This year’s MotoGP silly season, as the annual contract hunt is known, will go down as one of the most unpredictable and protracted in living memory. But the fog of confusion has lifted and here’s your list of who’s gone where…
Reigning champion Valentino Rossi and AMA Superbike champion Nicky Hayden will pair up as the Honda spearhead on the RCV, possibly retaining Spanish oil giant Repsol as title sponsor. Repsol has signed a letter of intent, but nothing is yet confirmed. Further rumours put Jerry Burgess, Rossi’s crew-chief and engineering guru, in total charge of both crews.
Last week Aprilia confirmed what everyone had suspected for sometime, that Nori Haga would seal his return to the Grand Prix paddock with a ride on the RS3, alongside WSB champion Colin Edwards. Edwards has persuaded the squad to switch to his favoured Michelins for 2003. Haga’s preference is for Dunlop’s – his last experience on the Michelin’s was in the 2001 season, during his forgettable season with Red Bull Yamaha on a two-stroke YZR.
Kawasaki has confirmed Garry McCoy will fill the vacant slot on the factory ZX-RR alongside 2001 World Supersport champion Andrew Pitt in an all-Aussie dream team. In recent tests at Valencia in Spain the in-line four ZX-RR was a good 1.5 seconds off the pace, although the factory’s president Shinichi Morita is on the record as saying: " Money is no object. We will do whatever it takes to make sure we challenge for the world championship. "
2000 500cc champion Kenny Roberts has signed a two-year deal with Suzuki on the GSV-R. His erstwhile partner Sete Gibernau has jumped ship to Honda, taking his lucrative Telefonica deal with him and Suzuki hopes to announce its new title sponsor soon. American Roberts will be joined by countryman John Hopkins, the young hot-shot who rode under Red Bull Yamaha colours in the WCM team with Garry McCoy in 2002.
Altadis, the Spanish tobacco empire, brings a new name to the Yamaha squad. Fortuna Yamaha as it will be known has retained the services of Spaniard Carlos Checa, with newly-crowned 250cc world champion Marco Melandri filling Max Biaggi’s now vacant space in the pits. According to Yamaha, there’ll be no preferential treatment – both Yamaha squads will share factory parts and development.
Big-selling French cigarette brand Gauloises, also part of the Altadis/Yamaha tie-up, has one of the brightest prospects for 2003 in Alex Barros. Brazilian Barros made good on his switch from Honda RCV to Yamaha in the post-season test at Valencia, slotting the top times. He’ll partner Frenchman Olivier Jacques on the M1.
Two of the hardest men in racing, 2001 WSB champion Troy Bayliss and multiple 125 and 250cc world champion Loris Capirossi will ride the new Desmosedeci MotoGP machines. The engine firing format is yet to be decided – whether they go for a ‘screamer’, where the cylinders in the V4 format fire independently or whether they fire in double V-twin style – one half of the V, followed by the next. When asked which he would ride Bayliss said: " Which ever is fastest. I don’t care whether it’s go square wheels so long as it’s quick. "
Communications giant Telefonica has taken its Movistar mobile phone millions from Suzuki to Sete Giberanau’s new home at Honda alongside 2001 world 250 champion Daijiro Kato. They will form a second factory squad alongside the Rossi/ Hayden one.
Kenny Roberts has retained the services of both Nobuatsu Aoki and Jeremy McWilliams on the new Proton KR V5. They will continue to run on Bridgestone tyres.
McWilliams said: " I’ve never raced a four-stroke before and I don’t say it’ll be easy, but I don’t have any fears and I’m really looking forward to it. "
There’s a possible tie-up with Pramac still under discussion, but with multiple 250 world champion Max Biaggi and MotoGP race winner Tohru Ukawa signed up, sponsorship shouldn’t be hard to find. The team will campaign leased Honda RCV’s, though development parts will only be forthcoming if the riders get the results.
The likely team is Shinya Nakano and Norick Abe on a pair of M1s. There are still more questions than answers though.
With the Red Bull company pulling its money from the MotoGP class, WCM boss Peter Clifford has been forced to release riders Garry McCoy and John Hopkins to other teams. Clifford has said he’ll definitely be back in 2003, possibly running a road bike like a GSX-R1000, heavily modified to comply with MotoGP prototype rules. He has been casting around for riders, but without a solid sponsor he may well struggle to attract top names.