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'Five or six' on Avintia 2018 rider list

Reale Avintia Racing signed an early contract extension to continue with Ducati in the 2018 MotoGP World Championship.

But the team, which currently runs Hector Barbera on a Desmosedici GP16 and Loris Baz on a GP15, is still to name any of next year’s riders.

They also still have a choice regarding 2018 bike specification.

“We have two options: Two GP17s, or one GP17 and one GP16,” team manager Agustín Escobar told Crash.net. “It all depends on the riders. At the moment the riders are not clear. We have a list of five or six and obviously the current riders are on that list.”

Are the riders on your list already in MotoGP, or a rookie maybe?

“Yes, it’s possible one rider from Moto2,” Escobar replied.

Axel Pons is a Moto2 name recently linked to the team.

“We are in no rush to decide, because the most important thing is that we have signed with Ducati for next year,” Escobar continued. “Now we will see how Loris and Hector begin the second half of the season and then take a decision.

“We also need to see how the other teams move before we play our cards.

“It’s not mandatory for us to have a Spanish rider, but obviously it would be good to have one Spaniard because 90% of the sponsors of the team are Spanish. Basically the decision will be by the team, but obviously we will speak with Ducati to know their opinion.”

Paddock rumours have long suggested Marc VDS Honda rider Tito Rabat is at the top of Avintia’s 2018 list.

Rabat raced for Avintia owner Raul Romero under the BQR banner earlier in his career, although some say negotiations have been hindered by the former Moto2 champion’s financial demands.

Fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow recently said a Ducati move could be good for Rabat, who is currently 17th in the world championship:

“Tito Rabat scored the most amount of points ever in a Moto2 World Championship, there’s no flies on him. He’s fast. And now all he’s doing is riding around trying to follow people, because he can’t do the lap time alone. He’s changed crew chiefs three times. He’s lost.

“He’ll be in a stronger position [at Ducati] because he’ll probably understand the bike more than now.”

On paper, Barbera looks most in danger should Rabat reach an Avintia agreement.

The #8 pulled off some giant-killing performances after Avintia’s switch to Ducati – fifth at Phillip Island 2014, Open class champion in 2015 and a career-best fourth at Sepang 2016.

Responding to Barbera’s pleas, the team then secured a jump from GP14.2 to GP16 machinery for this season.

However front-end issues, which Barbera faced during a brief promotion to the factory Ducati team in place of the injured Andrea Iannone last year, have continued to taunt him.

Barbera reached the summer break just 18th in the world championship, three places and ten points behind Baz on the GP15. Adding to the pressure on Barbera are the performances of fellow GP16 riders Alvaro Bautista (Aspar) and, at times, Scott Redding (Pramac).

“It’s obvious that the first half of the season with Hector we didn’t reach the goals we set at the beginning of the season and we hope to finish in a better way,” Escobar said.

“Basically, what Hector has been saying also from last season is that the feeling from the front is really strange. This bike you need to load the front to make the bike turn, to make the bike work. You need to feel the front.

“The problem is with his style this is really difficult, but he has been working through the year to change his riding style. Also in the garage we have moved his weight to the front, lifting a little the seat and footpegs.

“But also he has to battle more with the bike. This bike is very physical, so you have to fight with the bike and use your body to make the bike work.

“So this is the process. From after the Jerez test he did a step and another after Barcelona test. The Barcelona race was not so bad, in Assen he made a mistake in coming in for the second bike. But step-by-step his feeling is improving and he is going faster.”

Are his problems related to the fact that the GP16 was originally designed to be used with winglets?

“It depends,” said Escobar. “For the team this is not the case because as we can see Bautista and some other riders are going fast on the GP16. But also this bike was designed for winglets, so without his load on the front you have to modify the rider position or something. I think also Lorenzo has some problems with this aspect and they have changed his position on the bike three or four times.”

Barbera has a best finish of ninth so far this season, at Catalunya.

On the other side of the garage, Avintia is happy with Baz’s performances (a twitter scuffle over bull fighting aside) given, like Aspar’s Karel Abraham, he is using the oldest bike on the grid.

The Frenchman’s results include a ninth place at Le Mans and eighth at Assen.

“With Loris we are happy because overall, with the bike he has, his performances have been quite good. But also we expect more in the second half,” said Escobar.

Baz underwent an arm-pump operation at the start of the summer break.

By Peter McLaren
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