Takaaki Nakagami will be staying with the LCR Honda team for 2020, HRC and the LCR Honda team have officially confirmed.
After a long period of negotiation, Honda and Nakagami have finally reached terms that will see the Japanese rider staying in Lucio Cecchinello’s team for another season.
The announcement had long been expected. Nakagami was one of a few riders without a confirmed contract for 2020, but as his place in the LCR Honda Idemitsu team came with direct support from Honda and Japanese oil brand Idemitsu, there seemed little doubt he would be back.
The sticking point in the negotiations was which bike Nakagami would be riding. Throughout the summer, Nakagami insisted he wanted a 2020-spec Honda RC213V for next year.
However, as the flyaways approached, it became increasingly clear that the Japanese rider was resigned to settling for a 2019-spec machine.
That was finally confirmed in the press release, LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello stating that Nakagami will be racing “the RCV Factory motorcycle that has just won the 2019 World Title with Marc Marquez”.
Given how difficult to ride the 2019 machine has proven to be for anyone other than Marquez, this could pose a serious challenge for Nakagami next year.
The press release also confirmed that Nakagami will miss the last three races of the 2019 season after his home race in Motegi.
Nakagami is to undergo surgery on his right shoulder after Motegi, and faces a long rehabilitation period to be fit for the first test of 2020 at Sepang.
He injured his shoulder in the crash with Valentino Rossi at Assen this year, and has suffered with a lack of strength since then.
Nakagami’s absence opens the way for Johann Zarco to step in and take his place. Though this has not been announced yet, Zarco confirmed to leading French journalist Thomas Baujard that he would be replacing Nakagami for the remainder of 2019.
This opportunity is widely seen as a trial run for Zarco at Honda. There are credible rumors in the paddock that Repsol Honda is considering sacking Jorge Lorenzo at the end of the year, and replacing the Spaniard with Johann Zarco.
There are of course concerns that Zarco may find the Honda just as hard to ride as he did the KTM, and giving Zarco a trial on the Honda for the remaining three races of 2019 gives HRC a chance to evaluate the Frenchman’s ability to ride the RC213V.
Nakagami’s contract wraps up the last-but-one seat on the 2020 MotoGP grid. The only seat left open is at KTM, to replace Zarco, who quit the team earlier this year.
Zarco’s seat is currently being filled by Mika Kallio, and the Finn remains an option for 2020. Meanwhile, KTM is looking around for a possible replacement.
Source: LCR Honda