LCR could feature an all-new line-up for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship season as Honda mulls promoting both Ai Ogura and Somkiat Chantra.
LCR Honda boss Lucio Cecchinello has hinted his team could feature an all-rookie line-up for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship with Ai Ogura and Somkiat Chantra replacing Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Marquez.
The LCR team is in the midst of a lull in form, with only three top five results since the start of the 2021 MotoGP season achieved by riders Nakagami and Marquez.
The two riders are considered most under threat for their seats for the 2022 campaign, Nakagami and Marquez both out of contract at the end of the season.
Of the pairing, Nakagami is the rider most likely to be replaced having struggled to build on a promising 2020 campaign that yielded his first pole position and a series of top six finishes.
Indeed, the Japanese rider is yet to score a podium in MotoGP and has cracked the top eight on just three occasions in the last 23 races. While his place in LCR is assured by Honda’s desire to have a Japanese representative spearheading its talent-scouting Honda Team Asia development programme, it is anticipated he will be succeeded by up-and-coming countryman Ogura for 2023.
The 21-year old has enjoyed a successful rise through the GP ranks, finishing runner-up in the 2020 Moto3 World Championship and proving a front runner in his rookie Moto2 World Championship in 2021.
With Ogura currently second in the standings with two podiums from the opening five races, whilst Cecchinello admits the decision will be taken by Honda to place him at LCR, he doesn’t want to write off Nakagami’s chances of being retained just yet.
“Taka’s place is part of a Honda program across Asia,” he told Speedweek. “This program starts with the Asian Talent Cup and continues with Hiroshi Aoyama’s Honda Asia team in the Moto3 and Moto2 World Championships.
“The long-term goal is MotoGP. Idemitsu is a Honda sponsor, so they have a say in rider selection. Taka is now in his fifth year with the Idemitsu MotoGP team. I think it’s going to be very important for him to perform from now until the end of June. Then we have to wait and see if Honda already wants to promote a young rider from Moto2 to MotoGP for 2023.
We’re talking about Ogura or Chantra. We have to be very careful before we say Taka won’t get another contract. Because he’s a really fast rider. Maybe we need to help him more as a team. He still has a step to take when it comes to managing the race. He is often fast in training, super fast in the warm-up, but something is missing in the race.”
Somkiat Chantra to get MotoGP chance in 2023?
While Ogura has been tipped as Nakagami’s replacement for some time, the suggestion that its second seat could be filled by another of Honda’s young proteges in Chantra is a fresh development.
One of the year’s unexpected revelations, Chantra came into the 2022 Moto2 campaign – his fourth with Honda Team Asia – having collected only a handful of points’ finishes in the previous three years.
However, he burst to prominence with a dominant victory during Round 2 in Indonesia, before following it up with a strong run to second place in Argentina immediately afterwards.
Becoming the first Thai rider to score a GP podium and win, Chantra’s advantageous nationality in terms of marketing and promotion could be a driving force behind getting him into MotoGP.
Such a move would ultimately see LCR Honda morph into a Honda Team Asia MotoGP effort in support of the Team HRC factory squad.