Kawasaki is poised to withdraw from the MotoGP World Championship with immediate effect, autosport.com has learned.
According to sources, the Japanese manufacturer is set to make an announcement regarding its plans for 2009 on Monday, January 5, when it is expected to confirm details of its withdrawal from the premier motorcycle racing class.
It remains unclear why Kawasaki is quitting, though both the global economic crisis and a lack of results are likely to have been factors in the decision.
The news is a blow to MotoGP's organisers, who will have the number of factory teams reduced to four at a time when the rival World Superbike Championship has gained another two in Aprilia and BMW.
Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal will leave Marco Melandri and John Hopkins without a ride for next season. Melandri had hoped to revive his career with the team after a catastrophic season with the factory Ducati squad in 2008.
"I have to wait and hear some words, as at the moment I hear nothing," Melandri told autosport.com.
"If it is true, then I can only hope that when I wake up on January 1st it is all a nightmare."
Kawasaki returned to the premier MotoGP class in 2003 with bold plans to become regular contenders, but has so far failed to record a victory in the premier class.
The closest the team came were three second places in three years with Randy de Puniet (Motegi 2007), Shinya Nakano (Assen 2006) and Olivier Jacque (Shanghai 2005).
Kawasaki secured big-money signing John Hopkins from Suzuki at the beginning of 2008 and it was hoped that this would trigger an upturn in results. But the American was hampered by injuries and both he and teammate Anthony West struggled with the inconsistent handling of the ZX-RR.
In the end, fifth places for Hopkins (at Estoril) and West (at Brno) were the best the team could manage.
Nevertheless, Kawasaki was set to enter 2009 with optimism, having landed former GP-winner Melandri, alongside the fired-up Hopkins to lead the development of the ZZ-XR in the new one-make tyre era.
Kawasaki's withdrawal will be the fourth time a Japanese manufacturer has pulled out of a major motorsport category in recent weeks. Honda announced in early December that it was quitting Formula One, while Subaru and Suzuki confirmed later in the month that they were stopping their programmes in the World Rally Championship.