Replacing Rossi Drama – MotoGP Insider

June 24, 2010
Scott Mathews
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There are few people worthy of getting an audience with Mathews but he makes himself available on occasion to the racers of the Grand Prix paddock. If they’re lucky, he might even mention their name. He’s Scott Mathews, and he’s bringing you the inside scoop on MotoGP.

Valentino Rossi’s crash at the Mugello MotoGP race earlier this month caused more than one major headache for Yamaha. As well as ending Rossi’s 2010 world title hopes and throwing major doubt over next year’s rider market and who the Italian will ride for in 2011, his broken right leg also created a major conundrum on who Yamaha would get to ride his vacant factory YZR-M1 machine.
Rossi fastest at Sepang on Day one of preseason test.
No one can ever replace Rossi, but the factory seat for the injured rider won’t be filled by one of Yamaha’s active racers.

Yamaha immediately turned its attention to veteran American Colin Edwards. He was seen as the ideal candidate given his previous experience in the factory team alongside Rossi between 2005 and 2007.
He could have also helped Yamaha’s technical staff with vital feedback and input at a time when thoughts will already be turning to the development of next year’s factory YZR-M1.

But by moving Edwards from the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team for at least three races (Catalunya, Sachsenring and Laguna Seca), such a transfer then created an issue for Herve Poncharal. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MCUSA: “Our most likely choice was Colin. But our biggest problem was the domino effect of contracts. When you take somebody out of one team you create a problem there. To fill that problem you create another. We didn’t want to create problems for each other.” 

Yamaha had offered British rider Cal Crutchlow his big MotoGP chance to cover for Edwards. But the reigning World Supersport champion declined based on the hectic schedule of racing in MotoGP and World Superbikes on six successive weekends. There was also the added complication of Crutchlow’s lack of experience of an 800cc MotoGP machine, carbon brakes and Bridgestone tires. Had he accepted Yamaha’s offer then he would have made his debut in Catalunya next weekend but without any testing or chance to familiarize himself with the YZR-M1.

Former factory teammates  Edwards and Rossi share a laugh - Qatar 2010
Former Rossi teammate Colin Edwards seemed the most logical replacement, but securing a suitable rider to fill the Edwards’ Tech 3 seat proved difficult.

Jarvis added: “We consider Cal to be one of us so pretty much it was an internal discussion. If we moved a rider to the factory team then we would need to have another top quality rider Tech 3. We talked with Herve and Yamaha Europe and we had their consensus to discuss with Cal. As we got deeper into the discussions, both parties saw issues. In theory the races don’t clash with each other but in reality, six races in six weeks and two World Superbike tests, I think there were so many differences between the classes and such a hectic schedule it wouldn’t have been good for Cal. His main mission is the World Superbike championship, so he flagged up some issues. We talked about them in detail and decided together it was worth investigating but not worth going ahead.”

Crutchlow’s refusal though didn’t pave the way for a dramatic return to MotoGP for current factory Yamaha WSB teammate James Toseland. Axed at the end of last season by the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad, Toseland was desperate to be given another premier class chance. But Yamaha never made him an offer to return and Jarvis said: “On paper James was a more likely candidate (than Crutchlow) and he had experience of those tracks and the tire. But the other issues remain the same like the busy schedule and the changing of bikes. James is our leading rider in World Superbikes at the moment so we didn’t want to disturb that program. The interesting thing for us with Cal is that he’s a bit of an unknown and he’s younger than James, so it would have been an additional interest for us to see how Cal would have got on with a MotoGP bike.”

One option never seriously considered was the transfer of Silverstone podium finisher Ben Spies to join Jorge Lorenzo. Spies was effectively banned from moving by the rookie rule that prevents a new rider from appearing in a factory team in the first season. But given the exceptional circumstances, it is understood Yamaha would have been given clearance for Spies to move until Rossi was fully recovered from his broken tibia.

Ben Spies - 2010 MotoGP Losail  Qatar
Why not give Rossi’s empty Fiat saddle to Ben Spies, Number 11, one of the marque’s rising stars?
Ben Spies: I didnt expect to get my first podium so quickly. I got a decent start but once I got by Dani Pedrosa and Simoncelli I just tried to stay on the back of the group during the battle for the podium. Once I realized I could stay in contention I just tried to save the tire as much as I could and it all worked out.

So why wasn’t Spies given a chance in the factory team?

Jarvis said: “I’m sure Ben would have been able to handle it. If he’s three-times American champion and World Superbike champion then we know he can handle the pressure. However, I was not really supporting that option. Ben’s mission this year is to learn and we didn’t want to change that mission. He’s had an up and down season and right now he needs some stability. In my opinion it is better for Ben’s future for him to stay where he is.”

Yamaha confirmed today in Assen that long-serving test rider Wataru Yoshikawa will substitute for Rossi.
The Italian has targeted a return to action in Brno on August 15.

Ben Spies is keeping his feet firmly on the ground as he bids to fight for a second MotoGP podium at the iconic Assen circuit in Holland this weekend. Brimming with confidence after he claimed a brilliant maiden rostrum at last weekend’s British GP at Silverstone, the Texan moved quickly to keep a lid on expectations in Assen today. The 25-year-old took a thrilling victory in the first World Superbike race at Assen last year and he is confident of a successful weekend on board the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine. But he said it would be difficult to replicate his stunning third place at Silverstone last weekend when he passed fellow American Nicky Hayden on the final lap.

The reigning World Superbike champion said: “It is good to come here at a track that I know and I do like and I’m looking forward to it. I think the bike will work good here and I’ll try and take some of the confidence from last week. It will be hard to duplicate that or fight for the podium but we’ll just continue learning and try and take everything we can from it and try and put it into this weekend.”

Spies said his first premier class podium had come much quicker than he anticipated and he added: “I thought it was possible in the first year but it was going to have to be a picture perfect weekend and maybe some bad luck for other people. I knew it was a possibility but the first year would be really tough. The way the race went last weekend for us when we had to make some good passes and catch up a little bit was surprising to me but we were able to do it. It is going to be hard and now that it has happened people are going to expect it more often. I’m more realistic and know how difficult it was and how everything has to be right. But I do like this track and I’ll push at 100% just like I did in Jerez and Mugello and Le Mans. Silverstone was a good weekend and we’ll see where we end up Saturday. I knew it was going to be tough and that’s why a lot of people at the beginning of the year thought I was downplaying everything but I think I was just more realistic because I’d done races and done wild cards and I knew how difficult it is. I didn’t expect to be top five and I know it is special when it is top five. Just because I was on the podium last week doesn’t mean it will be like that from here on out.”

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