Yamaha will promote its test rider Wataru Yoshikawa to a factory race seat in place of the injured Valentino Rossi for at least three rounds of the MotoGP championship. The 41-year-old Japanese rider only has one MotoGP start to his name, but has spent the past eight years as an integral part of Yamaha's development program.
Initially, it had been expected that Tech 3 Yamaha duo Colin Edwards and Ben Spies, or Yamaha World Superbike rider Cal Crutchlow, might replace Rossi while he recovers from his broken leg. But Crutchlow turned down the opportunity and Spies admitted at Silverstone that he would have misgivings about being a substitute in the works team.
Yamaha racing boss Lin Jarvis admitted that finding someone to deputize for Rossi had been a complicated process.
"We have considered many different scenarios and candidate riders to fill the temporary vacant seat in the Fiat Yamaha team," Jarvis said. "We had always planned to use a rider from within the Yamaha Motor and Tech 3 family but for each rider we considered who is in active competition, their move to the Fiat Yamaha Team would have created another problem for their own racing program or for the teams in which they are engaged."
He insisted that Yoshikawa was the best available option in the circumstances.
"Firstly, he brings with him a wealth of experience riding the YZR-M1," Jarvis said. "Secondly his presence allows us to fulfill our contractual obligations and to join the team's quest to accumulate points for the team championship. Thirdly he will gain valuable first-hand MotoGP race experience in three challenging circuits which will surely be very useful to assist him and Yamaha with the future development of the YMR-M1."
Yoshikawa won two Japanese Superbike titles in the 1990s and was an occasional World Superbike competitor, taking ninth in the 1996 championship.
"I'm happy to have this chance to stand in for Valentino while he is recovering and to compete in MotoGP again for the first time since 2002, when I raced at Motegi," he said. "Looking at the Fiat Yamaha team's results with the 2010 YZR-M1, I can see that the winter developments were correct and now I am looking forward to having the chance to gather some 'real racing' data, which will be very helpful for the future development of the M1."
Jorge Lorenzo will remain Yamaha's only works rider at Assen this weekend before Yoshikawa starts his stint at Catalunya. He is currently scheduled to contest three races before a decision is made based on Rossi's fitness progress.
"We provisionally plan for three races (Catalunya, Sachsenring and Laguna Seca) but we will adjust the plan accordingly when we know more about Valentino's expected date of return," said Jarvis.