It's been clear for a long while now that Toni Elias would be returning to MotoGP for the 2011 season, for more than one reason. Many felt Elias should never have lost his ride at Gresini Honda at the end of 2009, after the feisty Spaniard finished the season in 7th position, ahead of a large group of riders who weren't forced out. And when the Spaniard wrapped up the inaugural 2010 Moto2 World Championship, it became unthinkable that he would not find a ride in the premier class.
The question was, who with? Of the factory rides, only Suzuki had an open spot, and that disappeared rapidly once Suzuki decided to scale back its involvement to just a single rider for 2011. That left only a satellite Honda or the Pramac Ducati squad, but after a difficult year with the Pramac team in 2008, Elias was not keen on that switch. With Interwetten Honda folding, and Honda and Dorna pushing for Hiroshi Aoyama to take the empty seat at Gresini, only LCR Honda was left. Current occupant Randy de Puniet had been slowly falling out of favor with team boss Lucio Cecchinello since breaking a leg at the Sachsenring, and so with some nudging from Dorna, the LCR team became the obvious seat for Elias to fill.
Here's the official press release announcing the move:
TONI ELIAS RIDING THE LCR TEAM HONDA RC212V IN 2011
Estoril, 31 October 2010: LCR Honda MotoGP Team is pleased to announce its new cooperation with the Spanish Moto2 Champion Toni Elias and Honda HRC for the 2011 MotoGP Championship.
The LCR Team is ready to take part in their 6th season in the MotoGP class thanks to the support of the Japanese Constructor which has renewed its cooperation with the Team Manager Lucio Cecchinello.
Lucio Cecchinello: Team Manager
"First of all I want to thank Randy for his precious cooperation and for the several successes we have shared in the 250cc class and in the MotoGP class in five years together. The chance to work with Toni Elias is a big incentive for us because this is a very important moment for presenting to our sponsors and partners a new project. The nice thing is that Toni and I raced together in the 125cc class; I was at the end of my career and he was at the beginning. I remember he was a very very hard rider and very resolute. As time goes by he has improved very much and I think he is a very talented rider with a lot of experience. All the staff and I give him our warmest welcome!"
Toni Elias: Rider
"I am thrilled to be back in MotoGP and I am happy to race with the LCR Team. I want to thank Lucio and Honda for their trust and I am anxious to return. I have known Lucio for a long time as we raced together in the 125cc class from 1999 to 2001; although his Team is not an official one it is very professional and well organised. Being their only rider is a further warranty for me."