Though the factory seats in MotoGP are all filled, the prime seats on the non-factory entries are still open. Top favorites among the riders are the NGM Forward team, with the leased and FTR-kitted Yamaha M1s, and the Aspar team, which will be running factory-backed Aprilias, though not as an official factory team.
These four are the most competitive of the non-factory bikes, and any rider dreaming at a shot of a return to a factory ride, with Suzuki in 2015 perhaps, will want to be on board one of these bikes. At the moment, there are two lynchpins around which all of the rest of the choices revolve.
Aleix Esparagaro is the rider garnering the most interest from teams, unsurprisingly given just how competitive the Spaniard has been on the Aspar ART machine.
Espargaro’s problem is that he already has a contract for 2014, guaranteed by Aspar if he ends the season as the best CRT finisher. Given that he is 41 points of the next CRT rider – Colin Edwards of NGM Forward – not succeeding in that goal looks increasingly unlikely.
And so Espargaro is tied to Aspar. But Espargaro is being tempted by the Yamahas of NGM Forward, and is keen to make the switch. Speaking yesterday, Gino Borsoi said he felt that the Yamahas were “turning the head of some riders,” admitting that Espargaro is keen to leave. Leaving, though, will be expensive: the Spaniard will have to buy out his contract, at a cost of 600,000 euros.
His new manager, Albert Valera, who also manages world champion Jorge Lorenzo, is working to find a way out of the contract, and Aspar may be willing to let Espargaro go. There was no point in trying to keep a rider who does not want to be in your team, Borsoi told us, but Aspar had invested two years in him, and with a new bike due for 2014, they felt they could offer him a competitive package.
It looks unlikely now that Espargaro will stay, however. The Spaniard looks like being on a Yamaha at NGM Forward. That, in turn, opens the way for the second silly season lynchpin, Nicky Hayden.
Hayden was caught out by the social media aspect of his training app, as it posted up a run he had taken around Noale, Aprilia’s home. This weekend, he admitted to journalists he had visited Aprilia’s racing department, saying he had been impressed by the set up. Hayden looks to be very close to signing with Aprilia, and racing for the Aspar team next year.
Speaking to GPOne, Gino Borsoi said that he expected Hayden would make an announcement about his future ‘between today and tomorrow.’ GPOne believes that Hayden is all but signed for Aprilia, and that his contract will be directly with the factory, racing for the Aspar team in MotoGP.
Whether the Aprilia will be entered as a “factory option” machine, and use Aprilia’s own software and 20 liters of fuel, is still unknown. “That decision is up to Aprilia,” Borsoi told us. ‘We hope to know at Aragon, but maybe later, at the flyaways.”
Filling in the other two seats at both Aspar and NGM Forward is more difficult. If, as seems likely, Espargaro leaves and Hayden arrives, Randy de Puniet has a good chance of keeping his seat at Aspar. If Espargaro stays at Aspar, it will be De Puniet who has to make way for Hayden.
The second seat at NGM Forward is up for grabs. Colin Edwards is very keen to remain, having put in so much work on the FTR Kawasaki, knowing that such a strong package is coming. Edwards recently improved form may help him keep the ride.
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.