Since the official announcement that Kawasaki has decided to pull out of MotoGP, a number of people - most notably, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta - have been working furiously on finding a way of keeping the bikes on the grid. The phone lines between Kawasaki's Akashi base, Dorna's Barcelona headquarters, the Kawasaki MotoGP team's base in Heerlen in the Netherlands, and Jorge Martinez in Spain have been positively humming.
For a long time, Jorge Martinez and the Aspar team looked like the most promising prospect for a continuation of Kawasaki's MotoGP efforts, but as negotiations dragged on, and disagreements started to emerge over the conditions under which Aspar would acquire the bikes, hopes began to fade. On Wednesday, Motorcycle News reported that Ezpeleta believed that Aspar would not take on the project, and today, confirmation comes from Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, himself.
Martinez confirmed to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo that he will not be running the Kawasakis in MotoGP this year. As expected, the deal fell through over the conditions imposed by Kawasaki: Martinez needed at least one Spanish rider if his sponsors were to be able to justify their investment in the project, a demand that Kawasaki could not agree to. In addition, Kawasaki would only provide the bikes for the 2009 season - a consequence of the deal offered to them by Dorna.
Kawasaki had committed themselves to compete in MotoGP through 2011, in a contract signed by the MSMA with Dorna. Dorna had offered to waive any fines or further litigation against Kawasaki if the Japanese factory was willing to provide bikes for the 2009 season. But Jorge Martinez and the Aspar team are keen to enter MotoGP on a long-term basis, and a one-year deal would be more likely to hinder their long-term plans than help them. Faced with these problems, Martinez decided to pull out of further attempts to negotiate a deal with Kawasaki.
This leaves only current Kawasaki team boss Michael Bartholemy in the running to try and keep the bikes on the grid. The Belgian is currently in Japan talking with Kawasaki's corporate bosses, trying to iron out a deal to race in 2009. Originally, there was talk of a French company providing technical assistance in bike maintenance and development, but recently, former MotoGP entry Ilmor have expressed an interest in taking up this role. In an email to MotoGPMatters.com, Steve Miller of Ilmor said "we have expressed a keen interest in assisting Kawasaki to run their engine on in MotoGP this season."
Though the British engineering firm have undoubted expertise in running, developing and building engines, the problem with the Kawasaki lies elsewhere. The 2008 ZX-RR Ninja made plenty of power - the bike regularly posted among the highest top speeds at a number of races - the problem was getting that power down onto the ground. Both John Hopkins and Ant West complained of a lack of rear wheel traction, as well as a lack of front-end feel, making it impossible to take advantage of the Kawasaki's potent engine. Unless Bartholemy can find someone to help him work on that, then any attempt at reviving the project may be doomed before it even gets off the ground.