Reigning 250cc world champion Marco Simoncelli has confirmed that he will make his World Superbike debut, riding Aprilia's RSV4 alongside Max Biaggi, in this weekend's Imola round.
Rumours that Simoncelli would make a shock race appearance were triggered by a test session on the V4 four-stroke at Mugello on Tuesday and Wednesday, in which fellow 250GP star Mattia Pasini.
Simoncelli - who rides for the Aprilia-owned Gilera brand in grand prix - first rode the WSBK machine during a test at Valencia in late 2008, spawning rumours that he might enter the opening rounds of this season.
Those rumours came to nothing, but Simoncelli's competitive pace at the Mugello test - combined with a gap in the grand prix calendar, an injury for regular rider Shinya Nakano
and Simoncelli's slim 2009 250 title hopes - have suddenly made a WSBK debut possible.
Simoncelli set a best lap of 1min 53.55sec during 91 test laps, compared with a 1min 53.4 for Biaggi (Wednesday), a 1min 52.3sec for Ducati's title contender Noriyuki Haga (Wednesday) and a 1min 53.5sec for his team-mate Michel Fabrizio (Tuesday).
"I am very satisfied with this test," said Simoncelli. "I was quite quick and together with the bike managed to improve a lot.
"We worked to find the right base setting for Imola, where it will be important to find a good set-up as quick as possible, which will make things much easier.
"I'd like to thank Aprilia for this great opportunity, I will be making my debut in a category and on a track that are completely unknown to me, the level of our rivals is very high and it won't be at all easy to obtain a good result."
Biaggi welcomed his one-off team-mate.
"I am very pleased for Marco,” RomagnaOggi.it
reports Biaggi as saying. “Simoncelli is welcome and it will be good to have him in the team. I think it is a good opportunity for him. I hope Nakano will soon recover from the neck injury he suffered in Germany.”