Duncan Bishop

Vermeulen’s welcome return

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Vermeulen knows how to progress a bike

In every walk of life, there are some people who it is almost impossible to dislike. In motorsport - where everyone clashes with everyone else on track at some stage in their career - rubbing people up the wrong way is an occupational hazard. If you haven't annoyed someone, then you probably aren't going fast enough.

It's nice, then, to see one of racing's good guys returning for a cameo this coming weekend. Chris Vermeulen comes in for the Forward Racing team in place of the injured Colin Edwards, himself highly popular, at the American's request, as the first replacement rider of the 2012 season.

Vermuelen is of course returning to the scene of the crowning moment of his career to date, rocking up to the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans where he took an 800cc Suzuki GSV-R to a first win of the MotoGP era in a wet race six seasons ago.

A repeat of that momentous event is not on the cards - neither is it the aim of the rider or team. Instead, the French Grand Prix is a chance for a rider who has not swung his leg over a world championship-calibre racer since July of last year to put himself back on the market, whilst also using his experience to help out the CRT newcomers.

'Developing a bike' is a phrase used as a barometer for opining on riders. The attitude towards technical know-how ranges from "I just get paid to ride the thing" to "a little bit more weight on the front, please" amongst those who didn't pick the jargon, and a spanner, up along the way to MotoGP. Few are as hands-on as Vermuelen in this respect.

In the days of almost endless trips to Sepang, Phillip Island and the like for pre-season testing back before cost-cutting reared its ugly head, the Australian would occasionally be allowed to take over by crew chief Tom O'Kane in choosing a direction to take with adjustments for the afternoon. Forward Racing are one of the CRT teams in the paddock with more experience than most and have benefited from Edwards's input in pre-season and the opening race meetings, but having someone new, experienced and interested on the BMW SR1000-based bike will prove useful for a second opinion.

Are significant strides going to be made from a three-day collaboration? Probably not, but every little helps as the rest of the CRT field look to stop the teams running ART machines from pulling ahead in the race to catch the satellite bikes. Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaró have been the best-placing riders from the new class in the past two rounds, and they have had a good 0.500 over the rest in most practice sessions. If Vermeulen can get anywhere close to matching their times, outperform the likes of Mattia Pasini and Yonny Hernández and pick off a Héctor Barberá or Karel Abraham along the way, then we may be seeing more of him when vacancies arise elsewhere.

Vermeulen is literally taking over from where Edwards left off in Estoril. Whilst wildcard entries are permitted three brand new engines for their appearances, replacement riders are considered an extension of the substituted competitor. That means Vermeulen will be using one (or possibly more) of Edwards's allotted twelve for the season.

It is one of the many rules in MotoGP that are there for a reason, but which still diminish the spectacle: it is in place to stop loopholes being used to get around engine limits, but has led to some completely uninspiring choices standing in for established names on the measly factory allowance of six.

It is how we end up with Valentino Rossi being stood in for by Wataru Yoshikawa, as happened in 2010, with the crew saying that the aim for those three race weekends was not to ruin another motor. Preserving equipment will take priority over pushing hard.

Not all substitute riders can be Troy Bayliss at Valencia in 2006. Maybe one day we will see a return to the wildcard privateers turning up and giving the title contenders a run for their money. For now, albeit courtesy of being the rider with the most flexible calendar, let's be glad for the return of the first MotoGP racewinner to the competition - the first to try his luck with a CRT bike.

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