Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards will race for the NGM Forward team in MotoGP next year, riding FTR-based Yamaha production machines.
The announcement had been expected for a very long time, but confirmation only came on Saturday morning at Valencia, as haggling over buying out Espargaro’s contract had continued over the past couple of months. Negotiations have finally been completed, and Espargaro has been cleared to join Forward.
Mixed emotions greet the final race of most MotoGP seasons. There is sadness at the prospect of four months or more without racing. There is interest and expectation, as fans look past the race weekend to the test which immediately follows, when the bikes for next year appear and the riders switching teams get their first shot at a new ride.
And there is excitement of course, at the prospect of a race to wrap up the season. But with the title usually already decided in advance, there is only pride at stake, and not much more to play for.
This year, it’s different. Yes, the test on Monday is a big deal, with Cal Crutchlow’s debut on the Ducati, the Honda production racer making its first appearance, with Nicky Hayden on board, and the Aleix Espargaro giving the Yamaha production racer its first run out. But for the first time since 2006, the Valencia race really matters, and will decide who gets to crown themselves champion.
At the post-qualifying press conference at Motegi, Jorge Lorenzo reminded his audience of the last two times he had ridden in the wet. At Le Mans, he had had his worst race finish since his rookie season in 2008. Then at Assen, his growing confidence saw him get launched off the bike at over 250 km/h, and break a collarbone in his fall.
So when the MotoGP riders took to the track at a rain-soaked Motegi, Jorge Lorenzo had every reason to be cautious. He worked carefully building his rhythm for the first 20 minutes or so of the extended practice/qualifying session, before pushing on hard, eventually destroying the opposition with a lap just under 8 seconds off the dry race lap record. It was a testament to just how quickly Lorenzo can recover his confidence.
It was good just to have any action at the Japanese circuit. After fog had prevented the medical helicopter from arriving at the circuit on Friday, making practice impossible, teams and riders headed to the Motegi Twin Ring with hope in their hearts on Saturday morning. The fog was gone, and when the medical helicopter arrived at the track, a cheer went up in the media center. Practice was on.
As expected, the Aspar team today announced they would be switching from Aprilia to Honda for the 2014 season in MotoGP. The team has signed a two-year deal with HRC to race the Honda RCV1000R production racer, and will field 2006 world champion Nicky Hayden on one of the bikes.
The reasons behind dropping Aprilia and their highly successful ART machine are simple: after the departure of chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna, the future of Aprilia’s MotoGP program is in severe doubt. American Honda had lobbied hard to have Hayden back on a Honda, and his signing came with the blessing and support of HRC.
Having a top level rider on the production racer – and one with many years of experience on a factory bike – should help to develop the bike, providing valuable input for HRC. American Honda’s financial contribution in getting Hayden on the bike was also a key factor.
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 its 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.
For the past month or so, Nicky Hayden has been telling the press that an announcement on his future should come in the next couple of days.
On race weekends, the press asks on Thursday whether there’s any news, and then again on Sunday, and get the same reply: No, not yet, but it shouldn’t be long.
We know who Hayden will be signing with – Hayden has been spotted going in and out of the Aspar team’s truck so often, that you start to suspect he’s already been given a spare key.
And up until recently, we though we knew what he would be riding, a heavily modified version of the Aprilia ART machine, with a new engine with pneumatic valves and a seamless gearbox, and a new chassis to put it in.
But it appears that that bike has been put on hold, as the most important contract negotiations for 2014 are starting to reach a climax.
As the 2013 MotoGP season heads into its final five races, negotiations for 2014 are coming to a head. While the seats on the factory and satellite machines were filled some time ago, the next level of competitiveness, both in terms of riders and bikes, is now up for grabs. Two names and two teams were the focal point of the negotiations, and the log jam behind which many other riders were waiting.
It was up to Aleix Espargaro to make a decision on whether to stay at Aspar, or pay off his contract and head to the NGM Forward squad, and up to Nicky Hayden to decide whether his future lay in MotoGP with Aspar or Forward, or if it was time to head over to World Superbikes, and become the first rider to win a title in both series.
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.