Chris Vermeulen has confirmed he will return to the World Superbike Championship in 2010 after penning an agreement to join the Paul Bird Motorsport Kawasaki team.
Although the announcement was highly anticipated during the MotoGP weekend at Estoril, only now has it been officially confirmed that the Australian, who revealed he would not be staying with Rizla Suzuki in MotoGP two months ago, would rejoin the series he last competed in four years ago.
A former World Supersport Champion, Vermeulen finished runner-up behind Troy Corser in 2005 riding with Ten Kate Honda, a performance that would smooth his passage to MotoGP with Suzuki.
Spending four seasons with the Japanese manufacturer, although Vermeulen enjoyed flashes of brilliance with Suzuki – most notably his rain-assisted win at Le Mans and six further podiums – a drought of good results in 2009 has seen his position in the team taken by rookie Alvaro Bautista for next season.
Nonetheless, having apparently courted interest from Honda and Aprilia, Vermeulen will instead join Kawasaki to spearhead an invigorated Superbike project that is tipped to receive greater investment now the manufacturer has withdrawn from MotoGP.
“The Kawasaki World Superbike team structure has evolved well in this its first year being run by Paul Bird and his experienced crew,” said Kawasaki European Manager Steve Guttridge. “For next year we realise that we need to make another step forward to be competitive at WSB level and we believe Chris could be the key to this. It's an understatement to say we are looking forward to next season now, we just can't wait!”
“Chris has the full backing of the factory next season and with the project we are creating now in WSB with Chris, then I believe we can be very competitive next year,” added Kawasaki director Ichiro Yoda. “We will make improvements step-by-step and we have a heavy test schedule planned already in order to do just that. Chris' comments will be key to move the Ninja ZX-10R development in the right direction, so I'm very happy to be working with him.”
Kawasaki confirmed Vermeulen will take the place of Makoto Tamada, who reaches the end of a two-year deal with the manufacturer at the end of this season. No word has been made about his team-mate, although Tom Sykes, Shane Byrne and current rider Broc Parkes are believed to be in the frame.
Vermeulen, who will get his first outing with the team in November, is the latest of an increasing number of high-profile MotoGP riders to confirm a switch to the premier Superbike series, following in the footsteps of Max Biaggi, Carlos Checa and John Hopkins, as well as James Toseland, who also announced a return to the series this week with Sterilgarda Yamaha.