WSBK: State of the Silly Season -- Dog Days
When the days grow long and hot and summer is in it's shank, a race fan's thoughts naturally turn to...next year! All sorts of juicy rumors have been floating about who might be doing what for whom in 2011.
The most visible drama is in the Yamaha camp. The scenario goes like this: If Valentino Rossi accepts an offer from Ducati to see how he looks in red leathers, then Ben Spies would take his seat at the factory team, neatly leaving a seat open at the Tech 3 team for 2009 World Supersport champion Cal Crutchlow. Never mind that Crutchlow, although undeniably promising, probably isn't ready for prime time (oooh, I'm going to get hate mail) -- he's under contract to Yamaha, he's British, which would please the BBC and, well, who else is there in the pipeline? Assuming that all the above happens, Crutchlow's current employer, Sterilgarda Yamaha, would be left in the lurch. There have been rumors, expressly denied by team management, that if Crutchlow moves on, Yamaha will yank the plug on the WSBK team, much as they did in WSS after the 2009 season.
Next up is the the Xerox Ducati team. Noriyuki Haga's performance has been, to put it bluntly, disappointing. Team management has said that Haga needs to "redeem" himself in the remaining rounds for the team to consider him for further employment. This dissatisfaction, coupled with Haga's rumored 800,000 euro per annum salary, puts the likable veteran's head squarely on the chopping block. Possible candidates for the seat include Jonny Rea (never mind that he has a contract next year with Ten Kate), the evergreen Carlos Checa and a veritable cast of thousands. Michel "Mr Fabulous" Fabrizio, who has been mentioned as a candidate for a jump to Davide Tardozzi's BMW squad, is widely thought to be able to keep his ride if he keeps his results up and makes nice-nice with team manager Ernesto Marinelli.
Probably the hottest commodity on the Silly Season market is Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam. Haslam, who could do little wrong early in the season but has slumped recently as Max Biaggi has charged to the top of the points standings. Haslam says that his lack of results has been caused by a lack of support from the factory and an inability to get the GSXR1000 adapted to the new Pirelli rubber. This drop in results hasn't affected the Pocket Rocket's marketability, however, with virtually everyone with an open seat interested. Rumor, which team management has denied, has it that Aprilia has made Haslam an offer to join Biaggi on the factory team next year. Haslam could also return to Alstare, assuming that Suzuki coughs up the requisite funding for the team, which isn't a done deal by any means just yet.
Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea has a contract next year but it's rumored that a couple of teams (Mr Subliminal: Ducati and BMW) have pockets deep enough to bail the fast Ulsterman out of his agreement with the Dutch team. It's no secret that Rea is sick of having his fillings rattled loose on an intermittant basis by the chattery CBR1000 superbike. Rea's partner in misery, Max Neukirchner, is widely perceived to be good as gone, with a potential replacement being Eugene Laverty, who currently having his way (mostly) with the WSS field. An impediment to that move, however, is the possibilty that Parkalgar team manager Simon Buckmaster will bring the team into WSBK in 2011 with Laverty as its rider.
Troy Corser is considered a lock to continue with BMW, but unless Ruben Xaus' sudden flare-up of Checa's Syndrome continues into the late rounds, he's probably history. Team management is reportedly considering Jonny Rea, Jakob Smrz, Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini, who is currently tearing the 1000 Superstock field a new one aboard a S1000RR. Also rumored to be offered a seat was Gresini Honda's Marco Melandri, who would allegedly be thrown the bone of a ride on BMW's vaporware 2012 MotoGP entry, but that is considered unlikely unless Melandri absolutely can't find a MotoGP ride for 2011.
At Aprilia, the Roman Emperor isn't going anywhere for the forseeable future, and unless the team can do better, Leon Camier, who is doing creditably well despite a freshman tendancy to fling the machinery into the scenery, will probably be back as well.
2011 was going be the year that Kawasaki reasserted itself in WSBK. A new, radically different, ZX-10 was in the pipeline and a couple of competitive riders had been recruited. Unfortunately, Chris Vermeulen's knee injury has put a dark cloud over those rosy plans. Vermeulen has struggled to retain his form with an condition that has proved to be much worse than originally anticipated and now faces a complete knee reconstruction and lengthy rehab. Tom Sykes has done as well as can be expected this year on the Green Nail and if anyone deserves a shot at the new bike, it's him.