Kawasaki has officially confirmed what Marco Melandri announced in mid-August; that the Italian will ride a ZX-RR in MotoGP next season.
Melandri surprised Kawasaki by stating that he was joining the team before the deal was fully complete. However, 18 months after negotiations began, a two-year contract with Melandri was finally signed today (Sunday) at Indianapolis.
Melandri will replace Anthony West, who is currently 18th in the championship standings and last of the full time riders.
"We started talking to Marco about riding for Kawasaki at the beginning of 2007, but contractual obligations on his part meant that it wasn't possible to secure his services for this season," revealed Kawasaki Competition manager Michael Bartholemy. "Since that time we've kept in close contact with Marco's management company, which meant we were able to reopen negotiations immediately we heard that he would be available in 2009."
Melandri, whose 2008 move to the factory Ducati team has yielded just three top ten finishes from 13 race starts, was publically linked with Team Green earlier in the year, when it seemed likely that he would leave Ducati midway through a desperately disappointing season.
That switch to a third ZX-RR never materialised, and Melandri - whose only other option was to sit out the remainder of the season - soon stated his intention to see out the rest of the year with Ducati, although the second year of his contract was annulled by mutual consent.
Prior to joining Ducati, Melandri took five MotoGP wins with Honda Gresini from 2005 to 2007 and finished second in the 2005 world championship. Melandri, a former 250cc world champion, spent his first two seasons in the premier-class with Yamaha.
"This has been a tough year for Marco, but it's obvious when you speak to him that he's lost none of the drive and determination that have so far brought him five race wins and 14 podium finishes in the premier class, despite suffering results this season that don't truly reflect his talent," stated Bartholemy.
"I'm confident that Marco will adapt quickly to Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR and that, together with John, he'll be able to take us to the next level with the development of the all-new 2009 bike.
"What is certain is that, with Marco and John, we will go into 2009 with our strongest rider line-up since Kawasaki made their full-time return to the premier class in 2002.