Kawasaki’s hopes of becoming a major force in the MotoGP world championship in 2008 rest on luring John Hopkins, Loris Capirossi or Marco Melandri to ride a factory ZX-RR next season.
All three have official contract offers from Kawasaki, with the Japanese factory desperate to capture a big name to turn potential into race wins on the impressive new ZX-RR.
It has been no secret that Loris Capirossi is a leading contender, but John Hopkins and Marco Melandri are also locked in serious negotiations, with Kawasaki hoping to make a formal announcement on one of them at the next race in Germany.
Representatives of all three met Kawasaki bosses in Assen last week, where Kawasaki pressed home its preference for a rapid conclusion to negotiations.
And Kawasaki boss Michael Bartholemy confirmed terms had been agreed with one rider, and a contract could be signed tomorrow (Friday, July 6, 2007).
Kawasaki’s Assen deadline for an answer from top target Loris Capirossi passed with no communication forthcoming from the Italian veteran about his future plans.
Loris Capirossi is stalling on signing a two-year deal worth nearly £3m, but his hopes of having a counter offer from Ducati in Assen were dashed, with Marlboro team boss Livio Suppo confirming no formal deal will be imminently offered to the 34-year-old.
Bologna bosses are waiting to see if Loris Capirossi can adapt to their new GP7 800, which in the hands of new team-mate Casey Stoner, before they make an offer.
Livio Suppo said: “The main goal is to have Loris with a good feeling with the bike. It makes no sense to have a contract if he doesn’t have a good feeling. We are not under pressure to make Loris an offer.”
Loris Capirossi’s manager Carlo Pernat told MCN that his decision about Kawasaki’s bid was unlikely to come until the Sachsenring round on July 15, or the American MotoGP seven days later.
Marco Melandri’s manager Alberto Vergani confirmed Melandri was a serious target for Kawasaki, though he was also still talking to Suzuki, with Ducati also monitoring his situation should Loris Capirossi leave.
It emerged in Assen that Melandri has already signed a pre-contract agreement or letter of intent with Ducati, suggesting Loris Capirossi is definitely on his way, though that has not been officially confirmed by Ducati or Melandri.
Hopkins meanwhile too confirmed Kawasaki’s interest with the American arguably the most in demand of the current MotoGP field.
Michael Bartholemy confirmed he hoped to be in a position at the Sachsenring to have a signature.
He confirmed Marco Melandri was a target and a move for Hopkins had been made and added: “If somebody is looking for a rider and they don’t consider John then they are stupid because he is one of the top five riders in the world championship.
“But we have made our choice.”
While Kawasaki waits an answer from its shortlist of three, a dark horse it still Aussie Chris Vermeulen.
Michael Bartholemy added: “Chris is a talented rider and could be an option. I have not changed my strategy. I am looking for a rider that has already made podiums in MotoGP and Chris has done that.”