German MotoGP: Marco Melandri closing in on Ducati ride

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Marco Melandri is understood to be close to clinching a deal to join Casey Stoner in Ducati’s factory MotoGP squad for the 2008 MotoGP world championship.

Sources at Marco Melandri’s current Gresini Honda squad have confirmed to MCN this morning (Thursday) at the Sachsenring that a deal for the former world 250 champion is imminent.

Rumours emerged at the last MotoGP round in Assen that Melandri had signed a pre-contract agreement with the Marlboro Ducati squad, which the Italian came close to signing for at the end of the 2006 MotoGP campaign.

Marco Melandri agreed terms with the Bologna factory last September, but Fausto Gresini successfully matched the deal in a 15-day time frame he had to respond in a special clause written into Melandri’s deal.

It meant Marco Melandri had to stay put and Aussie Casey Stoner landed the ride as Sete Gibernau’s replacement.

Marco Melandri has become increasingly frustrated with the poor performance of Honda’s RC212V 800 machine and in the opening nine races of the season he’s registered just one podium in a rain-soaked French MotoGP at Le Mans.

A source said: “Marco and Ducati are very close and an announcement could be soon. He is desperate to be in a factory team and not happy with Honda."

A Ducati deal for Marco Melandri would mean the departure of Italian veteran Loris Capirossi after five years with the Bologna factory.

Loris Capirossi has been strongly linked to a move to Kawasaki’s factory squad, and that would seem more likely now given Marco Melandri’s rumoured deal with Ducati.

Kawasaki, who have signed John Hopkins from Rizla Suzuki on a two-year a deal to be officially confirmed today (Thursday) at the Sachsenring, are still in pursuit of Loris Capirossi and a deal could be in place by next weekend’s American MotoGP in Laguna Seca.

A potential Loris Capirossi deal would throw into doubt the future of current riders Randy de Puniet and Anthony West until a decision is reached on whether Kawasaki will run three ZX-RR machines in 2008.

Melandri has also been linked with Kawasaki.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt