Sito Pons packs up after 25 years and no-one wants Biaggi
At the end of 2005, the same wind of change hit the riders. MotoGP heroes fell off in unprecedented numbers. Not just GP winners like Max Biaggi, Alex Barros and Carlos Checa, and Aussie battler Troy Bayliss; also unlucky Robbie Rolfo, and almost-nearly-man Ruben Xaus. And there's a bunch of fast kids coming in - Casey Stoner, Chris Vermeulen and the formidable Dani Pedrosa.
If there is a message from this trend, this clearing of the deadwood, it is simply this: no second chances. All except for one. Kenny Roberts Junior.'Little Kenny' is an interesting case. There's no doubt his racing career was powered by his father giving him factory rides; there's also no doubt that he won the 2000 championship on a second-class bike, showing in the process not only opportunism and intelligence, but also enough riding skill to beat Rossi on several occasions.
It was admittedly Rossi's first year in the big class, but Junior has remained convinced ever since that he could do it again, if only he had the equipment.
More obvious has been Kenny's extreme reluctance to stick his neck out, when the best he could hope for was to come 12th instead of 15th. GP riders are supposed to stick their necks out, aren't they? Or are they? Kenny didn't think so. Still, Kenny alone of his generation survived superannuation, thanks to dad. He will ride the new Team Roberts hybrid - Honda V5 power in their own chassis.
In theory, this should be a competitive motorcycle, and Kenny will have no more excuses for lacklustre performances. It will be a merciless and very public test of the 32-year-old's unwavering self-belief.
In practice, it might be different. The ex-Proton chassis, designed by F1 guru John Barnard, is a beautiful piece of work. Having Honda horsepower, however, will make demands it has never before had to deal with, and its real strengths and weaknesses remain to be seen.All of which suggests Kenny might need another second chance, for 2007.
The irony is rich. Gauloises left Yamaha because probable 2006 champion Rossi had dumped them, and arranged to ride for a separate 'satellite' team. He doesn't like promoting tobacco, he once said, though he added: "I'd rather ride for a cigarette sponsor than not ride."
Back then, in August, there were wild rumours of Rossi's private big-money deals - with telecommunications giant Alice, with Nastro Azurro and even with McDonald's. Since then, it's all gone quiet.It seems that Rossi might have fallen short of his personal expectations of sponsorship millions, and has had to fall back on the dreaded weed.
What will happen to the 250s? Everyone knows they're on borrowed time, but nobody knows how to replace them. History may take a hand. Entries for the class for this year are seriously down. If the trend continues, they will simply wither on the vine. Somebody had better come up with a replacement quickly.
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