MotoGP's ever-shrinking grid is becoming a reality as the end of the season approaches and teams start unveiling their plans for next year. The latest victim of the lack of sponsorship in the paddock is the Mapfre Aspar Ducati team, who look set to pull the plug on their partnership with Ducati and switch to a CRT bike. According to MCN's Matt Birt, the team has failed to reach an agreement with Ducati Corse over the lease price of a Desmosedici GP12 and will therefore be turning to a CRT project as a way to remain in MotoGP and stay within the budget they have available.
The decision was a serious one, and had been coming for a while. According to GPOne.com, Aspar boss Jorge Martinez had even offered a number of compromises to Ducati, including using some of the parts used and discarded by Valentino Rossi during testing for the GP12 earlier this year. Aspar's final gambit was to lease just a single bike for one rider, instead of the pair of bikes that all riders use, MCN reported, but even that failed, leaving Aspar to turn to CRT for their future.
Aspar's strong relationship with Suter means that the BMW-powered Suter is the team's first option for remaining in MotoGP. But MCN is also reporting that talks have been ongoing with Aprilia about leasing RSV4 engines tuned for MotoGP. No chassis manufacturer has been named, but FTR were touting a project consisting of an Aprilia RSV4 engine in an FTR chassis at the Misano round of MotoGP. Even then, selling the project was hard, despite the costs being only around half a million euros a season, a far cry from the multiple millions for a satellite machine. Aspar's historic ties with Aprilia would help ease such a combination, though the combination of a Suter chassis in Moto2 and an FTR frame in MotoGP may cause some logistical problems, with the team having to compartmentalize the data from each of the projects.
The good news is that Aspar remains committed to competing in MotoGP. Making the switch to CRT status allows Aspar to remain in the series at a more affordable cost, and keeps them on the grid in MotoGP. Elsewhere, there are also signs that efforts are being made to keep the grid size up: in the press release announcing the Gresini team extending their sponsorship deal with Italian snack manufacturer San Carlo, Gresini spoke repeatedly of riders, plural, being supported, though the main focus is on Simoncelli. There is a serious chance that Gresini will field a CBR1000-powered CRT effort as a second bike for 2012, though no such bike exists yet.
Aspar's decision to split with Ducati leaves just three confirmed Ducatis on the grid for next year. The Pramac squad is likely to continue, though with just a single machine, but no decision has been taken yet by team owner Paolo Campinoti. Add the three Ducatis to four Yamahas (two factory bikes and two Monster Tech 3 satellite machines), four Hondas (two Repsol bikes, one San Carlo Gresini bike for Simoncelli, and an LCR Honda, with either Alvaro Bautista or Randy de Puniet aboard) and the NGM Forward machine of Colin Edwards, and we have a confirmed grid of just 12 machines. With so few entries, pressure will be stepped up on Marc Marquez to move up to MotoGP in 2012, to help expand the numbers. Former Kawasaki World Superbike team boss Paul Bird also looks like to field at least one CRT bike next year, with MCN reporting his entry has been received by IRTA and will be discussed this weekend. The series is now waiting upon developments from the other CRT entries, who submitted their teams back in June.