During the winter test ban, MotoGP's equivalent of the dog days of summer, the social media website Twitter has turned into a goldmine for journalists, from both the traditional and the new media alike. With so many high-profile riders, managers, mechanics and other members of the paddock active on Twitter, nuggets useful for filling empty column inches keep popping up almost by magic.
The most interesting nugget of recent days is the announcement today by Ulsterman Johnny Rea that he will be testing the Honda RC212V MotoGP bike at Sepang this week. Rea, who signed an extension to his contract with the Ten Kate Honda World Superbike squad for the 2011 season, enjoys very close relations with HRC, as witnessed by the invitation Rea has received to race in the Suzuka 8 hour endurance race, a highly prized honor among Honda riders. In a further acknowledgement of Rea's importance to HRC, the 23-year-old is being given a chance to ride Honda's MotoGP machine in Malaysia, as part of Honda's MotoGP testing program. As a non-contracted rider (he is contracted to race in World Superbikes, not in MotoGP), Rea is free to test the RC212V during the winter test ban, and as often as Honda ask him to, unlike the men racing Hondas in MotoGP in 2011, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Marco Simoncelli, Toni Elias and Hiroshi Aoyama.
The benefits for Honda are twofold. Firstly, they get good feedback from a clearly competitive rider, Rea having been a title contender in World Superbikes for the past two seasons. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Honda gets a chance to evaluate Rea's ability on a MotoGP machine, to see how quickly he adapts to the stiffer chassis, stickier Bridgestones and carbon brakes fitted to the RC212V. Rea is widely tipped to move into the MotoGP class in 2012, and has hinted as much in interviews discussing his contract renewal earlier this year. With the 1000cc machines due to make a return from 2012 - and Ben Spies' stunning performance in his rookie year proving that switching series is not impossible - MotoGP may start looking towards World Superbike as a feeder series once again, as they did in the early years of the original switch to four-strokes in 2002. Rea is clearly at the top of several people's lists when the change comes.