Melandri: "I'm Ready To Race The Private Kawasaki"

It is looking ever more likely that there will be 18 bikes on the MotoGP grid after all. Marco Melandri - currently in Qatar racing in the SpeedCar Series - has told the Italian media outlet that he is ready to ride the private Kawasaki after all. There is still no absolute word that the Kawasaki project has been given the go ahead, but Melandri is sounding increasingly convinced it will happen.

The project - if it does happen - will likely be financed in part by Dorna, and the Spanish organizing body has been one of the main forces trying to ensure that at least one Kawasaki makes it onto the grid, as reputedly agreed in private contracts between Dorna and the FIM. The withdrawal of the factory Kawasaki team was a huge blow for Dorna, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, the company's CEO, has seemingly spent every waking moment trying to ensure that at least one of the abandoned bikes make it on to the grid.

Melandri's decision to push ahead with the project directly contradicts his earlier statements that he would not race "just to make up the numbers". Asked directly about this by, Melandri replied "I'm not going to be able to win, but I'm sure  I won't be in for a season like 2008. Because I'll be on a bike that has a character I like, even if it is not super competitive, and I will have a team that will do everything to make me comfortable on the bike, so I can do the maximum, and so I will have nothing to lose." Melandri was also clear about his aims for the year: "I just have to show that I can still want to fight, and then I can find a good situation for 2010."

Just how competitive any private Kawasaki will be is open to question. Melandri made it clear that there are still major question marks hanging over the amount of development the bike will get. When asked about the amount of development the engine and chassis would receive, he told SportMediaset "It's clear to us that Kawasaki won't be doing this [developing the bike - Ed.] We need to build a team starting virtually from zero." And Melandri was aware of the size of the task ahead, saying "We have a lot of work to do, but we have the will to do well. Obviously, the last word has not been spoken about this, because we have been pared to the bone economically. Kawasaki will be helping very little at all, less than the minimum required."

Despite Melandri's optimism, the deal is still not certain. The Italian expects to go testing at least once before the start of the season, either at Qatar or Sepang, and hopes that the deal will be officially sealed some time during the coming week, but nothing has been signed yet. "At the moment, all there is is the will to do this, and nothing more concrete," he said. The way this story has panned out over the past few months, that's all there may ever be.

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When looked at rationally, Marco needs some presence on the grid in 2009 to have any real chance of returning to the fold on a better ride in '10. He's a good rider on the right bike.

His comments about '08 beg the question, though, as to just how hard was it to get performance out of the '08 bike if you weren't Stoner? I have yet to see any reports from the motorcycling press from the 'press ride' day at Valencia after the season's end, which we know was pretty restricted - anybody know of any? Marco is obviously still fairly heavily traumatised..

The press ride at Valencia was cancelled. The teams were tired of letting the journos ride their bikes, so they all cried off, and nobody rode the bikes, there was only testing. Ostensibly, the reason given was the tire situation, with Bridgestone not having enough of the new single spec tires, but in truth, the teams were glad to be rid of the annual ritual.

"I'm not going to be able to win, but I'm sure I won't be in for a season like 2008. Because I'll be on a bike that has a character I like, even if it is not super competitive, and I will have a team that will do everything to make me comfortable on the bike, so I can do the maximum, and so I will have nothing to lose."

I have no doubt in my mind that for at least the first three or four races of 2008, Marco had the entire Ducati team behind him. Ducati racing's main boss (whose name escapes me for the moment) loves Marco and would do anything for him to be competitive. Maybe Marco's comments reflect more on the second half of the season; I sure hope he was not referring to the first half.

Hope over experience it may be, and it would have made more sense to invest in Ilmor without doubt.

However, consider this. Dorna are clearly doing what it takes to ensure that the status of MotoGP is maximised under the present difficult circumstances. If they didn't, then WSB is poised to become the only viable championship and we as fans would lose out massively. Two championships pushing each other on to achieve more is way better than one championship which rapidly turns stagnant with no competition. Would WSB have become so strong again if MotoGP was not so dominant over the last 10 years?

The worst possible outcome would be that MotoGP loses its World Championship status - at least Dorna are trying to avoid that even if they are going about it in the wrong way.

Hmm. Hopkins has raced the Kawasaki for an entire year, minus a few races due to injury. He also brings a boatload of Monster sponsorship to the table...

Yet it is Melandri who is being touted as the sole rider for the Dornasaki effort. Marco, who has one test on the ZX-RR under his belt, and who ran sweep for pretty much every race last season.

I hate to say it, but this smells of Eurocentric bias and politicking.

Hopkins' Monster Millions pay mainly for Hopkins' salary. What remains is a handful of loose change to pay for the bike. If Monster was putting up that much money, Kawasaki wouldn't have pulled out in the first place. And Hopper had a few personal issues in 2008, which may not have endeared him to the Kawasaki team or Dorna. Also, Melandri is enormously popular in Italy, and so will help bring in the TV audiences there. So there's a little more to it than just Eurocentric bias and politicking. 


"Melandri is enormously popular in Italy" is Eurocentric bias. Particularly if he gets the Dornasaki ride after throwing a complete dud last year, while Hopkins has had an entire year on the bike in question.

Someone has to pay. If Hopkins isn't prepared to use his multi-million dollar salary to pay for the ride (and the amount of money that Monster was providing to Kawasaki would barely cover tires and brakes, so there's no money there), and Melandri is prepared to ride for free (which is essentially what he'll be doing), and is actually able to raise money to pay for the team, then anyone running a business will go with Melandri.

What's more, if Dorna is paying the bills, then they are much more interested in keeping the 12 million TV viewers who watch the MotoGP races in Italy happy than they are the couple of hundred thousand US TV viewers who see the race on Speed in the US.

Call it Eurocentric if you like, but as the US already has two high-profile riders on two high-profile bikes, the TV numbers - and the revenue associated with it - says go with the Italian.