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Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Team Principal Hervé Poncharal chats exclusively to motogp.com about testing, silly season and their aims for 2016.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro finished the 2015 season in 6th and 9th respectively, and ended the recent Sepang test with Smith 10th fastest on combined times and Espargaro 16th:
How did the Sepang test go?
“First of all before talking specifically about Tech 3 I’d like to say that, just like all the other MotoGP teams, we had left the first test in Valencia with a few questions and worries. There had been quite a few crashes due to the front tyre, which were hard to explain and we had seen some harsh reactions about the new ECU. In Malaysia we were extremely happy to see that the people from Michelin, led by Nicolas Goubert, had done an incredible job and I have to take my hat off to them, because in Sepang we found from our very first laps a feeling that was really close to the one we had with the past supplier.
“And there were no unexplained crashes. It’s very important for us to work calmly, confidently and with a good feeling. Michelin had brought very good products and apart from the problem Loris had - which was probably caused by a tyre pressure issue and shouldn’t happen again since we’ll have pressure sensors in Qatar - we had a great feeling with the tyres. Some factory riders tried a few evolutions that we didn’t try, but we know that some better performing tyres are coming soon. When you look at Lorenzo’s lap time, you can be pretty confident about the performance level of the tyres. Yamaha’s engineers had also done a fantastic job with the electronics and with the whole package. They have done a great job with the two new things we have had to adapt to this season, the tyres and the standard ECU, and we are feeling confident. Once again, the lap times speak for themselves.”
How do you rate your riders' performances?
“To talk specifically about Tech 3, let’s start with Bradley (Smith) since he was our top classified rider in 2015. He finished 2015 in sixth and in front of us we had the two Yamaha factory riders, the two Honda factory riders and Andrea Iannone who is a Ducati factory rider. Behind us we had a lot of good riders like Andrea Dovizioso, factory rider for Ducati, the factory riders from Suzuki and all the other satellite riders.
“To finish sixth again in 2016 will be difficult, even more so because the grid is a lot closer, but Bradley did a fantastic test during the three days in Sepang. He’s worked a lot to understand the new electronics and has used a lot of different tyres. He did his best lap time with the hard tyre because Michelin had to withdraw the soft option after Loris’s (Baz) crash. I think that we’re doing well on the hard rubber and Bradley was the only one to complete a race simulation. He did a run of 21 laps on the last day, with almost all his laps in the 2’02’s. He had a good feeling with the tyre and a good feeling with the way the electronics dealt with the loss of grip. We were satisfied, we were not looking to set a lap time but he did 179 laps and we ticked all the boxes we needed to.
“Unfortunately, Pol had two crashes. A crash always sets us back in our work and costs the rider a bit of confidence. It meant he didn’t have time for a race simulation, but then again Bradley was the only rider one who managed to complete one. Honestly, it’s been a little bit more difficult for him but I know he’s not a big fan of Sepang. We learnt a few things so it wasn’t a waste of time, but the results were less positive than with Bradley. I hope that the next test which is at one of his - if not his favourite - tracks will be easier and that he’ll be at least more competitive and have a bigger smile on his face.”
On their rivals:
“Now we find ourselves in a very homogenous group composed of the two Tech 3 riders, the two official factory Suzukis, the two Pramac guys and maybe the two Avintias, plus LCR of course, and the two Marc VDS bikes. All of these machines are going to be very close. That means we will have to fight hard for every position. It’s going to be exciting for the fans and the media, but for us it will be tricky. I think we have to keep our heads cool and prepare our riders, physically and technically, for a high intensity fight. Even more since all the factory and satellite riders are finishing their contracts in 2016. Therefore they will be fighting to prove that they deserve a good ride next year.”
On ‘silly season’ and the team’s plans for the future:
“Even if it’s not something that is official, everybody knows that there are four Yamahas on the grid, two factory bikes and the two satellite bikes of Tech 3. But in reality there is a team that is meant to win races and win the title - which they’re doing pretty well up until now - and another team that is a ‘junior team’. Our Tech 3 2017 riders will be chosen in agreement with our sponsors, Yamaha and Tech 3. There’ll be talks, but given the specificity and the positioning of our team, it seems very unlikely that we would keep the same riders for 2017. Bradley is in his fourth year, Pol his third. It’s a case of they both have a fantastic season and earn, which is their dream, a factory ride. Or if they only have a good season, but not much more, I’ll be told that they’ve reached their potential and that it’s now time to have a look at some younger riders from Moto2. It’s going to be interesting to follow all the moves. The first to choose will obviously be the factory teams and then the others will try to figure out something. For us, our positioning is clear, we are a junior team.”
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