Motorcycling: Whitham for Yamaha

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The Independent Online
JAMIE WHITHAM, the hard-riding maverick from Yorkshire, may be about to return to British Superbikes in a mouth-watering combination with his former team-mate Niall Mackenzie as part of the newly branded Virgin Yamaha squad.

Having failed to make enough of an impression on World Superbikes on board a temperamental Suzuki to secure gainful employment in the senior series this season, the 32-year-old ex-works rider's only prospect of a ride is this weekend's world endurance race at Le Mans, where he will partner Terry Rymer on a Suzuki.

However, he was yesterday expected to meet with Yamaha after the team's manager, Rob McElnea, suggested that a place may be available for him this season.

Whitham, one of Britain's most popular riders, who dominated British Superbikes alongside Mackenzie, the series' triple champion, in 1996, says the prospect of a regular, competitive ride would be too tempting to resist.

"I would be a fool not to look at any offer [Yamaha] might come up with and to be honest, it is probably the only team I'd ride for in Britain," he said.

"One of the main reasons I decided not to come back to Britain this year after the chance of a WSB ride had gone was that it happened so late that all the plumb seats in the top teams had gone. But a Virgin Yamaha is a plumb seat."

A rival for the seat on the shiny new scarlet R7 is Scott Smart, Britain's lone 500cc GP rider last season. He has since parted with the Millar squad and has also talked to Yamaha about joining its British outfit.

British interest in this weekend's 24-hour endurance race is not confined to Whitham and Rymer. Brian Morrison, three times a winner, will partner fellow Scot Mackenzie on a Yahama while British Superbikes riders Chris Walker and Steve Hislop will turn out in the colours of Kawasaki France on a works ZX-7RR.