Sepang MotoGP: Kenny Roberts hopeful of 2008 Ducati deal

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Kenny Roberts is waiting on a multi-million pound sponsorship deal to be finalised to secure a deal to lease factory spec Ducati 800 machines for the 2008 MotoGP world championship.

Team Roberts is part of a proposed massive motorsport project next season, which will also feature NASCAR and Indy car teams in America, backed by famous Las Vegas casino the MGM Grand.

The American legend is trying to finalise the lucrative big-money sponsorship deal to secure the lease of two GP7 machines, which would see the Bologna factory increase its involvement in the premier class world championship to six bikes.

Despite speculation that the British-based team was closing in on a deal to join forces with the Ilmor squad, Team Roberts manager Chuck Aksland has confirmed to MCN the preferred option is to link up with Ducati.

Ilmor withdrew from the world championship after just one race in 2007, citing a lack of sponsorship for the shock early departure. Project leader and Ilmor chief Mario Illien though is looking to revive the project in 2008, and Aussie Andrew Pitt tested the bike again last week at the Estoril track in Portugal.

Roberts though is pinning his hopes on the Ducati lease deal after it was confirmed that his British-based team would split from Honda at the end of the season.

A deadline to order engines off HRC has passed without a request from Kenny Roberts, who has been growing increasingly frustrated at his treatment by the Japanese factory.

After a promising 2006 with Kenny Roberts Junior, 2007 has been a disaster for Team Roberts with no updates at all on their woefully underperforming RC212V motor.

Kenny Roberts also failed to secure a commitment from HRC to expand his team to a two-rider effort in 2008, and it has been known that he first approached Ducati shortly before the midway point of the season.

A deal with Ducati would likely be to lease complete GP7 machinery and not just engines, though a deal is totally reliant on Team Roberts securing a sizeable budget.

Team manager Chuck Aksland told MCN: “We are still trying to put a programme together that hopefully we can see out and stay here for next year.

“Our deadline to order engines has gone and passed so we won’t be with Honda next year. We talked to Ducati earlier in the season and they have been very supportive but talking is just talking.

“Until we have money in hand and we can get serious until then it’s just speculation about what can or can’t be. It would be great though to have a partner in MotoGP that wants to go forward with a team like ours.

“In all of our conversations with the manufacturers, Ducati seemed like the one more likely to want with a project like ours. If we don’t get the sponsorship in place to do a deal with Ducati then we will have to look at other options.

“I think if we get the money it will be of a great benefit to all parties and I think Ducati would want to be a part of it. This project is a lot bigger than just MotoGP, so we have got to wait.”

Chuck Aksland said key to a successful relationship with a new partner would be Team Roberts being given licence to continue their own engineering work on a bike.

“If the conditions were set for us so to still let us help make a better machine we’d be very happy. We don’t want to have our hands tied and just put stickers on the bike and go race.

“We want to improve that bike with our engineering with the full cooperation of another manufacturer to help develop a package together.

“Kenny’s big interest in his whole career is the engineering side of it. We can’t have a situation where it takes that passion out of it for him otherwise why be in the sport?” added Chuck Aksland.

Team Roberts’ 2008 plans centre round a two-rider effort, but potential riders have not been mentioned yet until a deal is formalised.

“We are looking at two riders and that’s not changed. The only thing that would warrant us going back to a one-rider effort would be if the equipment isn’t there.

“The most important thing is to get programme in place first. We need to get that in hand otherwise we’d just be wasting our breath. Then we can seriously discuss what our options are.

“We are already in October so if it’s a programme that’s going to be manufacturing our own bike with somebody else’s engine we are getting short of time.

“If it’s a programme with existing bikes then we are fine,” added Aksland.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt