Honda has announced Takaaki Nakagami will keep his LCR MotoGP ride for 2020 but skip the end of this season for surgery – opening the door for Johann Zarco’s opportunity.
Autosport revealed last week that KTM outcast Zarco is set to come into the LCR line-up for Phillip Island, Sepang and Valencia as Nakagami’s stand-in while the Japanese rider has planned surgery on a shoulder injury.
Zarco was not mentioned in Honda’s Nakagami announcement, but official confirmation of the move is expected soon.
Nakagami had stepped up to MotoGP last year after a six-year tenure in the intermediate class, and currently rides a year-old RC213V entered by LCR with the backing of Japanese petroleum company Idemitsu.
He bagged a career-best fifth place at Mugello and eight other top-10 finishes during the current campaign, and sits 12th in the standings heading into what will be his final race of the year – his home grand prix at Motegi this weekend.
“First of all I am delighted to stay with Honda and the LCR team,” Nakagami said.
“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.”
Honda’s statement suggested Nakagami will also sit out post-season testing activities due to the shoulder operation “warranting an extensive recovery period”.
He will instead target being fully fit for the opening 2020 pre-season test at Sepang.
Nakagami had been pushing to get factory-spec machinery for next season, but his efforts have been unsuccessful, with LCR confirming Nakagami will continue on a year-old bike.
“We are delighted to continue this project with Takaaki Nakagami, and hope to build even further on his impressive performance in 2019,” said LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello.
“Taka has demonstrated the ability to fight in the top ten of the MotoGP world championship every race weekend and together with HRC we will set the goal of taking another step forward.
“In 2020, Taka will compete with the RCV factory motorcycle that has just won the 2019 world title with Marc Marquez.
“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.”
Nakagami’s confirmation means the KTM works ride alongside Pol Espargaro is currently the only unfilled spot on the 2020 premier-class grid.
But question marks remain over Jorge Lorenzo’s future at the factory Honda team amid his terrible first season with the squad, and Zarco’s LCR outings will be widely seen as a chance for Honda to try an alternative option for the future.
2020 MotoGP line-up so far
Honda: Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo
Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci
Yamaha: Maverick Vinales, Valentino Rossi
Suzuki: Alex Rins, Joan Mir
KTM: Pol Espargaro, tba
Aprilia: Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone
Petronas SRT Yamaha: Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli
Pramac Ducati: Jack Miller, Francesco Bagnaia
LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow, Takaaki Nakagami
Tech3 KTM: Miguel Oliveira, Brad Binder
Avintia Ducati: Tito Rabat, Karel Abraham