When Stefan Bradl was given the chance to ride the 2011 Honda RC212V fielded by the LCR Honda team, the official explanation that it was as a reward for winning the 2011 Moto2 World Championship was accepted as plausible for about a day. From that point on, it became increasingly clear that this was to be a general audition for Bradl to secure a slot on the 2012 MotoGP grid. It was an audition he was to pass with flying colors, and in an interview with the German website Motorrad Magazin, Bradl has admitted that he expects to make an official announcement on joining the LCR Honda team in the next week or so.
The move had become almost inevitable. Bradl had looked smooth and comfortable on the bike ridden last season by 2010 Moto2 champion Toni Elias, and his times had been equally impressive, beating the time set by Elias at the Valencia test last year by nearly two-thirds of a second. But the factor which appears to have clinched the deal was his interaction with the team. Crew chief Christophe Bourgignon had been extremely impressed by the German, saying that he had a "fast processor" and had listened and learned quickly. Team boss Lucio Cecchinello had been equally positive, and reports coming out of the team seemed to suggest that a deal was waiting just for Honda's blessing. Given the broad smile on Livio Suppo's face, that is surely just a formality.
The contract should be signed "within one or two weeks," Stefan's father Helmut Bradl said in an interview carried by Motorsport Total. "The LCR Honda team is the best option for us," Helmut Bradl said. "I saw smiles on faces in that garage again."
Bradl had earlier abandoned any thoughts of moving to MotoGP, despite having had several options during the season. His first chance had come very early on, when Herve Poncharal had offered the German a seat in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, a seat which Bradl had turned down. An attempt to persuade the Kiefer team to move up to MotoGP had failed, after sponsor Viessmann had balked at the amount of money required. The German heating firm had also been having doubts about the suitability of MotoGP as a sponsorship platform, as the company has been profiling its green energy solutions over recent years.
So the option at LCR came as something as a surprise, after earlier deciding to stay in Moto2 for another season. Bradl's promotion was encouraged by Dorna, the series promoter keen both to have a German in the premier class again - a key selling point for the large German TV market - and to have the 2011 Moto2 champion make amends for the dismal performance of the 2010 champion Toni Elias. Elias' miserable time at LCR Honda - down almost entirely to his inability to get on with the Bridgestone tires - had made Moto2 look like very poor preparation for MotoGP, which was the intention of the class. Having another top Moto2 rider enter the class is vital for Dorna to validate the switch from 250cc two-strokes to 600cc four-stroke engines.
Once Bradl's contract is officially announced, MotoGP awaits just the decision of Suzuki, and the completion of the Claiming Rule Teams' line up. The Suzuki decision is imminent, but the CRTs may take a little longer to assemble the riders and equipment necessary for next season.