Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2004 10 27

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 118 of 119

By MICHAEL IN rHE PADDOCK SCOTT Changing Faces a t w ill Honda ha ve to do to beat Valentino Rossi? I pu t the question to the man himself as he greeted the press after his classic race and title win in Australia. He laughed . "T hey will have to take me again," he re plied . No t very likely, of cou rse, as there is bad blood betw ee n them, and as Rossi's mot or cycle -raci ng future is sure ly not likely to last beyond the end of next ye ar's Yamaha contract . Rossi is sure ly ea rmarked for car rac ing in Formula O ne, and there is no reason why a racer w ith such intelligence as we ll as such machine skills shouldn't be successful ther e. Though , at 25, he sho uldn't wait much longer. Rossi will be in MotoG P next year, however, and Hond a needs to add ress the pro blem. Being Honda, it is bound to have a few te chnical tricks up its sleeves. But can Ho nda find a rider good enough? Give n the form of its existing troops, it doesn't seem immed iately like ly - especially since Colin Edwar ds is off to join Ro ssi at Yamaha nex t year. He's not the strongest Hon da ride r, but he 's not tha t far off it, on his current, end of-seas on form, now that he is at long last gett ing the latest cha ssis an d other factory parts. Honda wrong-footed itse lf this year w he n it failed to focus on just one or two riders. Perhaps that' s not fair - they were wrong-footed by spo nso rs Rep sol, which insiste d that Honda e m ploy Ale x Barro s to head the facto ry team and lead the development of its RCY. As we sudden. He's had more than 200 races to do that already and has never been more than an occasional win ner - six times in 239 starts, to be precise. Ho nda wrong-footed itself even further when it found its sate llite riders Gibe rnau and Biaggi were leading the fight against Rossi, w hile Barros was typically up and down, and second factory rider Nicky Hayden was just a bit too green for the hotter pace this year. Contractua lly ob liged to supply Repsol ride rs with the good stuff before the sate llite tea ms, Ho nda did its best to kee p the stuff com ing for the others as we ll or mo st of them , excluding Edwa rds and , to a ce rtain extent, double race w inner Tamada. Th is we already know. But what about nex t year? Hayden will be confirmed to stay with the team. The decision may have bee n ma rginal, but it has be en made . W ho will lead the team? They tr ied to get Gibe rnau, but there was a clash of sp onsors. He has pe rso nal ties with Telefonlca MoviStar; Honda is contracted again next year to Repso!. Telefonka tried to arrange a joint sponsorship deal with Repsol, and their compatriots readily agreed - on the cond ition that 'Ielefonlca pick up the full sponsorship bill of some $10 million, w ith Repsol getting its share fo r free . The next choice seems the most likely: Biaggi. Th e only sponsorship pro ble m there is that if he goe s, Camel might pull their sponsors hip of th e Sito Pons te am. But this is a minor probl e m for HRC, com pared with being beaten again by Yamaha. So it looks as if it will be Max. But the same question ar ises once again: He may be the best they can get, but is he good e nough? It's wo rth noting that in Austra lia, Biaggi was only th e fo urt h Ho nda, beh ind Gibernau, Edwards and Hayden , and o nly inches ahead of Tamada. The truth is that Ho nda in parti cular and racing in general is in dire need of some new young talent, and nobody is doing much about getting some on stream. Rube n Xaus has had a promising rookie year; John Hopkins is deve loping into an impressive racer; Marco Melandri has turned some fast laps and been tw ice on the rostrum th is year. But there's no body else in sight . Th e first ste ps have been taken, however, by clear ing out some of the dead wood - in part icular, Carlos Checa, whos e co nt ract w ith Yamaha will not be ren ewed. Troy Bayliss, rather more misfortunate ly, is be ing dropped by Ducati. Barros is also rea dy for the cull, thoug h it is not certain that he will get it. Hond a might move him on to a sate llite te am next yea r. There are oth ers past their sell-by date . Kenny Roberts Jr. hasn't proved much for quite a long time, and his moti vation must be up for question . Loris Capiro ssi will spend another yea r with Ducati, and might eve n win a race or tw o , but at 3 1, he 's not looking at a big futu re . Th is wint er w ill be the time for Honda , and all the ot hers, to do something about it. eN can now see even more clearly than at the sta rt of the year, they'd have bee n better off w ith Sete Gibernau . O r Max Biaggi. Or Makoto Tamada. O r, indeed, Edwards. Barros may be good for gaso line sales in Brazil, but at 33 it is rather optimis tic to expect him to develop into a lea ding light all of a C Y C LE NEWS • OOOBER 27 .2004 119

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