As the 2012 season nears its end, the money is running out for some of weaker teams in the motorcycle racing paddock. The most egregious example of this is of course the Effenbert Liberty shambles, the Czech team managing to miss World Superbike rounds and drop racers despite having both a title sponsor and paying riders. But in the few days since the last round of MotoGP at Aragon, the same malaise has come to the MotoGP paddock as well.
Two riders are to be replaced for the next round on, and for both men, the reason they are being dropped has nothing to do with their performance, a fact made uncomfortably clear by the choice of replacement riders. In MotoGP, Roby Rolfo is to replace Mattia Pasini aboard the Speedmaster Aprilia CRT bike, and in Moto2, Toni Elias is to take the place of Claudio Corti in the Italtrans team. Both Pasini and Corti are being dropped for financial reasons: their replacements bring more money to the team than the men whose place they are taking.
The choice to bring in Elias at Italtrans is the least mystifying. Elias was the first ever Moto2 champion, winning the title back in 2010. But after an abortive year in MotoGP, struggling several seconds off the pace on the LCR Honda, Elias returned to Moto2 with the Aspar team, where he continued to struggle with the Suter chassis. Elias has gone backwards since winning the Moto2 title, yet he is to replace Claudio Corti, who is currently 10th in the championship with 74 points and a podium to his name. Though Corti is out of the Italtrans Moto2 team, he has found a ride with the Pedercini Kawasaki squad in the World Superbike finale this weekend at Magny-Cours.
The Speedmaster replacement is utterly puzzling. Mattia Pasini, who only got the Speedmaster CRT ride after paying more than Ant West, the rider originally contracted to ride for the team, is to make way for Roberto Rolfo, the Italian veteran who spent the first part of this season struggling aboard the Technomag CIP Suter in Moto2. Rolfo's career has been in reverse for much longer than Elias', the Italian having gone backwards since leaving the 250cc class. The only reason to be given the Speedmaster ride is because he brings much more money to the team than Pasini. The team has been struggling for cash for some time now: there were rumors that the team would pull out altogether ahead of Misano. It appears that the only way they can continue is by taking money from Rolfo.
In an interview with the Italian website InfoMotoGP, Pasini expresses his fury at the situation. "I can only hope that some people don't sleep well tonight," he told InfoMotoGP. Pasini reeled off a long list of problems with the team, claiming that this was the reason they would not be offered another start in MotoGP next season. Pasini also claimed that Speedmaster's Moto2 rider Andrea Iannone had been on the verge of leaving the team to go to Italtrans, because he did not believe he could be competitive if the team continued to run up debts. The case was now in the hands of his lawyers, Pasini told InfoMotoGP, and he hoped to obtain justice through the courts.
The situation with Pasini, Corti and Effenbert is symptomatic of two of the biggest problems in motorcycle racing at the moment: the lack of sponsorship and the problems with some teams not managing budgets properly. Though much of the debate currently raging in the paddock is over technical regulations and the future direction of the sport, the fundamental financial weakness remains. The hope is that the recent announcement by Bridgepoint that World Superbikes and MotoGP are to be brought under a single umbrella means that raising sponsorship and income will be the main priority of the organizers.