Doubts about the future of Aprilia's Moto2 project have been growing for some time now. Reports first emerged on Friday that the factory was considering rerouting its investment in the class, and directing it towards a return to MotoGP when the new engine regulations come into force in 2012. Since then, things have moved very swiftly, so swiftly in fact that the Piaggio Group has issued a press release announcing that it is ceasing all Moto2 activities with immediate effect. The press release, translated from Italian, reads as follows:
The Piaggio Group wishes to communicate that Aprilia will not participate in the Moto2 Championship, nor will they supply motorcycles to private teams participating in that Championship. In the vision of the Group, the Moto2 Championship does not possess the technological and competitive characteristics which would make participating in this kind of competition a positive strategic choice for Aprilia.
The Group believes that it would be unnecessary and damaging for a major Italian and European motorcycle manufacturer - one which has 43 World Championships in both road and off-road racing to its name - to take part in a competitive series based on the engine technology of a rival manufacturer.
Despite the previous leaks, the news will come as a shock to the customer teams currently waiting to receive their Aprilia chassis. These teams including some big names: Ajo Motorsport fielding Alex Debon; Cardion AB, the team behind Karel Abraham and run by the owner of the Brno circuit; Team Speedup Aprilia, the former Gilera team run by Luca Boscoscuro and due to field Andrea Iannone and Gabor Talmacsi; and last but very far from least, the Aspar team run by Jorge Martinez, which has 125cc World Champion Julian Simon and Frenchman Mike di Meglio as their riders.
Initially, the latter team looked like taking over development of the Aprilia chassis, with Aspar taking over all of the development parts so far produced by the Noale factory. But that scenario is not entirely certain, and a big question mark hanging over the entire project. What is sure is that Aspar will receive the chassis promised by Aprilia in early December. From there, Jorge Martinez and his Aspar team could decide to develop the chassis on their own, or they could potentially switch to another chassis, such as Moriwaki or Suter. If Aspar do continue development on the Aprilia - or now Aspar - chassis, it is unclear whether they will also supply the teams who were also left in the lurch by the decision by Aprilia to abandon Moto2.
Jorge Martinez voiced the thoughts of several people in an interview with the Italian site GPOne.com, when he said "I think abandoning the Moto2 project at this point in time would be an enormous mistake, because the experience gained from the new category would be very useful in 2012 or even 2011, when the rules change. If Aprilia intends to return to the premier class, Moto2 would be the ideal test bed to do so from."
So where has this change of heart come from, especially given the wealth of experience to be gained from the Moto2 class for the 2012 MotoGP regulations which will allow production-based engines to run in prototype chassis? According to both GPone.com and Spanish site Motocuatro.com, the decision has its roots in an internal dispute over Aprilia's failed defense of the final 250cc World Championship. First Alvaro Bautista's challenge failed, then Marco Simoncelli's title defense faltered, handing the crown to Hiroshi Aoyama aboard a Honda RS250RW. The irony of Honda - the company widely believed to have concocted the end of the 250cc class - winning the class' final championship is not lost on most observers, and is especially painful in Noale, where the Aprilia racing department wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.
Reportedly, the failure of Bautista and Simoncelli has created a rift between Leo Mercanti, the head of Aprilia, and the company's racing chief Giampiero Sacchi. The two men, both very strong characters with a clear sense of direction, have allegedly been bickering over the blame for Aprilia's loss of the final title, and attempting to blame each other for the failure. The press release in which Aprilia announced their decision to pull out of Moto2 would appear to be from the hand of Piaggio Group CEO Roberto Colaninno, which suggests that the Piaggio boss had grown tired of Sacchi and Mercanti's constant arguments.
The question is where this decision leaves Aprilia's World Superbike program. The project should be safe for at least a couple of years, as part of the rationale for abandoning Moto2 is to concentrate efforts on the RSV4, and readying it for use in prototype form in MotoGP in 2012. But Aprilia seems currently to be suffering from a chronic lack of decisiveness, and until this problem is solved, the future of the Noale factory's racing projects all look rather shaky.