HRC has confirmed that Takaaki Nakagami will remain at the LCR Honda team for the 2020 MotoGP season, but also that the Japanese is to undergo shoulder surgery following this weekend's home round at Motegi.

Nakagami will thus miss the final three races in order to try and be fully fit for the opening pre-season test at Sepang in February.

There is no official word on who will replace Nakagami at the Australian, Malaysian and Valencian rounds, but the hot rumour is that Johann Zarco will take his place.

“First of all I am delighted to stay with Honda and the LCR Team," said Nakagami. "I have been able to improve a lot this year and Honda have shown me great support and given me a very strong package. I am sure together we can continue this in 2020.

"About the injury, after the crash I had in Assen I found myself in some pain and lacking a bit of strength in my shoulder. I went to the doctor to fully understand the situation and while I have been able to ride with the injury, it has not been ideal so we made the difficult decision alongside Honda and the LCR Team to have this operation now.”

Although he's barely mentioned it, Nakagami is said to be suffering from a shoulder injury similar to Marc Marquez. The newly crowned eight-time world champion underwent surgery last December, but was only 50% fit by the start of pre-season testing and needed 5-6 months to reach full fitness.

With that timescale in mind, Nakagami will now have an extra six weeks of recovery compared to Marquez.

Given that Nakagami, who rides the only 2018-spec Honda, currently holds twelfth in the world championship and has finished no higher than ninth since the summer break, there is little for him to lose in skipping the closing rounds.

But the biggest surprise is that former KTM rider Zarco is tipped to replace Nakagami.

HRC test rider Stefan Bradl would be the usual choice of substitute and if HRC does indeed pick Zarco it will fuel rumours that Honda is considering the Frenchman as a replacement for struggling factory star Jorge Lorenzo in 2020.

Paddock gossip in Thailand suggested Zarco had been told to delay signing a Yamaha test deal until the Lorenzo situation becomes clearer. The triple MotoGP champion has made no tangible progress with the RCV since back injuries in June, with a best finish of 14th in the last four rounds.

But given Zarco's issues on the similarly-aggressive KTM, it would be a wise move for Honda to check how the six-time Tech3 Yamaha podium finisher performs on an RCV before considering him for 2020...

Although still under contract to KTM, the Austrian factory has made clear they would not stand in Zarco's way should he find an alternative ride before the end of this year.

Following Nakagami's deal, Zarco's KTM replacement is now the only 2020 MotoGP seat still officially available - CLICK HERE for the updated 2020 MotoGP line-up.

But while Lorenzo is signed at HRC until the end of next year, the continued gulf in performance to team-mate Marquez means it wouldn't be a shock if Honda and Lorenzo reached an agreement to go their separate ways.

Nakagami had been pushing to have the latest RCV machinery next season, as used by the other three Honda riders, but LCR boss Lucio Cecchinello confirmed he will remain on a year-old machine. 

"In 2020, Taka will compete with the RCV Factory motorcycle that has just won the 2019 World Title with Marc Marquez," Cecchinllo said.

"Next season will be particularly important so, although we are sorry about the early end to Taka’s season, we are convinced that the decision to undergo surgery after the Japanese GP is the correct one, so that he can return to the best physical condition by the time of the first test in Malaysia in February.”

 

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