Yamaha factory test rider Wataru Yoshikawa will be riding in Valentino Rossi’s place starting at Catalunya on July 4. Rossi, who fractured his tibia and fibula in a gruesome highside at Mugello, is currently scheduled to return at Brno on August 15, but we’re skeptical that he’ll be racing at all for the remainder of the season. So why a 41-year old test rider and not an up and coming star like Ben Spies?
Two reasons: politics and practicality. Yoshikawa, who had a successful
career racing in Japanese and World Superbike and raced an M1 a couple of times in 2002, is intimately familiar
with the M1 as he’s helped develop it. Campaigning it for the next few
races or the rest of the season will allow Rossi’s team to continue
development. In addition to being an actual race, each MotoGP round is a
valuable opportunity to collect data and try new things in a
competitive environment. Yoshikawa will essentially be continuing that
process, giving the superstar a better bike to ride whenever he does
make his return.
Some speculation has suggested that Tech3 Yamaha-rider Colin Edwards or
Texas teammate Ben Spies might take over Rossi’s coveted factory ride.
Allowing either to move up would likely piss off Tech3 by requiring them
to find a replacement and removing the star power of either rider,
effecting sponsorship deals. Additionally, if a rider like Spies
experienced much success riding Rossi’s M1, it could cause huge
political ramifications within Yamaha, especially if Vale tries to
return before he’s completely fit. With Yoshikawa riding, Rossi is free
to hop back on whenever he wants without stepping on anyone’s toes. Now,
the World Champion just has to worry about Lorenzo.