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On #AfterTheFlag following Day 3 of the #QatarTest, Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team Manager Herve Poncharal spoke to ATF hosts Matt Birt and Steve Day following the recent news of the team’s split from longtime partner Yamaha. Covering everything from then to now and beyond – as well as where the decision leaves superstar sophomore Johann Zarco – Poncharal began by explaining his decision to split from the Iwata marque.
After the Flag: #QatarTest Day 3 Recap
“At the end of last year, Malaysia, Valencia…in the last two Grands Prix Johann was twice on the podium, in the dry and the wet, and it was almost a win in Valencia”, begins the Frenchman, whose Rookie of the Year led the first race and the last of the season - and was top Independent Team rider despite his debut the same year. “Everyone was expecting maybe something special coming from Yamaha to support Johann, like HRC do with Cal and Ducati with Danilo Petrucci. It didn’t come. And although we’ve proved in Qatar that the support we have is incredible…there are many things. As a satellite operation you always want more and to be closer to the factory guys. For sure the new technical rules have helped us all be closer to the top, but you always want to have that last bit extra.”
But for Tech 3, the situation remained the same - and Zarco is gearing up to campaign in much the same way this year as last.
“We are racers”
So the decision was somewhat made, or at least the door to possibilty began to open. But that wasn’t the only factor, and for Poncharal, the memories and successes are to be looked back on fondly – but the biggest motivation is that of a new challenge, and, specifically, one with a broader horizon.
“Twenty years is a long time. We have great memories and have had great results, we won the 250 title with Olivier Jacque in 2000, what we did last year with Johann was very strong – especially with a rookie in the MotoGP class. But we are racers. you saw last year with Lorenzo switching from Yamaha to Ducati, Rossi tried the same, and it’s always good to see – ‘What would we do there?’ And also I think at some stage in your career and your life, you don’t want to feel too comfortable. We were in an incredible comfort zone with Yamaha. We are happy, everything was clear and know almost everyone in the company, but sometimes it’s good to have a fresh challenge, something that wakes you up and makes you feel ten years younger. I think when you meet people who can pass you that energy, passion and desire to work with you and work for the best, this is something I wanted to try. I share that with my staff – I was scared they were going to tell me they don’t agree but I’m happy everyone has told me ‘let’s go!’”
That battle cry looking forward lays the first foundations for the future in itself, with the Tech 3 team seemingly, then, fired up for the challenge. So what exactly is that challenge? It’s more a partnership, explains Poncharal.
“We have a three-year deal, in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Each year, in ‘19 we’ll have ‘19 spec, there will be four bikes on the grid with the same spec – the factory team and the Tech 3 operation. It will be the same in ‘20 and same in ‘21, which is something you always look for and always want. That will help us to look for good results but also to be part of the development – and you know even though you have a good bike like that Johann has now, it’s a bike that doesn’t have any evolution throughout the year, once you reach a certain level you want something that is more tailor made and with a factory behind you. We’ll have that. We always tried to be the ‘official’ junior team but it was never really the case, but it will be the case where we are going. The manufacturer is involved in Moto2™ and Moto3™, there will be a clear path. Young riders from the first day in the championship will go through Moto3™ and Moto2™, then to MotoGP™ with the junior team – and then, if they’re good enough, they will eventually move to the factory team. This is being part of the family and you know what family means to me. Even though the bike could be under the performance of what we have now, there is room for improvement, development, sharing ideas of how to make the package better – and at least to be part of that project and have people listening to us, trying to grow all together. That’s exactly what I was looking for.”
For the Team Manager, then, it’s mission accomplished in terms of Tech 3’s new partnership. But there remains one question mark hanging high in the air: the future of Johann Zarco, the rookie who arrived and conquered – and whose aim gets higher and higher.
“I’ve said since the end of 2017 that if Johann doesn’t get a full factory contract from 2019, then there’s something wrong in our world because he deserves it.” A concise addition to the question of the Frenchman’s future – and something it seems Tech 3 and their new partner would now be in a better position to fulfill. That’s something that, for Poncharal, would be the absolute ideal.
“A full factory contract is the final thing Zarco needs to eventually fight for the title. Clearly that won’t be happening inside Yamaha. I think that was his secret dream, but Maverick and Valentino I think they will stay so there’s no room for him there. He’s looking at all the options but he knows where we’re going and I think he’s also excited about the challenge. Not to sound pretentious but we have an incredible relationship, he knows how important it is to have his Crew Chief Guy Coulon and Alex his data guy – these two guys plus the mechanics are essential. To have a good bike is very important; of course you need to be a good rider but the crew around you in terms of setting, confidence and understanding what you need – both technical support and human support – is very important, as it mutual trust. Right now, Zarco and his manager are going to look at all the options, but it would be a dream to have him with us. It’s not impossible, the ball is in his court. I don’t know if it’s a strong possibility but it’s definitely a possibility and I’d love to see it happen. But I’ll let him decide because the last thing you want to do is push him to decide something he’d regret, so let him look at the market and then decide.”
That market, however, may also be looking at Zarco before the pieces all begin to fall into place for 2019. So will we see the Frenchman remain with the French team? Or what will that ‘market’ offer him?
All will soon be revealed, with the #QatarGP just around the corner. Fitting that, as racing returns to the venue that saw Zarco blast out the blocks and not look back last season, the Frenchman is now the one holding so many cards looking forward.
Highlights: Zarco leads final day under the lights