Yamaha has taken the first tentative steps towards an eventual return to the World Superbike series. On Friday, the Yakhnich Motorsport team announced that they have signed Sam Lowes to a three-year contract, with the stated aim of winning the World Supersport championship before moving up to World Superbikes. Lowes contested both the 2011 and 2012 World Supersport seasons with the PTR Honda team, winning 2 races and finishing 3rd in the standings this season.
The most significant part of the press release announcing the signing of Lowes, however, is that Yamaha Motor Europe is stepping up to support the Yakhnich effort, after a hiatus from racing in 2012. The Yamaha's European distributor had been a long-time supporter of both the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, but had been forced by the financial crisis and falling sports bike sales to cut back their presence in the production championship. Factory support in World Supersport was dropped at the end of the 2009 season, and from the World Superbike class at the end of 2011.
The bikes were still clearly competitive, however, as Chaz Davies demonstrated by winning the 2011 World Supersport title on a Yamaha YZF-R6. The very same bikes, in fact, that Cal Crutchlow had won the title on two years' earlier, and which had been in storage ever since. This year, Vladimir Leonov, riding for the Yakhnich team, had had two podiums on a Yamaha and finished regularly in the top 10.
The signing of Lowes also signals Yamaha's intent to move back into the World Superbike class. There have been hints that Yamaha would return to racing in World Superbikes when the new Yamaha R1 is released, with Valentino Rossi commenting briefly that one of his reasons for returning to Yamaha in MotoGP was to help get the all-new R1 reading for racing. Since then, Yamaha Motor Racing boss Lin Jarvis has told UK media that he factory could be open to a return if the technical rulebook were adjusted to reduce the cost of entry, something which is expected to happen for 2014. Rumors emanating from well-connected sources suggest that there will be a brand-new R1 for 2015, and that Yamaha intends to race the machine in World Superbikes that same season. The signing of Lowes and the contract with Yakhnich could be the first step on the road to Yamaha's return in 2015.
Below is the press release announcing the signing of Lowes, courtesy of Yamaha Racing:
Sam Lowes and Yakhnich Motorsport together for 2013 - 2015
22yrs old Sam Lowes and Yakhnich Motorsport team have signed a three years contract with the aim to win the World Supersport Championship and then move on to the World Superbike class.
The English rider, third in the 2012 World Supersport Championship, will ride next year on the Yakhnich Motorsport Yamaha R6 and will be teammate of 25 yrs old Russian rider Vladimir Leonov, who finished two times on the podium in 2012. The team will receive official support of Yamaha Motor Europe but will carry out its own technical development.
With these two strong riders, Yakhnich Motorsport is confident to be one of the favorite teams for the 2013 World Supersport Championship title.
“I’m happy to announce that Yakhnich Motorsport takes another step in its long term program for the World Supersport class and – in the future - for the Superbike class. As was our plan, the 2013 team is even stronger than last year, adding another top rider with Sam Lowes. We are confident to obtain top results in next year’s World Supersport Championship. Our plan for the future is to bring both riders to the top level even in the World Superbike Championship. That’s why we signed a long term contract with both of them”.
“I’m very happy to be joining the Yakhnich Motorsport Team. They have given me a fantastic opportunity to compete and fight for the World title in 2013. I’ve seen how professionally they work and how their performances increased during the 2012 season and that’s why I think I’m now in the right place at the right moment to be able to win next year’s championship. I look forward to riding the Yamaha R6, a very strong bike, and starting my work with the Yakhnich team very soon. I’m very exited. Thanks to the whole team for their belief in me and support and all the fans behind me! Roll on 2013!”