Tuesday, August 18, 2009

State of the Silly Season -- Back to the Grind

The MotoGP season has started back up with a bang and with six races to go, the team line-ups for next year have become simultaneously more concrete and more speculative. We expected to see a lot of announcements on the subject at Brno and we did see a few, but the overall picture isn't a whole lot clearer that it was going in.

Fiat Yamaha -- Forget about Rossi, He's got a contract for next year, he's leading the world championship standings going away, God's in his heaven and all's right with the world. Over on the Jorge Lorenzo side of the wall things are, how you say -- interesting. It was expected that after his performances as of late, the rider still known as the Lunatic would accept the chump change 100% salary increase from Yamaha and seethe quietly (well, as quietly as Jorge is capable of) in the shadow of his illustrious colleague. An announcement by new HRC president Suzuki that Lorenzo wasn't being considered anymore by the Evil Empire seemed to cement this state of affairs. Time for the dog and Jorge show where the rider has to force a happy expression while feigning complete satisfaction on being second banana for far less money than he thinks he's worth. Then Casey Stoner announced that he was calling it quits for a bit, mate, with resultant hyperspeculation and general hand-wringing about what was really going on with the tightly-wound Aussie. Rumors quickly surfaced that not only was Ducati not really letting on what they actually knew about the situation, but the CEO of Phillip Morris was at Brno with a modest proposal for a certain fast young Mallorcan. Current conjecture is that Lorenzo was offered in the neighborhood of 6.5 - 8 million Euro to see how he looks in red leather. This is a very nice neighborhood indeed, but not one without drawbacks. We could write epic epistles on the nature of the Beast from Bologna and what happens if Stoner really is just taking a breather and knocking back a few tinnies with Troy Bayliss in the outback, but the bottom line is that Yamaha is probably no closer to Lorenzo's signature on a deal than when the weekend started and maybe farther away.

Tech Three Yamaha -- If Herve Poncheral isn't grinning like a Cheshire with canary on his breath, then he should be. he's got the Best Bike in the Paddock, satellite division, and a queue of riders at his door longer than at an American unemployment office. Colin Edwards, James Toseland, Chris Vermeulin, Toni Elias, Randy DePuniet, Ben Spies, Nicky Hayden, Alex DeAngelis, Mika Kallio and a cast of thousands have all put in their applications for the job, with some willing to work for nothing, sleep in the transporter and sweep up the shops in the down periods. With the Lorenzo affair still in a state of flux, TT is no closer to finalizing their rider line-up than before Brno, which is not an altogether sad state of affairs for Mr Poncheral.

Repsol Honda -- Pedrosa and Dovizioso re-up for 2 years. Mr. Suzuki says we can take that check to the bank and cash it. Whoops, the boss should have checked with the negotiating team before he got egg drop soup on his face. The glare from the kleig lights at the press conference had barely abated when Alberto Puig (rhymes with spooge), Pedrosa's puppet master, was giving Spanish TV a little press conference of his own -- No deal yet, no how, no way. Things are supposedly proceeding toward both riders signing, but rumor has it that the nature of Puig's involvement with the team is the fly in the ointment that has delayed doing the deal.

Gresini Honda -- Two Italian Marcos (Simoncelli & Melandri), one happy Italian sponsor, two unhappy current riders looking for jobs.

Other Satellite Honda -- Lots of speculation here, mostly centered around whether or not there'll be a seventh (or eighth) Honda on the grid in 2010. As with the rest of life, the central theme here is "money talks, bullshit walks". Scot Honda is thought to be courting current rider Gabor Talmacsi and his Hungarian Hydrocarbon Handbag and are also thought to possibly be in line to get a Honda supported ride for current 250 series leader Hiro Aoyama. LCR Honda would like to retain the services of Randy DePuniet, but RDP is thought to be far up on Tech Trois wish list. If RDP goes away, then Thomas Luthi with his clutch of coffee cash could buy his way in.

Ducati -- Casey Stoner has a deal for next year but (see Fiat Yamaha) whether or not he'll be physically able to perform is still (way) up in the air. Nicky Hayden has probably seen his bargaining power increase in the wake of Stonergate and with his encouraging results (aside from the Donington tire debacle)as of late. Mika Kallio was brought up to the bigs in what was thought to be an audition for Hayden's ride. Kallio is about as fast as the Kentucky Kid but when he tried to push a bit harder, he took a couple dirt naps, one in practice, one in the race. Score on the weekend: Nicky, sixth place, Kallio, two dumped Desmosedicis, charged to Casey Stoner's 5 engine account. As one wag put it -- "At this rate, Casey might not have anything to come back to this season". Most pundits speculate that Hayden will be resigned, maybe at Indy.

Satellite Ducati -- Ducati, in the person of Livio Suppo ahs stated publicly that they'd like to retain the services of Mika Kallio, but with the factory team currently needing help and with the prospect of Casey Stoner not returning, that might not be at Pramac. Also, there is recent word that Kallio has contacted Tech Trois Yamaha and has let them know that he's interested, just like half the riders in the world with an FIM license. If Kallio goes away, Toni Elias is looking for a job. As for Nicolo Canepa, the step from Superstock champion to MotoGP has been too steep and Ducati is rumored to be looking for a place for him in WSBK. Possible replacements include Mattia Pasini. Over at the newly minted Aspar Ducati team, Hector Barbera has been telling anyone who'll listen that he's got a deal to ride Sete's old bike, cemented by a cool million euro personal sponsorship. However, no official announcement was made at Brno and coupled with rumors of Ducati's deep dissatisfaction with Aspar's failure to sign Alvaro Bautista, there is just the slightest cloud of doubt over that deal.

Suzuki -- With the signing of Alvaro Bautista, Paul Denning has finally gotten the top 250 rider that he's been lusting after, lo these many years. Loris Capirossi is supposedly 99% on his way to resigning and Chris Vermeulin is all alone by the telephone, hoping that all his calls aren't from WSBK teams.

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