After a week of rumors that they were withdrawing, followed by a more recent series of rumors that they weren’t, the factory announced that it had “decided to suspend its factory MotoGP racing activities from the 2009 season on.”
The decision immediately put John Hopkins and Marco Melandri out of work and reduced the already small MotoGP grid to just 17 riders. And it also killed the speculation, posted as fact on various European websites, that Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta had pulled off an eleventh hour rescue plan during talks with Kawasaki management in Japan. The alleged plan had Spaniard Jorge “Aspar” Martinez running the MotoGP team in 2009.
In a press release datelined Tokyo, Kawasaki said that they were “taking countermeasures to cope” with the current economic crisis. “As the world economy is not likely to recover in a short period due to the major impact of the financial crisis, Kawasaki decided to suspend its MotoGP racing activities from the 2009 season onward and reallocate management resources more efficiently.”
The release said they would continue their “racing activities using mass-produced motorcycles as well as supporting general race-oriented customers.” That means a continuation of World Superbike and, possibly, AMA Superbike. Given the enormous size of the MotoGP budget, it’s possible some of that money could be allocated to the American effort, which in 2008 was far more successful than the MotoGP team. Of the 18 regular riders, Hopkins finished an injury-riddled season in 16th with teammate Anthony West 18th. West has been replaced by Marco Melandri, who finished 17th on the Marlboro Ducati.
Reached on Thursday afternoon in California, well prior to this announcement, Kawasaki U.S. road race manager Mike Preston said there had been no decision made on the team’s immediate future. But with Suzuki soon to announce their intent to contest the AMA Superbike Championship, it’s likely Kawasaki will also join the series.
If they do join, they face a rapidly approaching deadline to the start of the season-Daytona is 56 days away-with a number of obstacles. First among them is that AMA Pro Racing has yet to issue final technical rules. The teams that took part in the Daytona Dunlop tire test were told there would be an allowance for kit pistons. The rules currently posted on the AMA Pro Racing website state that “Pistons must remain as homologated.”
Equally as important, Kawasaki would have to make sure that all of their suppliers, from the makers of wheels to shocks to brakes to bodywork to exhaust systems, will homologate their products. A number of suppliers who have said they plan to homologate their products so far haven’t.
The Kawasaki release ended with Mr.Yoshio Kawamura, the Managing Director of Kawasaki Motors Racing B.V., thanking the MotoGP team for their contribution and dedication.