The next piece in the puzzle which is the 2017 MotoGP grid has fallen into place. As had been widely expected, Alex Rins has signed a two-year deal to race with the factory Ecstar Suzuki team from next year. Rins will line up alongside Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki GSX-RR next season.
Rins had long been favorite to take the second seat at Suzuki, as his profile best suited the Ecstar Suzuki team’s strategy of having young rider with potential alongside a fast, more experienced rider to help lead development.
When Maverick Viñales left for the Movistar Yamaha team, Rins was the name most touted to take his place.
The surprise came when Suzuki announced they had signed Andrea Iannone immediately after Ducati announced they would be keeping Andrea Dovizioso.
The signing of Iannone was the writing on the wall for Aleix Espargaro, as it did not fit with Suzuki’s strategy to have two older, more experienced riders. In Barcelona, Espargaro was openly critical of Suzuki’s attitude, pointing out that he was not far behind Dani Pedrosa in the championship.
Suzuki Japan are believed to have been hesitant to sign Alex Rins alongside Andrea Iannone, as it means having two brand new riders in the team.
They would have preferred to keep Espargaro, as the rider with experience of the bike, to partner the rookie Rins. Davide Brivio was in Japan last week to convince them to let him sign Rins, a mission which has been successful.
Rins’ signing also leaves Johann Zarco in limbo. The Frenchman had gone to Japan to test the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike, as part of a contract he had signed with the Japanese factory.
That contract also included Zarco racing at the Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race this year, though it was unclear whether the contract extended beyond the end of this year.
After his test in Japan, Zarco canceled his plans to race at Suzuka, which was taken by many that any plans he may have had to ride a Suzuki in 2017 had fallen through. The announcement that Alex Rins was signed to the factory team was merely confirmation of that.
That leaves Zarco looking for a MotoGP ride for 2017. Hervé Poncharal has made it clear that he has a strong interest in Zarco, and is in talks to sign the Frenchman to ride alongside Jonas Folger next year.
That deal is not yet signed, however: an announcement is unlikely at Assen, which means that the Sachsenring will be the earliest place a deal could be signed.
As for Aleix Espargaro, the signs are that the Spaniard will end up on the only other factory bike left on the grid. There are strong reports that Espargaro will announce that he will be joining Sam Lowes on the Gresini Aprilia RS-GP for 2017.
Lowes, in turn, is due to get his first taste of the Aprilia in a test after Assen. He will be riding last year’s version of the bike, though, to allow him to get used to the Michelin tires and the carbon brakes, and generally get the feel of a MotoGP bike.
Source: Suzuki Racing
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.