Since Estoril, a number of announcements have come out of the Yamaha camp concerning the 2009 series and beyond. These developments have already been reported elsewhere, but are worth recapping here.
The first news emerged at the Estoril round, where the Tech 3 Yamaha announced contract extensions with both Yamaha and James Toseland. The success of Tech 3's riders, with several front row appearances, now including a pole position at Shanghai for Colin Edwards, has boosted the status of the French privateer firm in the paddock. Now, Yamaha have rewarded that performance with a contract extension of two years, meaning that Tech 3 will be guaranteed Yamaha M1s in 2009 and 2010.
At the same time, Tech 3 also announced that James Toseland had decided to exercise an option to stay with the team for 2009. The reigning World Superbike champion has made a real impact since moving into the series, and the support provided by Yamaha has vindicated Toseland's decision to jump ship from Honda. Toseland and Edwards are on virtually identical equipment to the Fiat Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and Toseland's 6th place in the championship has been good for all parties concerned. With this season and next settled, JT can focus on learning the tracks which are new to him and consolidating his position in the title race.
Signing a contract this early will once again allow team boss Hervé Poncharal to go out and chase sponsorship money, with something substantial to present to sponsors: Long term support from Yamaha, and at least one rider capable of running at the front of the field. And sponsorship is something the team is very much in need of. The team is currently without a title sponsors, but it does not seem particularly hard-pressed for cash. It is obvious from statements by Lin Jarvis of Yamaha that the factory is doing more than just making bikes available to lease, and that Yamaha's support may take very tangible forms. Neither is the fact that Tech 3 is running a paint scheme using what is quite clearly Michelin's corporate color scheme a particularly effective way of hiding the French tire maker's support.
And prior to the Shanghai MotoGP round, Colin Edwards suggested that he might stay in MotoGP for another year or two once his contract is up at the end of the season, implying that he would like to stay with the Tech 3 team. Given Edwards' strong ties to both Yamaha and Michelin (Yamaha is said to be paying Edwards' salary this year), built up as a result of his prowess as a development rider for both the bike and the tires, a contract extension for Edwards also seems highly likely.
Edwards was initially believed to be considering returning to the US next year, to contest the AMA Superbike championship, a move which would allow him to spend more time with his family, especially as his children are approaching school age. But it is not inconceivable that the shakeup in the AMA since the race series was sold to DMG, with announcements that the conventional Superbike class would disappear, to be replaced with something resembling the current Formula Xtreme series, may have made Edwards reconsider his plans.
The other Yamaha rider whose contract ends this year is Valentino Rossi. At the end of last season, disillusioned with the performance of the Yamaha, Rossi had threatened to leave the series altogether. But now that he has a competitive bike again, and a tire package that he believes he can be competitive on, Rossi has rediscovered his joy in racing. And so over the past few days, The Doctor has been dropping hints that he could be ready to renew his contract with Yamaha again, and that once again, he felt confident that he would eventually end his career with the firm. And this time, he didn't mean at the end of the current season.
So, with Jorge Lorenzo already tied to a multi-year deal with Yamaha, things are looking rosy for the Japanese factory. With Yamahas currently lying 2nd, 3rd and 6th in the title race, and two strong contenders for the title, the factory could be in for a very good season in 2008.