Three days after announcing that they would not be replacing the injured Andrea Iannone, the factory Ducati squad have changed their mind. On Thursday, the Bologna factory announced that Hector Barbera would be taking Iannone's place in the factory Ducati team, while Barbera's slot in the Avintia Ducati MotoGP team will be taken by Australian rider Mike Jones.
The decision was forced upon Ducati by Dorna and IRTA. Under the FIM regulations, teams must make "every reasonable effort" to replace an absent rider, with only force majeure (or exceptional circumstances beyond their control) acceptable as a reason to leave a seat empty. The series organizers clearly believed that force majeure did not apply in this case, as Iannone's decision to skip the race was due to an injury picked up at Misano, five weeks ago.
Ducati were placed in a difficult situation, as test rider Michele Pirro is currently giving the Desmosedici GP17 its first shakedown test at Valencia, a test considered too important in light of Jorge Lorenzo's impending debut on the bike at the Valencia test. Casey Stoner turned down the offer of replacing Iannone at Motegi, and so Ducati initially decided not to replace the Italian.
They have now been forced to. With their usual options limited, Ducati asked the Avintia team to allow Hector Barbera to replace Iannone in the factory team. Barbera is a logical choice: the two Pramac riders, Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci, were not available, as they are in the middle of an internal team battle over which of them is to have the single GP17 which Ducati will make available to the Pramac team next year. In addition to that, replacing a rider in Pramac would have been more difficult, Paolo Ciabatti told GPOne.com.
Hector Barbera was the best option in the circumstances. He is the best-placed Ducati rider in the championship behind the two factory riders. He has shown good form in both wet and dry, and has finished inside the top ten several times this season, though Aspar's Eugene Laverty has been running him very close all year.
Taking Barbera's place in Avintia is Mike Jones. The 22-year-old Australian is currently racing a Ducati Panigale with the Desmo Sport team in the Australian Superbike championship, which he won in 2015. Jones has not experience of MotoGP, but the Australian spent some time racing in Europe in the European Superstock 600 cup. Jones' Australian Superbike team is run by Troy Bayliss, World Superbike legend and former MotoGP rider. Last year, Jones ran the #1 plate as reigning Australian championship, replacing his normal #46. That number is rather famously taken in MotoGP, and so Jones will run the #7 this weekend.
Below is the official Ducati press release:
Ducati Team line up for GP of Japan with Hector Barbera alongside Andrea Dovizioso at Motegi
The Ducati Team has arrived at Motegi for the Grand Prix of Japan, the fifteenth round of the 2016 MotoGP World Championship and the first of three challenging end-of-season overseas races that will continue over the next two weekends in Australia and in Malaysia.
The Italian squad will be lining up at Motegi with two riders, but this time Andrea Dovizioso will have as his team-mate Hector Barbera from Spain, who takes part in the world championship with Avintia Racing. Thanks to the Spanish team, the rider from Valencia replaces Andrea Iannone for this race and will now be able to get some valuable track time with the same Desmosedici GP that he will race next season.
The Twin Ring Motegi circuit, the venue for a round of the premier category in Japan since 1999, has a very unusual layout, with a series of long straights followed by tight corners that are a tough test for braking and acceleration performance. In the past Motegi has proved to be a favourable circuit for the Ducati Team, which has scored some great results here: in particular four wins by Loris Capirossi and Casey Stoner, who clinched his first world title with Ducati in 2007.
Andrea Dovizioso likes the Japanese circuit a lot, and he has stepped onto the podium in all three categories, winning the 125 race in 2004, and setting two of his four career pole positions at Motegi. Last year the Italian qualified fourth with his GP15 and finished the race in fifth place.
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team #04) – 7th (104 points)
“Motegi is one of my favourite tracks because you brake very hard and even though we were unable to express all of our potential at the last round in Aragón, I think that this year we can be very competitive. In any case I start the weekend confident because here I have always scored quite good results in MotoGP, picking up two poles in 2010 and 2014.”
Hector Barbera (Ducati Team #8) – 10th (84 points)
“I am very excited, because it is incredible to be a part of the factory team, even though it’s only for one race. I really want to do well, and Motegi is a ‘stop-and-go’ track that adapts well to the Desmosedici GP, which has a lot of power. I am ready to capitalize on this occasion and do a good race, and I want to thank Ducati and Avintia Racing for giving me this opportunity.”
Avintia Racing rider Hector Barbera joins Ducati Team at Motegi
Avintia Racing rider Hector Barbera will switch from blue to red this weekend at Motegi. From tomorrow on, he is going to ride injured Andrea Iannone’s Ducati Team Desmosedici GP. Riding the official version of his own successful Desmosedici 14.2. is a big chance for the Spaniard and also a reward for his great season so far with Avintia Racing. At the same time, this race weekend is a welcome opportunity to test and familiarize himself with the bike he will be riding next season for Avintia.
In Avintia Racing, Barbera will be replaced with Australian Mike Jones, who will give his debut in the MotoGP class in Japan. Jones is Australian Superbike Champion 2015 and finished fifth overall this season riding for Desmo Sport Ducati Team, the structure of the former Australian World Superbike champion and MotoGP winner Troy Bayliss.
“I’m really happy. I have been waiting for this opportunity for many years and finally my dream comes true this weekend. First of all I want to say big thanks to Avintia for allowing me to join the factory team, because without their support and all the sponsors behind the team this wouldn’t be possible. Right now I feel excited, motivated and eager to get the best possible result. But until I jump on the bike tomorrow, I keep scratching myself because it’s so hard to believe. Today I did interviews and this kind of the things like a factory rider, but I still feel like a child on Christmas day and it takes time to realise that it is the reality and not only a dream. I’m sure this will be a special weekend and I will do everything in my power to justify Ducati’s faith in me with a good result”.