Since the end of last season, Honda has been in a quandary about what to do with its pneumatic valve engine. Despite the vast amounts of time and money being poured into the lump, the air valve RC212V remains a powerplant with non-trivial problems. Only Nicky Hayden's loud and public demands to be allowed to use the engine have caused HRC to relent, and to give the American what he wants.
Meanwhile, Honda has been forced to continue development on the steel-spring valve engine as well, just to allow Dani Pedrosa to keep up with the Ducati and the Yamaha. Having two engines being developed in parallel is a time-consuming and expensive exercise.
Pedrosa had every reason to stay with the steel spring engine: Despite the small power deficit, the bike suited Pedrosa's style perfectly, and helped keep him either near or at the front of the 2008 MotoGP championship race. Until the Spaniard crashed out of the lead at the Sachsenring, that is. A DNF in Germany, followed by another blank at Laguna Seca, where Pedrosa failed to start due to the injuries he sustained in the crash, means that Pedrosa has seen a 4 point lead be replaced by a 41 point deficit.
So now, the rationale for playing it safe and sticking with the steel spring engine is rapidly disappearing. Underlining this point is the report from Crash.net saying that Dani Pedrosa will test the pneumatic valve engine at the post-race test at Brno, in 4 weeks time. If the air valve engine provides a significant power advantage, then Pedrosa could elect to switch to new engine sooner rather than later.
This does not mean that development will be ceasing on the existing steel spring engine. On the contrary, GPOne is reporting that Shinya Nakano of the Gresini Honda team will be given a factory RC212V to ride from the Czech Grand Prix in Brno. With Nicky Hayden on the air valve engine, and Hayden's style so radically different from Pedrosa's, cooperation - if it ever existed - has ceased completely between the halves of the Repsol Honda garage. By having Hayden continue to ride the pneumatic valve bike, while providing a factory steel spring engine to Nakano, HRC can bet on two horses and hopefully help Pedrosa get back within striking distance of Stoner and Rossi in the title race.
The reason for choosing Nakano, officially, is to reward Gresini Honda for keeping the Japanese rider in MotoGP, after he looked set to be forced out of the series after a long series of poor results. Of course, it helps that Nakano's style is much more akin to Pedrosa's smooth style learnt on board a 250. And it helps even more that Nakano is no threat whatsoever in the championship race, and unlikely to get in Pedrosa's way in the races. If Nakano does start mixing it up at the front aboard the more capable 2008 RC212V, then we can expect to see Honda stepping in to prevent that again very quickly.
How quickly Pedrosa makes the switch to the air valve engine still remains to be seen. But it's now crystal clear that Honda are taking Pedrosa's title challenge deadly seriously.