MotoGP racer Jonas Folger has announced that he is to step down from the Monster Tech3 Yamaha squad in order to fully recover from the illness that wrecked his rookie year in 2017, leaving his team with a dilemma as to who can replace the German at such late notice.
Folger missed the last four rounds of the 2017 campaign after being diagnosed with Gilbert’s Syndrome, a genetic liver condition that effectively causes the body to shut down. The 24-year-old, who scored a sensational second at his home Grand Prix, had been expected to return to the saddle for testing this month, but has elected to sit out the season as he feels that he is not 100% fit.
“I’m incredibly sad to be saying this, but I will not be racing MotoGP in 2018,” said Folger. “I wasn’t able to make the improvements I was hoping for, and at this stage I don’t feel able to ride a MotoGP machine at 100%. I hope to be back one day and want to thank you all for your ongoing support.”
Folger’s decision to pull out is understandable but also brave, as slots on the premier class grid are highly coveted and extremely rare. His team boss Herve Poncheral was certainly stunned at the news, adding: “Last night (Tuesday) I received a call from Bob Moore, Jonas Folger’s personal manager. I couldn’t believe what Bob was telling me on the phone, that Jonas Folger has decided not to race the 2018 MotoGP season, because he doesn’t feel 100% mentally and physically recovered. It is still very difficult for me to believe, that he’s not going to race with us in 2018, especially because he has been somebody I had lot of faith in and I was sure we would reach top level together this year. I completely respect his decision, although it’s hard to swallow.”
Attention now switches to who will replace Folger at the Yamaha satellite squad. With the opening tests just a week away and no obvious MotoGP riders waiting in the wings, Poncheral faces a tough task in trying to pry away a rider currently contracted to race in the lower classes. “I will try to find a solution for a replacement rider, which is a very difficult mission, as all of the fast riders are already contracted,” he added. “But as always in racing we need to be proactive, inventive and hopefully we can make someone very happy. We will keep all of you informed about the evolution of the situation.”
An obvious choice for Yamaha would be to look to its world superbike pairing of Alex Lowes and Michael van den Mark. Both are well appreciated by the Yamaha factory and have had substitute rides on the Tech3 M1 in the past, although the world superbike season is due to start next month and both are seen as playing a pivotal role in turning the R1 superbike into a winner.
Folger’s absence may see a promotion of some sort for Japanese rider Kohta Nozane, the young factory tester who stood in for the German at the Japanese Grand Prix. Experienced former world superbike champion Sylvain Guintoli is another outside bet. He’s a former Tech3 rider without a seat for 2018, although he is expected to take on the role of test rider for Suzuki. His fellow Frenchman Loris Baz lost his MotoGP ride at the end of the year, despite some decent performances, and it may be possible for him to be extracted from his BMW world superbike contract.
Most of the top Moto2 riders are likely to be under tight contracts, although German rider Sandro Cortese has found himself without a ride after budget troubles at Kiefer Racing. Tech3 could also choose to promote their Moto2 rider Remy Gardner, son of 1987 500cc world champion Wayne, to their MotoGP squad, although the 19-year-old probably needs more time to develop in the intermediate class.
Stefan Bradl, a former champion in that class is without a race seat for 2018 after failing to impress in superbikes. The German is currently testing for Honda but could politically be an attractive replacement due to the lack of any other countryman in the class. Another German, the little known Marvin Fritz, could also be an outside bet for the ride. The 24-year-old has impressed in Yamaha’s world endurance team and would fulfil the brief if series organisers Dorna insist on a German rider to satisfy the national TV network.