Nicky Hayden - As the season enters the final quarter the familiar names take on their usual places. The Triumphant Trio from Tarragona continue to win all the races. Rossi is still struggling. Crutchlow still hasn't cracked the top step. Yet for all the on track drama that we have been graced with one of the biggest stories leading into the first test of the off season involves none of them. Instead it focuses on the little American who could - Nicky Hayden will ride for Aprilia next year aboard a non-MSMA machine. The significance of the news revolves around one fact: Since the implementation of the CRT rules many an article and fan has wondered at the true capacity of these machines. It has been said, even by the sport's best riders, that the only way to truly discover their potential would be to put a world class rider aboard one. Unfortunately none have volunteered for this task to date, until now.
Enter Nicky Hayden.
That the American is still fast should really go without saying. Aboard the Ducati in any incarnation he has only been eclipsed by the errant Casey Stoner, typically finishing just a click behind his teammates despite his penchant (either voluntarily or by corporate edict) for using experimental parts while his stablemates use finalized and stable machinery. More to the point, however, Hayden recently took a joy ride on Ducati's on WSBK spec Panigale (the one that has just put a premature stamp on ex-champion Carlos Checa's 2013 season) and not only lapped faster than any rider to date, but at a pace that would have been competitive with any of the top bikes in the class. With Aprilia promising increased involvement for 2014 with an upgraded package much closer to a factory spec machine, and with Ducati still unable to provide Hayden with even a test machine of the new chassis that Dovizioso has enjoyed for several races now, Hayden will become the first top class rider to jump aboard a CRT machine (or at least the evolution of one).
With this signing getting that monkey off his back, Hayden is free to focus on improving his record at Aragon.
Valentino Rossi: With all the talk about immediate results, rider performance and the inevitable conclusion of the silly season Valentino Rossi took to the time to cement his position as a long term benefactor of the sport. As one of the oldest active riders in the paddock, and the only rider left in the premiere class to have ridden a 500cc gran prix machine in anger, it seems that each season begins and ends with speculation of whether it will be the former champion's last. Yet the Italian star remains somewhat competitive in the class, and each year manages to push away the retirement party just a little bit longer.
New grumblings have begun to arise in the last few years, however. To put a point on it, many fans have wondered at the apparent domination of Spanish influence in the series. Until recently Spain hosted the most races of any country on the calendar. The top 3 riders in the series are all Spanish and many of the names being courted for promotion have a decidedly latino lilt. While an influx of British talent is expected over the next couple of seasons, such additions do little to add to the diversity of the world championship and instead adds to the growing polarity.
Amidst such cultural turmoil Rossi has announced that he will be co-funding a Moto3 team with Romano Fenati starting in 2014. The team's mission statement is singular and clear - to provide a vehicle for Italian youth to enter the world stage at the highest levels of racing. The announcement comes at an opportune time in GP history as the presence of such nations as Italy appears to be on a decline. Youngsters (or zealous parents) hoping for mentorship from the 9 times world champion will find themselves somewhat disillusioned as the rider actively campaigns to cement his place in racing history.
2012: Ducati Factory GP 12 - 8th 2011: Ducati Factory GP 11.x - 10th 2010: Yamaha Factory M1 - 6th
Randy DePuniet - The Aprilia ART has been in a class of its own, unsurprising considering it is the only ART with true backing from an OEM. Coming into 2013 two riders seemed to be the obvious contenders for top CRT honors - teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy DePuniet. DePuniet certainly was an odds on favorite, with the experience and credentials to make him (on paper) the man to beat. However the season has taken a serious left turn for the French rider. Perhaps it is the exuberance of youth that has given Espargaro the edge, or perhaps it is the time and mentally energy that DePuniet has split between racing the ART and testing the radically different Suzuki GSV. Or perhaps, more insidiously, it is a certain clause in his contract.
It has been revealed that Espargaro was in quite the pickle for the 2014 season. As the current top CRT rider his contract with Aprilia dictates that he has a sure place aboard the ART next season, a position that it turns out he does not want. Instead Aleix has elected to pay the Aspar team around 400,000 euros (and this is a discounted amount at that) to buy out of his contract for next year in order to race for NGM Forward. That tab will largely be picked up by the team and its sponsors, with Espargaro on the hook for a quarter of it through his own personal sponsorship or his pocket.
The very high monies in play makes the French rider's performance in 2013 somewhat of a gamble. It seems rather evident that he has intentions of making a play for any seat that Suzuki will make available should they formally return to Gran Prix racing. Espargaro's departure opened a seat at Aspar for WSBK's Eugene Laverty, potentially putting DePuniet at ease in his position at the team. How secure that position remains is a matter of conjecture. Having completed yet another seemingly successful test with Suzuki he must once again don the Aprilia colors and strive for his best at Aragon. There is no guarantee that in two years' time Suzuki will make the season opener in 2015, and should that deal fall through he will need to make a convincing case if he wants to keep his seat.
2012: Power Electronics Aspar ART - 10th 2011: Pramac Racing Team Customer Ducati GP11 - 12th 2010: LCR Honda Customer RC212v - DNF