From the Moto GP front, some interesting changes for 2008 – and surprising ones, clearly riders jumping ship looking for more money, and in some cases, factories desperate for proven talent paying way more money …
At Ducati, world champions for both rider and manufacturer this year (and what a big deal that is for the small Italian manufacturer), their new heart-throb and world champion, young Aussie Casey Stoner, is returning for the second year of a two-year contract (lord knows for what increase in salary!). Stoner has won 10 races this year on his way to the title, and an 11th victory in Valencia this coming weekend would put him in a seriously elite group including Mick Doohan …
His ’07 team-mate Loris Capirossi will be leaving for Suzuki, replaced by long-time Honda “privateer” Marco Melandri. Hey, the Ducati team needs at least one Italian, no? They’ll continue on Bridgestone tires, the brain-dead proposal on a one-make tire rule having been shot down in flames by everyone except the morons who proposed it (Dorna, the clowns who own the Moto GP series).
At Yamaha, Valentino Rossi remains the No. 1 rider (well, doh …) but his team-mate and buddy Colin Edwards is being pushed out the door for Jorge Lorenzo, Spanish winner of the last two world 250 cc championships. One interesting and as-yet-unresolved sidelight here is that although Michelin is a Yamaha “associate” (i.e., major sponsor), there’s a chance that Rossi will be on Bridgestones next season. That’ll be one worth watching …
At the Honda end of things, the rider line-up remains unchanged, with Nicky Hayden and midget Spanish weirdo Dani Pedrosa returning on the Repsol Honda factory team. Hayden has something to prove … the bike at the start of 2007 was a complete pig, and the more the factory built it to his desires rather than the corporate ideas of what would fit Pedrosa the faster the American went all year. Nicky’s not one to fuss, but if I was him, knowing that I’d been offered Stoner’s seat at Ducati before Stoner was even phoned, I’d be in a bad humour about my career choice and seriously positive about ideas for the 2008 bike.
Kawasaki came on strong during 2007, credit no doubt split between the technical team and French rider Randy de Puniet, who overcame a marginal reputation as a fast crasher to be a serious contender and development rider during of the ’07 season. Kawasaki ran into an unusual “too many riders” problem late in the year; during the season they picked up Anthony West (with the unlovely nickname of “the Ant”), a ridiculously fast Aussie who’d been stuck in lower echelons of the sport, and then fast and wild American John Hopkins also decided to submit to earlier blandishments for 2008. So de Puniet is out, and Hopkins and West are in.
Moving into the “privateer” teams, Fausto Gresini’s Spanish Honda Satellite team has picked up sponsorship from Korean TV/monitor manufacturer HannsSpree and will be running with 250 cc winner Alex de Angelis and Moto GP veteran Shinya Nakano. Nakano has been pushed from team to team for no fault of his own – he’s a brilliant rider who’s had a lot of bad luck, and perhaps 2008 will see a breakthrough for him.
Still on the privateer front, the Tech 3 Yamaha team is making wholesale changes for 2008, dumping its Dunlop tires and both riders. James Toseland, double winner in World Superbike for the last two seasons, is joining the team along with Colin Edwards – Edwards coming off several seasons as the official Yamaha No. 2 to Valentino Rossi. Edwards has good connections with Yamaha and also with Michelin – the new tire supplier for Tech 3 – so it would be a mistake to write this team off early.
The only Ducati non-factory team is the D’Antin Pramac group. While they’re staying with Ducati and Bridgestone, they’re flipping the rider chart wholesale, with Alex Hofmann and Alex Barros being released in favour of Sylvain Guintoli (2007 Moto GP rookie of the year) and Tony Elias. These are two of the youngest and craziest riders in Moto GP, so the team could be of more than marginal interest, given any luck at all.
Yet more privateer stuff … Kawasaki factory guy Randy de Puniet has left Kawasaki to join the LCR Honda team, on Michelins. De Puniet rode 250s in the past for LCR (Luccio Cechinello Racing) so it’s not going to be all-new. Still, something of a change from the No. 1 guy on a factory ride …
On the Monitron Honda team (formerly Konica Minolta Honda), Shinya Nakano has been replaced by 250 cc hot-shot Andrea Dovizioso. Davizioso had a real shot at the 2007 title until he was knocked off by another rider in the second-to-last race of the season, and his ability and desire can’t be questioned.
Everyone’s favourite but recent perennial backmarker, the Team Roberts team run by multi-U.S. and world champion Ken Roberts, is still up in the air for 2008. The Honda partnership that looked so promising in 2006 floundered this year, and currently it looks like King Kenny’s team will either run customer Ducatis (if the factory can provide the goods), or once again go their own way with a new chassis, this time built around the promising but ’06-stillborn Ilmor engine … hang on for more news on this one.
Only rider at this point is Roberts’ second son Kurtis (older brother Kenny Jr. apparently having decided to hang up his helmet during the ’07 season), but Roberts has never made a secret of his desire for a minimum of two riders for development purposes.