Saudi backer promises $18 million to VR46 next week

The VR46 image as released by Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media

The Saudi Prince whose company is supposed to be backing Valentino Rossi’s new MotoGP team has promised full payment next week, following doubts about the partnership.

Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media announced in April that what would be known commercially as ‘Aramco Racing Team VR46’ would race in MotoGP from 2022.

Tanal is the holding company of HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud while Aramco is the state-owned entity otherwise known as the ‘Saudi Arabian Oil Company’.

However, that deal has been considered dubious since almost as soon as the announcement was made.

Despite the Prince being an owner of Aramco, the company reportedly denied knowledge of the agreement, and the original press release contained no quotes from any individual, nor any statement from VR46 or its apparent title sponsor.

Tanal made a further announcement at the end of July that it would hold a press conference within days to outline various projects, with “special emphasis” on the VR46 partnership.

That press conference has still not occurred, and a report from Italy then claimed Rossi was in talks about a sale to the Prince, something which the seven-time premier class champion denied.

Now, the Prince has addressed Italian media, and the formal press conference is set to be held next Wednesday.

He claims that the backing amounts to “approximately $18 million per year”, and has promised that, “The contract is already signed, and we will send the full amount to cover it next week.”

According to the Prince, the lateness of the press conference is essentially due to red tape.

“We have an agreement with Valentino and VR46, but problems have arisen because we announced it too soon,” he explained.

“By law, these projects must be announced first at a national level and then at an international level.

“We are finalising the last details these days with the four ministries involved – sport, finance, international finance, and media – and next week – Wednesday – there will be an official government conference where we will give all the details.”

It has been reported previously that Aramco might not necessarily be the title sponsor after all, but rather that any number of companies which the Prince owns might lend their name to VR46, including on a rolling sponsorship basis.

He was reportedly cagey about that but did express his desire to see a MotoGP event in Saudi Arabia.

“We are still talking about it [motorcycle grand prix] with the Ministry of Sport, but it will happen quickly,” said the Prince.

Saudi Arabia will host Formula 1 for the first time this year and while that event will take place on a street circuit, it could move in the near future to a permanent circuit which would be built in Qiddiya.

Tanal’s MotoGP involvement is part of a broader initiative to promote Saudi Arabia itself, as well as further the development and production of road vehicles in the Middle Eastern nation.

VR46 will field Ducatis next year and has already confirmed, albeit without a formal press release, that it will field Luca Marini, who currently rides a VR46-branded Esponsorama Racing entry.

As for his team-mate, it appears that Marco Bezzecchi will be promoted from the squad’s Moto2 programme despite interest from the Yamaha satellite team which Rossi himself currently rides for, SRT.

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