With so few bikes on the grid, you would think it would be relatively easy to get into MotoGP. All it would really take is a sponsor with deep enough pockets to fund a bike, a decent rider and the team - with the costs for the team probably being the least significant part of the entire package. But the saga of Jorge Martinez tells quite a different tale.
Jorge Aspar Martinez, the owner of the Aspar team which dominates both the 125cc and the 250cc classes, has been trying to get into MotoGP for quite some time now. At the end of last year, Martinez seemed to have the whole deal sewn up: Suzuki would provide him with a factory machine, and either Ben Spies or Alvaro Bautista would ride it. It was just a matter of tidying up a few loose ends, and preparing for 2009.
It didn't quite work out that way, though. Suzuki's interest in providing a bike quickly cooled, after the Rizla Suzuki team failed to continue the progression they had shown in 2007, leaving Aspar without a bike. Aspar then turned to Ducati for equipment, but rumors emerged in the Spanish press that though Ducati appeared to be willing, Alvaro Bautista, the man Aspar wanted on the bike, had refused point blank to ride a Ducati, pointing to the examples of Marco Melandri, Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli. Discussions with Yamaha were also held, but proved fruitless.
Finally, it seems as if Aspar has found a bike for the team. The Spanish sports daily AS.com is reporting that Aspar should sign a deal with Kawasaki at the next MotoGP round at Misano. According to Aspar, the deal would see the team running a single bike in the first year, with options to expand afterwards. The bike would be an official, factory bike, and the team would run a Spanish rider. Aspar already has support from major Spanish sponsors, so the money would not be a problem.
The requirement for a Spanish rider is not surprising considering that most of Aspar's money currently comes from Spain. The Valencian currently has two possible options, the obvious one of Alvaro Bautista, currently having a rather disappointing season in 250s, or if Bautista decides to stay in the smaller class to take another shot at the title there, Aspar could draft in Toni Elias, who is currently scheduled to go off and ride a Yamaha in World Superbikes.
Perhaps the most important thing for fans of the smaller classes, though, is that Aspar's plans for MotoGP will not mean withdrawing from the 125cc or 250cc classes. Aspar is committed to keeping those teams, as they are the teams that keep his sponsors happy by winning world championships.
There are also question marks hanging over the ability - and the willingness - of Kawasaki to provide a third bike. The factory team run by Michael Bartholemy is unhappy at the prospect, fearing that an extra bike would divert resources away from the task of making the Kawasaki competitive. The only conditions under which Kawasaski are likely to make a bike available is if the Aspar team can bear all of the costs themselves, with no subsidy from the factory. Given the depth of Aspar's sponsor-filled pockets, the team looks eminently capable of doing just that.