Moto2/Moto3 Silly Season Update: Vinales And Salom Join Pons, Miller To Ajo, And More
While the MotoGP seats - at least, the MotoGP seats on factory prototypes, or as we must now call them, factory option bikes - were filled quickly after the summer break, and the former CRT seats set to follow suit over the next two rounds, there has been little movement in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes so far. This is hardly surprising: negotiations for Moto2 and (especially) Moto3 seats tend to start at the end of the season rather than the middle, with some Moto2 seats dependent on who moves up to MotoGP. Yet after Silverstone and ahead of Misano, the first big moves started to be made.
The early news was the signing of Tito Rabat with the Marc VDS Racing team, taking the place of Scott Redding who departs for MotoGP. With both Rabat and Pol Espargaro leaving - the younger of the Espargaro brothers had been signed by Yamaha for the Tech 3 team in MotoGP earlier in the year - Sito Pons' Moto2 team, Tuenti HP 40 Pons was left with only Sito's son Axel Pons left on the payroll for 2014. At Silverstone, Pons penned a deal with current Moto3 championship leader Luis Salom for the next two seasons, and shortly afterwards, he also signed up Maverick Viñales, also for 2014 and 2015. The two Spaniards will contest Moto2 on board the Kalex Moto2 machines left behind by Rabat and Espargaro.
Having two such intense rivals, both of whom will be demanding the number one status inside the team, could cause some friction for Pons. However, as history shows, having two top riders in the same team pushing each other can pay off richly for the team, though it may be tougher on the riders. The pairings of Marc Marquez (and before him, Casey Stoner) with Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo with Valentino Rossi appear to be a case in point. Keeping the peace will be hard, though, especially with two riders who are known for being extremely hotheaded. Luis Salom has finally blossomed at the Red Bull Ajo team, where he is under the tutelage of the cool Fin Aki Ajo, who has made a knack of bringing on young talent.
Moving to Moto2 is not the only change for Maverick Viñales. Shortly after he announced his deal with Pons, he also announced he had split from his manager Ricard Jove. Jove was the man whom Viñales had clashed with at the end of 2012, flying home from Sepang without competing after a dispute with Jove, in his capacity of both personal manager and team manager of the Blusens Avintia team. Jove himself has also split from the Blusens Avintia team, as part of the fall out from the departure of Toni Elias for the World Superbike series.
Viñales and Salom may not be the only Moto3 men to make the move up. Despite his youth, Alex Rins is also considering a move, though any such move is conditional on first winning the Moto3 title. As the talented youngster currently trails Salom by 33 points, and Viñales by 7, he has his work cut out to achieve that goal.
Among the men who remain in Moto2, Takaaki Nakagami could be set to switch teams. Rumors surround a possible switch to the Japanese Idemitsu Honda squad run by Tady Okada, who have just ditched their current rider Yuki Takahashi. For Nakagami to join the team, Idemitsu would also have to change machines, dropping the Moriwaki in favor of the Kalex, the bike Nakagami has been so successful on in Moto2 this year. This could be part of a long term strategy to move up to MotoGP, as talks about moving the team up to MotoGP with Nakagami on board a Honda production racer got a long way before failing.
At Aspar, Nico Terol looks set to stay, while Jordi Torres has been confirmed for next year. Tom Luthi looks likely to remain with the Interwetten squad, while Domi Aegerter will be back with the Technomag CarXPert squad.
With Salom moving up to Moto2, the prime spot at the Red Bull Ajo team is open in Moto3. That place will be taken by Jack Miller, the young Australian having been deeply impressive on the FTR Honda with Racing Team Germany, but Miller, like all of the Honda riders, has made it clear it is impossible to compete on the underpowered NSF250R powerplant. The move to the Ajo team will see him on a factory-backed KTM, giving him the shot at the title he believes he deserves.
With Zulfahmi Khairuddin likely to stay at the team, that puts fellow Australian Arthur Sissis in a precarious position. Sissis has had a disappointing season in Moto3, and if his results do not improve, he is likely to lose his seat. The prime candidate to take his seat would be Red Bull Rookie leader Karel Hanika, the young Czech rider having been deeply impressive this year. However, the fear is that former Rookies have found it sometimes hard to adapt to Moto3, where much more emphasis is placed on working on bike set up, and so the route from the Rookies Cup to Moto3 is not as easy as it looks. Speaking at Brno, Hanika told MotoMatters.com that the only offers he had had at that point had involved him bringing money to a team, believed to be in the order of 300,000 euros.
Jack Miller would not be the only rider to ditch a Honda, but with KTM already supplying 14 bikes on the Moto3 grid, other teams are looking elsewhere. Gresini is said to be looking at a switch to a Kalex KTM, while Mahindra could expand to as many as 8 bikes. The Ambrogio Racing team of Brad Binder and Luca Amato will be switching to Mahindra from the upcoming Misano race, but according to Speedweek.de, CIP Honda and Team Italia could also make the change to Mahindra. The Mahindra has already proven to be competitive, as the only bike capable of getting close to the front-running KTMs of the championship leaders, and it raises the profile of the Indian engineering giant, exactly as planned when the team first entered the series.
There are still plenty of seats open for next year in both GP support classes. The silly season in Moto2 and Moto3 is likely to continue until after the current season has finished, and possibly well into 2014. It will take some time to sort itself out.