Rumors continue to swirl Friday at Motegi about the few remaining seats in MotoGP for 2014, with the future destinations of Eugene Laverty and Hiroshi Aoyama the main topics of conversation.
Aprilia World Superbike standout Laverty appeared to be in line for the second seat at Aspar, beside Nick Hayden, when Aspar planned to run Aprilia machines next season. But then Gigi Dall'Igna left his position as Aprilia Racing boss for a similar job at Ducati, and Aspar boss Jorge "Aspar" Martinez decided to run "customer" Hondas next season for Hayden and another rider.
That other rider appears now to be MotoGP veteran and 2009 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama, who has deep connections to Honda and is the only active Japanese rider in the premier class. Aoyama rode a Honda for three of his six full seasons in 250cc and won the world title for the marque in 2009. Aoyama also rode his first two seasons in MotoGP, 2010 and 2011, on a Honda for Interwetten and Gresini.
Aoyama rides a Claiming Rules Team FTR-Kawasaki this season for Avintia Blusens. He refused to swallow the bait of questions Thursday about his rumored move to Aspar.
"Well, we are talking with some teams, but I think it is a little bit early to make an announcement," Aoyama said. "But we are on the way, and I think it is a good way for me."
Laverty apparently is on the way to a new ride, as Marco Melandri tested his factory Aprilia this week at Jerez and almost certainly will join Sylvain Guintoli in the works WSBK next season. But Laverty's destination remains a mystery.
The Northern Irishman apparently has three options for 2014, according to European media reports. One is customer Ducati ride at Pramac in MotoGP, with Laverty running a Dorna-spec ECU and software that will permit him to race with a 24-liter fuel tank as an "Open" bike.
But an Italian website reported Thursday that Laverty rejected that offer for two reasons. One, he didn't want to run an "Open" bike while teammate Andrea "Crazy Joe" Iannone was able to stay on a factory Ducati next season. Plus Laverty apparently is demanding an annual salary in the region of 500,000 euros, a sum that Ducati reportedly doesn't want to pay and a paycheck considerably higher than Moto2 championship contender Scott Redding will earn next season as a rookie at Gresini.
2013 World Superbike runner-up Laverty apparently has two options in that series, with Fixi Suzuki and Aprilia.
The Suzuki offer could be attractive, as Laverty could ride for one season in WSBK and potentially climb to MotoGP on a factory bike when Suzuki returns to the premier class in 2015. It probably doesn't hurt Laverty's future prospects that Fixi Suzuki's team boss is Paul Denning, who ran Suzuki's MotoGP program for years before the manufacturer abandoned MotoGP after 2011.
The Aprilia deal appears to be an olive branch from new Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano, who flew to Jerez for last-ditch talks with Laverty Monday. Apparently Laverty felt spurned by Aprilia, especially in the turmoil during Dall'Igna's defection to Italian rival Ducati. But Albesiano tried to smooth relations and keep his top WSBK rider by offering him a factory-supported bike for next season.
Aprilia hired Marco Melandri to replace Laverty on the factory WSBK team.