Aprilia has officially confirmed it will join forces with the Gresini team for a Factory MotoGP return in 2015, one year earlier than initially planned.

No riders have so far been named but Aprilia WSBK star Marco Melandri is expected to return to MotoGP for the new project, with present Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista tipped for the second seat.

Rookie Scott Redding, who rides Gresini's Open class Honda, has made clear his sights are set on taking over Bautista's Factory class bike. The Englishman would thus need to negotiate a move to whichever team acquires the highly prized RC213V, with Marc VDS and Aspar top of the list.

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Gresini joined the world championship in 1997 and has raced Honda machinery since moving to the premier-class with 250cc world champion Daijiro Kato in 2002. The team has finished MotoGP title runner-up on three occasions, with Sete Gibernau in 2003 and 2004, then Melandri in 2005.

Bautista is eleventh (with one podium) in this year's standings. Redding is just five points behind and the top RCV1000R rider.

"I am very glad that Aprilia identified Gresini Racing as the ideal partner to enter the MotoGP World Championship: I would like to thank the Piaggio Group for giving me a fantastic opportunity, that is working closely with such a glorious manufacturer; an Italian brand that has become a synonymous of passion for racing, reaching amazing results worldwide," said team principal Fausto Gresini.

"The four years agreement between Gresini Racing and Aprilia opens a new chapter in our history: in this moment I feel a great responsibility, but the motivation to succeed in this exciting, all Italian challenge is even bigger.

"The Grand Prix world is part of the Aprilia brand and to represent it in the premier class, the MotoGP World Championship, is a source of great pride for all of us. An incredible reward for the work done in all these years by Gresini Racing."

Gresini's Aprilia decision has been based on the 'push' factor of funding issues - which made retaining the RC213V unlikely even before the Aprilia deal - combined with the 'pull' of becoming an official factory team. Aprilia meanwhile will have access to team personal with proven MotoGP success and also avoid the extra costs associated with new grid places.

Aprilia last raced as an official MotoGP manufacturer in 2004, but has run a CRT/Open class bike since 2012. The Italian brand will update the now struggling ART for 2015 with a new machine due to debut in 2016, the year originally planned for its Factory return.

Aprilia will race under the same Factory rules as Ducati and Suzuki in 2015, meaning they can run their own ECU software but still benefit from the Open class concessions. A mandatory control ECU and change from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres will take place in 2016.

The knock-on effect of Aprilia's MotoGP return is that its Factory WSBK presence will, at the very least, be scaled back.

"If we confirm to be in MotoGP next year there are two scenarios: One is that Aprilia will disappear from [WSBK]. The other, which is what I hope will happen, is we are working on an agreement with a [satellite team] to allow this participation to go on," sporting manager Romano Albesiano told Crash.net at Jerez last weekend.

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RSMick:
It always did have tiny crowds and non live poor television coverage everywhere except Britain and Italy, slightly Aus. The crowds were never as high as they stated in Britain, FGS used to quote 3 day estimates, have you seen Brands with 60k in? never mind 120k. [\blockquote]

Well I do recall when Yamaha Italy had a serious factory supported effort with riders of the caliber of Spies & Haga.
Or Ten Kate Honda when it was getting major HRC input.
Or Suzuki through Alstare with Troy Corser.
Or Ducati with full factory efforts and riders like Bayliss.
I don't know about actual numbers at Brands but I recall going in the early to mid-2000's and the place seemed to be bursting at the seams. It took hours to get out of the circuit even on a bike.
The last time I went to a WSB race in the UK (Silverstone) the place was almost deserted.

RSMick: The trouble is it doesn't Superbike), it has done nothing for sales which you don't see a single WS bike in the top 10, even in SB mad Britain. GP sells the brand not the bike.[\blockquote]

It's brand image that drives sales.
In the past WSB really contributed to that when all the factory teams had serious efforts & top riders. WSB generated more brand equity than GP.
The problem today is that WSB is a pale shadow of its former self. Only Kawasaki & Aprilia are taking it seriously. Ducati has dramatically scaled back, Honda and Suzuki's 'efforts' are marginal and Yamaha is not there at all. Now Aprilia is scaling back too.
With minimal terrestrial TV coverage & most events in the calendar attracting tiny crowds, the series is in terminal decline. Circuits increasingly don't want to host the races. MotoGP has therefore become the focus of activities by default. I wonder if this would have been the case if InFront was still the owner of WSB rather than Dorna?