LCR Honda has signed Moto2 champion Toni Elias to replace Randy de Puniet for the 2011 MotoGP season.
The move had been strongly rumored in recent weeks, with MotoGP organizer Dorna reportedly keen to ensure that the winner of the inaugural Moto2 title was able to graduate to the top class of world championship motorcycle racing.
Elias' deal with Lucio Cecchinello's team will be a return to MotoGP, as he originally raced in the category from 2005 to 2009 before moving down from Gresini's MotoGP team to its Moto2 arm.
He famously won the 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix for Gresini in a spectacular finish with Valentino Rossi and Kenny Roberts Jr., and took six podiums from his initial stint in the championship. The 27-year-old Spaniard then dominated the first Moto2 season this year, winning seven races and wrapping up the title with three rounds to spare.
"I am thrilled to be back in MotoGP and I am happy to race with the LCR team," said Elias. "I want to thank Lucio and Honda for their trust and I am anxious to return.
"I have known Lucio for a long time as we raced together in the 125cc class from 1999 to 2001. Although his team is not an official one it is very professional and well organized."
Cecchinello said he was pleased to welcome his former rival to his team as a world champion.
"The chance to work with Toni Elias is a big incentive for us because this is a very important moment for presenting to our sponsors and partners a new project," said Cecchinello.
"The nice thing is that Toni and I raced together in the 125cc class; I was at the end of my career and he was at the beginning. I remember he was a very, very hard rider and very resolute.
"As time goes by, he has improved very much and I think he is a very talented rider with a lot of experience. All the staff and I give him our warmest welcome."
The team boss also paid tribute to de Puniet, who also raced for LCR in 250cc and has impressed during his three MotoGP seasons with the team. De Puniet is currently ninth in the world championship despite a broken leg disrupting his season, and has been linked to a Pramac Ducati seat for next year.
"I want to thank Randy for his precious cooperation and for the several successes we have shared in the 250cc class and in the MotoGP class in the five years together," said Cecchinello.