Moto2 championship leader Franco Morbidelli will step up to MotoGP with Marc VDS in 2018 after agreeing a contract extension, the team has confirmed.

The Italian, who has won four races in the intermediate category this season, and holds a seven-point advantage in the title fight, has signed to stay with Marc VDS for two more years, with an option to continue for a third (in 2020) too.

While there has been no official confirmation on the matter, it is believed Marc VDS will continue with Honda machinery in 2018, after working with the Japanese manufacturer in the premier class for the past two-and-a-half seasons.

Team owner Marc van der Straten is 'delighted' to hold onto Morbidelli's services, after he joined the squad at the beginning of '16. In the subsequent 25 races, the 22-year old has scored eight further podiums, as well as the four race wins in this campaign.

"Firstly I want to thank Marc van der Straten and Michael Bartholemy [team boss] for having faith in me and giving me this opportunity," said Morbidelli. "Thanks to my management team for arranging everything, leaving me free to focus on the racing and also to the Riders Academy.

"It's good to have everything sorted so early in the season, as I can now concentrate fully on what I have to do this year in Moto2. I'm excited by the thought of MotoGP and I'm happy to be making the step up to the premier class with the team, and with people I know and have worked alongside already.

"It's a big challenge, but it's definitely one that I'm looking forward to. But for now my focus is on this year, so thinking about MotoGP will have to wait until after the final Moto2 race of the season in Valencia."

Van der Straten spoke of his delight at the news, and feels Morbidelli will be suited to the demands of a 260bhp MotoGP machine.

"I am delighted that we have secured Franco Morbidelli on a long term contract to represent the team in MotoGP from 2018 onwards. Franco was something of an unknown quantity when he came to us at the beginning of 2016, but we took a chance on him because we could see his potential.

"It was a good decision on our part, because he's not only realised this potential, his progress has actually far exceeded our expectations. He's leading the championship after dominating from the opening race and I am confident that he will adapt quickly to MotoGP once he makes the move at the end of this season. For now, though, he has other priorities, namely winning his first, and the team's second, World Championship title."

The news leaves current rider Tito Rabat's Marc VDS future in some doubt. Jack Miller has not confirmed whether he will stay with the team in 2018, and it is believed he is waiting to see what package HRC will offer before signing to continue with the team for a third year, and Honda for a fourth.

Meanwhile Rabat is believed to be in talks with two satellite Ducati teams about the prospect of continuing in the premier class for a third year. It is understood the Spaniard has no interest in returning to Moto2, a category he won in 2014.

By Neil Morrison

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