Ducati gives green light to Toseland
Livio Suppo, head of the Ducati Marlboro MotoGP team, has given discreet approval to the possibility of James Toseland riding one of the factory's 800cc V4s in the d'Antin Ducati satellite team in 2007.
Speaking exclusively to Crash.net, Suppo said: "I like James a lot - he is a very nice guy and a good rider. It's proving difficult for Superbike riders to make the change to MotoGP, but they have to be young enough to make the jump.
"Most Superbike riders have been too old when they have come into MotoGP. But guys like Chris Vermeulen and James are still young, and they have time to get used to the MotoGP bikes."
Toseland, 25, has built a career as a Superbike rider, winning the world title for Ducati in 2004, and holding third place for Winston Ten Kate Honda in this year's championship. Vermeulen, 24, left Ten Kate last year to join the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP team, where he has quickly impressed.
Luis d'Antin, the former grand prix rider who runs the d'Antin Ducati satellite team in MotoGP, admits that Toseland is on his short-list of candidates for a better-equipped and better-funded effort in 2007.
"We are speaking with six or seven riders, and James is one of our possibilities," d'Antin said. "He has the talent and the performance, and the British market is very important for the championship and for Ducati."
d'Antin is hoping to bring four-time world 250cc champion Max Biaggi back into MotoGP next year, and his current riders Alex Hofmann and Josť Luis Cardoso are also on his short-list.
Toseland's Superbike-heavy CV also appears not to worry d'Antin. "A good rider can adapt to any category," he said. "Some people say that the level of Superbike riders is not the same as in MotoGP. But Toseland is beating Alex Barros (who switched from MotoGP last year) in Superbikes."
In the curious courtship ritual that takes place in motorcycle racing, d'Antin and Toseland have not actually spoken to one another about working together next year, although each is aware of the other's interest.
Toseland is unlikely to be put off by his friend Neil Hodgson's difficult season in d'Antin's team in 2004, when he rode year-old bikes, because the 2007 effort would receive much closer support from Ducati, bigger funding from current sponsors Pramac, and the best Bridgestone tyres.
"We would like to have a satellite team like the Honda ones, capable of fighting for podiums," Suppo said. "We want the link between our satellite team and the factory to be much stronger."
If Toseland were to get the ride, he would be running virtually the same machinery as Ducati Marlboro factory riders Loris Capirossi and Sete Gibernau - who are both expected to be retained for 2007.