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GP Week : Issue 40
>>Moto GPnews ‘No factory’ rookie rule would have stopped King Kenny KING Kenny Roberts, who won the first of a hat-trick of 500cc World Championships at his first attempt in 1978, is one rider whose career might have taken a different path, had the new ‘no-rookies’rule been in place at the time. One of a hatful of new regulations for 2010 announced at the Jerez tests just over a week ago, the rule states that a class rookie may not join a factory team in his first year in the top class. It is intended to improve the lot of the handful on non- factory teams in the class, explained Hervé Poncharal, president of teams’association IRTA. Poncharal also heads the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite squad, one of the teams whose position is significantly 18 improved by the rule. It will enable Poncharal and other privateer teams such as LCR Honda and Scot Honda to bid for top rookie riders such as Ben Spies or current 250 stars Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista. All three have in the past been linked with moves directly into factory teams. In turn, this will increase their leverage in seeking sponsorship. But top riders have expressed disquiet at the rule, and history has several famous names of riders who would have been prevented from joining the teams that took them to glory. Kenny Roberts Senior (pictured above) is one of the best known, although it could be asserted that his semi- independent one-rider team of 1978, running alongside the official works Yamaha team, was not a factory team. The same is true for Valentino Rossi. His first top-class year in 2000 was fully supported by the Honda factory, and staffed by HRC works rider Mick Doohan’s former pit crew, but was run separately from the official Repsol Honda squad. Max Biaggi also ran his first year attached to, but not officially employed by, the Honda factory, winning his debut 500-class GP as the sole rider on the Marlboro- Kanemoto Honda. Barry Sheene’s class debut was also with a factory team, Suzuki, but the all-new motorcycle was unreliable, and he would have to wait two years before winning the first of his two titles. The legendary Jarno Saarinen was another noted rookie who would not have been able to join the factory Yamaha team in 1973. Saarinen won two of the first three races, and seemed set to sweep to the first Japanese and the first two-stroke 500cc title … but he was killed at a tragic fourth round at Monza. Modern riders who raced for the factory as rookies include Troy Bayliss (Ducati) and Colin Edwards (Aprilia), as well as Jorge Lorenzo, who won a debut-season GP on the factory Fiat Yamaha last year. The new rule especially hits the Suzuki team, which would have had to form a satellite team to attract Ben Spies back into the fold. Unfortunately, they lost him to Yamaha and World Superbikes.