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Kawasaki adds to Japanese exodus

KAWASAKI joined the exodus of Japanese manufacturers pulling out of world motorsport but the impact of their departure on MotoGP will be muted.

"It's not good, but it's not the end of the world," commented one MotoGP source.

Like Honda, which announced in December that it was quitting Formula One after being hammered by slumping US sales, Kawasaki had under-performed on the track despite impressive infrastructure and considerable sums spent.

It had that in common with former world rally champion Subaru, which had not won a round of the series for more than three years and which also pulled out last month, and rally newcomers Suzuki.

"We took the final decision not to continue in MotoGP yesterday," Kawasaki's Katsuhiro Sato said. "It is something we have been considering since mid-December. In the current economic climate and unless the situation improves it is difficult to say if we will return."

Tellingly, Honda and Suzuki both appear committed to staying in MotoGP where they have enjoyed considerable success over the years. Yamaha, which won the MotoGP title with Italian Valentino Rossi last season, has also scotched suggestions that it might withdraw.

In Formula One, Honda's manufacturer rivals have so far remained firm despite also being hard hit by the financial storm. The difference perhaps is that, apart from Toyota, they all won races in 2008.

The MotoGP grid will be reduced to 17 bikes next season following the departure of Kawasaki's American rider John Hopkins and Italian Marco Melandri. But that is still only one fewer than in 2008 because Ducati has made an extra bike available for Spanish veteran Sete Gibernau. The numbers may also be boosted by the wildcards usually handed out at individual races to strong local riders.

Hopkins and Melandri could yet make it to the grid if Aspar boss Jorge Martinez manages to do a deal to run the Kawasaki machines independently. Otherwise, Hopkins has solid sponsorship, which could help him find a ride in a sport where money talks as well as talent. Melandri, who was joining from Ducati, is popular in Italy and can also hope to make a comeback.


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