Various sources are reporting that Kawasaki have finally made an official announcement, but the announcement is that there's nothing to tell at the moment.
The news emanating from the Japanese news agency Kyodo is that Kawasaki have admitted that they are considering pulling out of MotoGP, but that no decision has yet been taken. "We are in contact with the parties concerned to decide our future course of action," Kawasaki is quoted as saying by the press agencies.
The "parties concerned" almost certainly include the riders and the team, but Jorge Martinez of the Aspar team is likely also to be one of the participants in the conversation, as well as MotoGP rights holders Dorna. No news yet of the MSMA meeting supposed to have been held today, which was also meant to discuss the situation.
More news as and when we receive it.
With still no news about Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP coming out of Japan, rumor feeding frenzy continues. The latest, and perhaps least likely, rumor is that John Hopkins has been approached by Kawasaki USA to take the place of Jamie Hacking aboard the Kawasaki Superbike entry in AMA.
The rumor, published by Italian site GPOne.com, is that Hacking will be pushed aside because his salary demands were too high. With the Kawasaki Superbike team having Monster Energy as a title sponsor, and Hopkins being so closely linked to Monster, the move would seem to be an obvious one.
Yet there are good reasons to doubt this speculation. Firstly, and most obviously, is that if Hacking is being dropped because he wanted too much money, how will Kawasaki USA justify the 4 million dollars which Hopper's salary is believed to be? And secondly, though Kawasaki has a title sponsor, bikes and riders, they have still to confirm that they will be competing in the AMA Superbike series next year. Kawasaki, along with Honda and Suzuki, were the most vociferous opponents of the rule changes and class reorganization proposed by the DMG, who bought the rights to the American domestic series. Kawasaki was also a very prominent absentee at the recent Daytona tire test, traditionally the kick-off to the AMA pre-season.
The MSMA is scheduled to meet with Dorna on Wednesday in Japan. After that meeting, the situation around Kawasaki is likely be clarified, and some of this speculation can be consigned to the circular storage facility, where it belongs.
Today - Monday, January 5th - was the day we had been expecting the official announcement from Kawasaki of their withdrawal from MotoGP, but so far, nothing has been heard from Akashi in Japan. No news is not necessarily good news though. What it does mean is that Kawasaki have probably come under a lot of pressure from both Dorna and the management of their MotoGP team to either reconsider their decision, or find a way to allow the team to continue in a drastically revised form.
But while it's been quiet in Japan, news has once again been filtering in from around Europe about the possibilities created by Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal. The main attention focuses on Jorge Martinez Aspar, who runs the Aspar team in 125s and 250s, and whose earlier attempt to form a one-man Kawasaki satellite team foundered on the choice of riders. Martinez has spoken to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo about his attempts to take over the Kawasaki team, should the Japanese manufacturer decide to go ahead.
"At the moment, it's all up in the air," Martinez told Motociclismo. "I spoke to Dorna about it, and we won't know anything for certain until Carmelo [Ezpeleta] returns from the meeting with the MSMA in Japan."
Martinez also made it clear that he wouldn't take on the project at any price. "For me, the most important thing is a Spanish rider, but I also need some guarantees from Kawasaki about the bikes for 2009, such as the development of the bike, the supply of parts, and the maintenance." He also said that the speed with which all this had happened meant there were still a few question marks over the viability of the project. He told Motociclismo he expected that it would be "ten or twelve days" before he knew anything for certain.
Though Kawasaki is likely to announce its withdrawal from MotoGP officially on Monday, there's still reason to believe that there will be Kawasakis on the grid in 2009. As we reported earlier, Dorna has spent the last few days trying to convince both Kawasaki and Jorge "Aspar" Martinez to take over the Kawasaki team, and keep the bikes on the grid.
Martinez has made no secret of his desire to run a MotoGP team. The Valencian has been incredibly successful in both 125s and 250s, and wants to extend that success into the premier class. This came very close to happening towards the end of last season, when a deal between Kawasaki and Aspar finally foundered on a difference over riders, Kawasaki insisting on Shinya Nakano, Martinez saying his Spanish sponsors demanded a Spanish rider.
Initial reports by the Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport suggested that Kawasaki could hand over the team to Jorge Martinez, who would run the team. But though it was thought that this would include both John Hopkins and Marco Melandri, Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that the Aspar team may only field a single Kawasaki in 2009, not two.
The problem, unsurprisingly, is money. Though Jorge Martinez would effectively get the Kawasaki team for nothing, that would still leave the Spaniard to find a large sum of money for the running costs of the teams. The 3 million euros in Monster Energy sponsorship is just about sufficient to cover John Hopkins' salary, and would leave the Aspar team to find both Marco Melandri's salary - which despite his poor year in 2008 is not likely to be cheap - as well as the funds to cover running the team for the entire year.
Since news of Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal from MotoGP hit the internet, speculation has positively boiled over about the future of the two riders under contract to Team Green, John Hopkins and Marco Melandri. Hopkins' future is thought to be relatively secure, as the Monster Energy sponsorship money which helped fund the team is firmly tied to the American, and will go wherever Hopkins goes.
Melandri, though, is another matter altogether. Although highly popular, he doesn't have a huge sponsorship deal tied directly to him personally which would ease his way into another team. However, his popularity in Italy and beyond, as well as his previous success (Melandri's manager Alberto Vergani likes to point out that Melandri has 5 MotoGP victories to Dani Pedrosa's 6) mean that he is a popular target for the Italian satellite teams.
Initally, speculation centered on Melandri making a possible return to the Gresini Honda team. The switch seemed plausible, as Fausto Gresini had made no secret of his attempts to get Melandri to return to the team he left at the end of 2007. Now, though, GPOne.com is suggesting that Fausto Gresini was forced to turn down Melandri's offer to ride for the Honda satellite squad for virtually nothing, Gresini not wanting to release the two riders - Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis - he already has under contract.
Instead, it looks like Melandri could be heading to Team Scot, the team which fielded Andrea Dovizioso in 2008. Team Scot currently have 250cc rider Yuki Takahashi under contract for next year, and as with some of the earlier suggestions - such as a possible move to LCR Honda alongside Randy de Puniet - Melandri would not displace Takahashi, but join the team alongside him.
The problem, as with the LCR Honda proposal, would of course be equipment. Honda has made it perfectly clear that it is not able to field extra bikes, upping its participation from six bikes to seven in MotoGP. Though, in this case, one motorcycle actually means two motorcycles, as each rider has two bikes at his disposal at each race weekend.
And so if Melandri joined Takahashi at Team Scot, the two riders would have to share the two Honda RC212Vs allotted to Team Scot for Yuki Takahashi under the existing agreement with HRC. The problems with this arrangement are self-evident, as any crash during practice would mean a lot of time spent waiting in the pits for mechanics to repair the damage.
It seemed like just a footnote to another story, but when Paolo Campinoti spoke to GPOne.com about the future of Niccolo Canepa, he had a very interesting suggestion to make. For the manager of the Pramac Ducati team told GPOne.com that he was interested in setting up a separate association for the satellite teams. "It's true, I wanted an assocation for the satellite teams. My team (Pramac), Fausto Gresini, Herve Poncharal and Lucio Cecchinello put on seven bikes, nearly half the grid. It would be a good thing for our ideas to be heard. I talked to those directly involved about it, but it came to nothing. In the end, there's IRTA for this kind of thing."
IRTA - the International Road Racing Teams Association - represents all of the teams, riders and service companies present in MotoGP. Together with the MSMA, they represent the teams and manufacturers in the Grand Prix Commission, along with Dorna as organizers of the series, and the FIM, as the federation overseeing all motorcycle racing. But the MSMA also has a profound influence over IRTA: after all, all of the factory teams run by the members of the MSMA also have a vote in the IRTA, giving them the power to influence the vote of two of the four members of the Grand Prix Commission.
Confusion reigns in MotoGP, and not just about the future of Kawasaki. On Wednesday, reports emerged from Spain that Niccolo Canepa would switch from the Pramac Ducati team to the Team Grupo Francisco Hernando (the Onde 2000 team), a move made necessary by Alice's withdrawal as title sponsor for the Pramac team. But today, both Carlo Pernat, Canepa's manager, and Paolo Campinoti denied that any such more had been agreed.
Pernat, who manages Loris Capirossi as well as Niccolo Canepa, was the most emphatic when asked about the rumors by the Italian press agency Mediaset: "It's a hoax," Pernat said. "Canepa is staying at Pramac. The Spanish reports saying he will be going to join the Nieto brothers are completely baseless. I spoke to (Paolo) Campinoti, the team manager, and he confirmed that Canepa will be riding with Pramac."
Pramac manager was equally firm, but his choice of words left a little more room for maneuver: "I can confirm that there will be two Ducati-Pramacs on the track next year," Campinoti told GPOne.com. "But it's true that we lost our title sponsor Alice, and we are busy looking for a replacement. This could lead to a situation where the two riders, Canepa and Kallio, race in different liveries, while remaining under contract to Pramac."
The Australian press is reporting that Casey Stoner is still not certain to take part in testing at Sepang. Stoner is recovering from a bone graft operation in late October to repair the cracked scaphoid in his left wrist, but the recovery is taking longer than Stoner had hoped for. "I'm 99 per cent certain that I will be riding at Sepang although I doubt it would be at full fitness," Stoner said.
But the former world champion was not too worried about his injury preventing further development of the bike. The factory had no plans to change the bike much, as Stoner felt that the Ducati Desmosedici GP9 was in good shape as it is. "In Valencia, myself and Nicky were both fastest on two different days in different conditions so that shows we've got a good bike already,'' he said. Changes would any be difficult, a result of the switch to a carbon fiber chassis over the old tubular steel trellis frame used by previous incarnations of the GP9.
Testing is due to resume in Sepang, Malaysia on February 5th.
The official announcement of the demise of Kawasaki's MotoGP effort has not even been made yet, but already, it would seem to have a saviour. Italian sports daily Gazzetto dello Sport is reporting that since the news broke of Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal, Jorge Martinez, the man behind the Aspar team which dominates 125 and 250 racing, has been hard at working trying to take over the team from Kawasaki.
Martinez says he was contacted by Dorna a couple of days ago, and since then he has spent all his time on the phone, despite being on a family vacation. The deal which Dorna, Martinez and Kawasaki are trying to put together according to Gazzetto dello Sport would involve Martinez taking over the team at no cost to the Spanish former racer.
The reasons for this apparent generosity on the part of Kawasaki have little to do with altruism, however. According to the Italian daily, Kawasaki has a contract with Dorna to compete in MotoGP until the end of 2011. If Kawasaki were to pull out before that time, then they would be hit by a fine numbering "millions of dollars" for breach of contract. And as Kawasaki have already invested some 6 million dollars in next year's bike, they have little to lose by handing the whole project over to Aspar, and would avoid the penalty by providing engineering support to the privateer team, whilst Aspar bears the day-to-day costs of running the team, again saving Kawasaki a large amount of money. Contracts with riders and team crew have already been signed, and this is money Kawasaki would have to pay anyway.
Dorna, for their part, have a vested interest in keeping the Kawasakis on the grid: The Barcelona-based organizers of MotoGP have in turn a contract with the FIM, the governing body of motorcycle racing, which guarantees a minimum of 18 riders if the series is to retain the status of a world championship. What's more, the loss of face for Dorna would be immeasurable if a major manufacturer were to withdraw in the very season when two new manufacturers (BMW and Aprilia) entered World Superbikes, with another (KTM) waiting in the wings.
Yet more repercussions from Kawasaki's shock withdrawal from MotoGP. The Italian site GPOne.com is reporting that a meeting is being arranged for all of the manufacturers involved in MotoGP to discuss the crisis in the series. The meeting is due to be held early next week, with the date of January 7th being mentioned, and will include Ducati and Kawasaki, despite Kawasaki's intention to withdraw from the series.
The main business of the meeting will of course be cutting costs. GPOne says that a salary cap is one proposal which could be discussed, despite the measure having little or no success in other sports where it has been tried. The problem for 2009 is of course that budgets have already been committed and spending is already well underway: GPOne reports that despite their plans to pull out of MotoGP, Kawasaki have already spent some 6 million dollars on the 2009 season, money they will not see again.
Part of the problem is the fact that MotoGP is a prototype series, and there is no way to defray the costs. Though many have pointed to the World Superbike series as a much cheaper form of racing, they are conveniently neglecting the fact that the race teams pay only a fraction of the R&D costs which go into the bikes which race in the series. It is the buyers of the latest versions of liter sportsbikes who bear the brunt of the development costs, with race teams only left to shoulder the costs for tuning and developing the bikes within the narrow framework set out by the FIM rules.
In the hectic period since news of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP leaked out, speculation on the future of Team Green's riders has been widespread. Initial reports suggested that Marco Melandri would return to Gresini Honda, though there has also been talk of Melandri seriously considering World Superbikes as a viable alternative, while John Hopkins is widely predicted to either switch to the Tech 3 Yamaha squad, or else go back to Suzuki.
But now, the Italian site RacerGP.com is reporting another possible option for Melandri: It seems that Lucio Cecchinello of the LCR Honda team has already been in touch with Melandri to try and persuade the Italian to ride for him next year. Cecchinello's problem - and it is a considerable one - is that he would not be able to obtain two more bikes from Honda to support the usual team structure, where each team member has two machines, nor would he be able to afford the costs of running four bikes even if he could get the equipment from Honda.
Instead, Cecchinello has come up with an ingenious cost-cutting scheme whereby both Randy de Puniet and Marco Melandri would have one bike each. This would remove the expense of leasing extra equipment from Honda, as well as reducing the number of mechanics needed for each rider. Costs would further be cut by only attending test in Europe, saving the expense of the flyaway tests in Sepang, Qatar and Australia.
As we turn to Page 1 on our 2009 calendars, it seems like as good a metaphor as any to consider what looms just a couple short months away...
More good news on the racing front, after Kawasaki's shock withdrawal from MotoGP. Team Green's pullout saw a wave of speculation in the media about who would follow. Among the names most mentioned were Suzuki's MotoGP team and Yamaha's World Supersport effort. There have been denials from Suzuki that they are under threat, but so far, no word had been forthcoming about Yamaha and their World Supersport program.
The team was considered vulnerable because of their conspicuous failure to win a world championship since 2000, despite having factory support, competitive equipment and proven riders. To make things worse, the team, based in Holland, were being regularly beaten by their compatriots Ten Kate Honda, a relatively modest effort only partially - and rather begrudgingly - supported by Honda in Japan.
But word has come today that Yamaha will be remaining in the World Supersport championship after all. The Dutch racing site Racesport.nl is reporting that Yamaha's WSS team boss and former racer Wilco Zeelenberg has denied rumors of a withdrawal. "It seems to me that as the team manager, I would be the first to be told that kind of news, but I haven't heard anything. We're signed up to race next season, though admittedly with a lower budget," Zeelenberg told Racesport. The Dutch website also contacted Yamaha's head of racing Laurens Klein Koerkamp, who also denied the reports of a withdrawal.
It's hard to underestimate the impact of the shocking news yesterday that Kawasaki will be pulling out of MotoGP. And today, more bad news about teams arrives, only this time, accompanied by good news.
The bad news is that, according to Spanish sports daily AS.com, the Pramac Ducati team will only field 1 rider next year, the Finn Mika Kallio. The move has been forced as a result of Alice, the Italian telecoms sponsor, withdrawing its sponsorship from the Pramac team, leaving the satellite Ducati squad short of cash.
The good news is that this will not leave Niccolo Canepa, Ducati's promising young test rider, out of a job. The same paper is also reporting that the young Italian will be a team mate to Sete Gibernau in the Grupo Francisco Hernando team, better known as Onde 2000 in the 125 and 250 classes, run by the Nieto cousins. Despite the global recession, money is still no object for the GFH team, the personal project of Francisco "El Pocero" Hernando, a Spanish property tycoon whose career has been surrounded by allegations of corruption: From the very beginning of the project, "Paco" Hernando had wanted to field a two-bike team, stating that he was willing to make the budget available.
The withdrawal of Kawasaki from MotoGP - which Ian Wheeler, the team's press officer has told Motorsport-Total.com that he knows nothing about - is likely to blow the MotoGP riders market completely open once again. With the MotoGP merry-go-round seemingly all done and dusted before the end of the season, the sudden availability of two big name riders is likely to have satellite team managers consulting their lawyers.
Of the Kawasaki pairing of John Hopkins and Marco Melandri, Hopper is likely to be the name most in demand. Hopkins is the rider carrying the Monster Energy sponsorship, and with Kawasaki out, Monster's budget is likely to go to whoever signs the American. And in a time of hardship, that money will be very welcome indeed.
The most probable casualty of the Hopkins / Monster duo is Colin Edwards. The Texan's position in the Tech 3 Yamaha squad had already become less certain after Bridgestone were awarded the single tire contract for MotoGP. Edwards has been closely associated with Michelin for a very long time, and was their lead development rider in MotoGP until their forced withdrawal. With the tire development role gone, along with the Michelin money which was said to be funding Tech 3, Herve Poncharal may feel that Hopkins and his Monster millions are a far more attractive proposition.
The problem for Poncharal is that Edwards is not in the employ of the Tech 3 Yamaha team, but has a contract with Yamaha directly. Consequently, Poncharal has less control over the hiring and firing of the Texan than he may wish. And with Yamaha seats in the other major racing series all filled, it may prove difficult to convince Edwards to move elsewhere.