British rider Cal Crutchlow is heading the race to join Ben Spies in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP squad for at least three races, MCN understands.
The reigning World Supersport champion is being lined up to replace Texan Colin Edwards, who is favourite to be seconded to the Fiat Yamaha factory team as injury cover for Italian Valentino Rossi.
Crutchlow could get his golden opportunity in the premier class after Rossi broke his right leg during practice for the Italian MotoGP clash at Mugello earlier this month.
The 31-year-old will be sidelined for a minimum of five races, though Yamaha will not nominate a replacement for the Italian legend for the forthcoming Silverstone and Assen races.
The Japanese factory is contractually obliged to replace Rossi from the Catalunya race in Barcelona on July 4.
That’s when Crutchlow might make his YZR-M1 debut and he could also ride for Monster Yamaha Tech 3 at the Sachsenring and Laguna Seca in late July.
Rossi’s initial target for his comeback is the Czech Republic GP in Brno on August 15.
The only question mark over Crutchlow’s Tech 3 deal is whether asking him to compete in World Superbikes and MotoGP would be too much to expect of the 24-year-old.
Were he to join reigning WSB champion Spies at Tech 3, it would mean a hectic spell for Crutchlow, who will race his factory Yamaha R1 in the Misano World Superbike round on June 27. His MotoGP debut would follow before he goes to Brno on July 11 for the Czech Republic WSB clash. He would then race in the German and American MotoGP events before heading home for the all-important Silverstone World Superbike encounter on August 1.
The constant changing of machinery, tyres, learning new tracks and a gruelling travel schedule over six successive weeks would put enormous strain on Crutchlow both physically and mentally and that has cooled Yamaha’s serious interest.
Crutchlow’s move to Tech 3 though is eased somewhat by his relationship American energy drink Monster.
Crutchlow has a personal sponsorship deal with Monster, which is in the second year of a title sponsorship deal with Herve Poncharal’s leading satellite outfit.
Current factory Yamaha World Superbike team-mate James Toseland had also expressed serious interest in a shock MotoGP return.
The double World Superbike champion was axed after a tough two-year spell in MotoGP with the French-based Tech 3 squad.
The enforced game of musical chairs caused by Rossi’s 110mph high-side last weekend will see Edwards partner Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo in Yamaha’s factory team until the nine-times world champion is fully recovered from his broke right shinbone.
He last raced alongside Rossi in the official squad in 2007 but has enjoyed arguably greater success at Tech 3.
Edwards finished fifth in the overall standings in 2009 and was leading non-factory rider.
He told MCN last weekend in Mugello that his preference was to remain with Tech 3, but that he would help Yamaha if required.
Edwards told MCN: “It is not my preference to move back into that team. I’m happy with where I’m at. If they need some information and they feel like I’m the guy to give it to them then I’ll see what happens but I like where I’m at.”
Crutchlow would work with Edwards’ Tech 3 squad, led by Guy Coulon. Edwards will work with Rossi’s experienced team headed by Australian crew chief Jerry Burgess.
Burgess confirmed that he would be back in the paddock in Catalunya to work with whoever took Rossi’s seat.
But if Yamaha feels that an Edwards move would put too many demands on Crutchlow, it is likely a Japanese test rider will be bought into the fold on Rossi’s YZR-M1.