10R truly competitive in Superbike racing, and Miller is a track where Hacking has an outstanding record. Hacking has a tough act to follow, after South African Sheridan Morais scored a 13th and 11th place finish in his World Superbike debut in Kyalami, and beating his team mate Broc Parkes.

Hacking won't be the only AMA rider acting as a replacement, as Jake Zemke has been called up to sub for John Hopkins. Hopper's recovery from the horrific crash at Assen - the second year in succession he's been savaged by the Dutch track - is proceeding well, but it is far too early for the American to start racing again. As a consequence, American veteran Zemke will be riding Hopkins' Stiggy Racing Honda. Zemke is currently riding a Honda CBR600RR in the AMA Daytona Sportbike class, and is the reigning champion in the now defunct AMA Formula Xtreme championship. Zemke raced a Honda CBR1000RR in AMA Superbikes from 2004 to 2007 with American Honda.

Hacking and Zemke may not be the only Americans replacing riders at Miller, though. There is still some speculation about a replacement for Suzuki's Max Neukirchner, injured in the first corner pile up at Monza. The most likely candidate is Fonsi Nieto, who filled in on the German's Alstare Suzuki GSX-1000R at Kyalami, but there has been some talk of American sensation Blake Young taking the ride. The name of Mat Mladin was mentioned several times in connection with the ride, but Mladin flatly denied he would be riding the bike.

One American who will definitely be racing in Utah is Melissa Paris. Paris is most well-known as the wife of AMA Superbike rider Josh Hayes, but is a talented rider in her own right. Paris won the CCS National Lightweight division last year, as well as taking a win in the USGPRU series. She only turned professional this season, but managed to finish in 21st place in the prestigious Daytona 200, the best finish ever for a female competitor in that race.

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