Aspar Decides: Nicky Hayden To Ride A Honda In 2014
The future of Nicky Hayden appears to have been decided. Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, has decided to drop Aprilia in favor of Honda, according to German language website Speedweek.com. Aspar is set to make an announcement later this week on their future, and that decision appears to be that the Spanish team will be running Honda's production racer RCV1000R for next season.
The decision was made almost inevitable once it was announced that current Aprilia racing boss Gigi Dall'Igna would be leaving the Noale factory to join Ducati. Dall'Igna and Martinez had a strong working relationship dating back to the years in which Aspar ran 125 and 250cc team, and Aspar's faith in Aprilia's MotoGP program was based on the strength of that relationship. With Dall'Igna gone, that leaves Aprilia's MotoGP program in disarray - at least, temporarily - and makes the Honda production racer the best option. Aspar also had the option to run a Ducati GP13 as a customer bike with the spec Dorna software, but with Dall'Igna just arrived and little chance of any updates to that bike, it was not a promising option.
The decision was made despite a last-ditch effort by Aprilia to retain Aspar. New Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano had flown to Malaysia to try to persuade Aspar to stick with the Noale factory, but the uncertainty over Aprilia's future in racing meant his efforts were in vain.
American Honda's financial contribution to help get Nicky Hayden back on a Honda helped to make the choice for the Honda easier. Whether HRC also helped to sweeten the deal is unknown, but of the five bikes Honda have already built, only two had been sold, one to the Gresini Honda team for Scott Redding, and one for the Cardion AB team for Karel Abraham. Having four bikes on the grid instead of two will make developing the machine much easier, especially with a proven veteran like Nicky Hayden on board.
Aspar's defection from Aprilia leaves only the PBM team with any links still to Aprilia. The British team is currently racing Aprilia's RSV4-based engine in their own chassis, but there have been rumors that Paul Bird's team may drop the Aprilia lump in favor of something else. The Aprilia engine is handicapped by the spec software, as the engine is designed to make use of the butterfly exhaust valve for improved mid-range, but Magneti Marelli have not implemented software control of this yet, nor are they likely to in the near future, other algorithms being given priority. With the functionality list being determined by the popularity of an item, requests for functionality to help one specific engine technology tend to be put to the back of the queue.
Who Hayden's team mate will be is as yet unknown. Aleix Espargaro has been released to the NGM Forward team for 400,000 euros, 300,000 of which comes from the Forward team, and 100,000 of which comes from Espargaro himself, in the form of him foregoing his bonus for winning the title of best CRT rider. Eugene Laverty had been linked to the ride, but Laverty was an Aprilia appointee, and with Aspar switching to Honda, he may not have a place in the team. According to Speedweek, the list of possible riders could also include Yonny Hernandez or Hiroshi Aoyama. Current rider Randy de Puniet looks set to take on a full time role as tester for Suzuki, who will be making their return to MotoGP in 2015, if all goes to plan.