New to motogp.com?Register here
Red Bull KTM Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal joined motogp.com commentators Matt Birt and Steve Day in the commentary box during the morning of Day 2 at the Valencia Test to discuss an array of topics.
The first of those was the Frenchman discussing how the Valencia Test is always quite weird, seeing different riders in different clothing and especially this season, with his Tech 3 team switching to KTM after spending 20 years with Yamaha: “On the Monday following the race in Valencia, you see a lot of faces that you don’t recognise because everybody is changing uniform and when I saw the rookies yesterday; Mir with the Suzuki leathers, Bagnaia with the Pramac etc. it’s a bit weird,” explained Poncharal. “For us maybe more because we were 20 years with Yamaha, which is a very long time. Even me, when I go to the garage and I see the crew that have been with me for more than 20 years I say ‘who are you?’. It’s a strange feeling, but it’s good.”
Oliveira's first scare on the KTM RC16
The conversation moves onto 2019, with the aforementioned change from Yamaha machinery to KTM machinery – a move that means he’ll have two full factory bikes in his garage: “KTM, as planned, are supporting the four bikes with the same year model, so in 2019 they’ll have four 19 bikes, in 2020 the 20 etc. with the same evolution at the same time for the four riders, so everyone will be on the same spec, it doesn’t matter if they’re on the factory team or the satellite team. The bikes Miguel (Oliveira) and Hafizh (Syahrin) have now are the 19 bikes, that have been built at the factory that Randy (De Puniet) ran in Aragon with the Superbike guys when we were here, in the previous week.
“They’re brand new. Things will be modified, right now they have the 2018 fairing, we have a new fairing. But yesterday we wanted to start with things they know and for us to compare. Unfortunately, we could only do less than 30 laps with these track conditions. These are the 19 bikes, we only have 1 per rider. Early December we will be in the KTM factory to assemble the second one for each rider and there will be schooling because right now we have great support from KTM and it was great on Monday because we have so many staff, so many engineers, so many mechanics. The test team is with us, they know the bike very well, and we work together with the test team to learn and understand the bike.”
Watch Zarco's first laps with KTM for FREE!
It’s a hugely exciting chapter for both Tech 3 and KTM, and one Poncharal is very much looking forward to: “This is a very exciting moment and we feel very proud to be part of that project,” said Poncharal. “The podium Pol did on Sunday, not a lot of people can imagine the boost it gave to the factory. They had a fantastic day, winning Moto3, winning Moto2 and finally on the MotoGP podium, which wasn’t expected. It was an incredible feeling. When you go into that garage, when you talk to all these guys, the level of commitment, the level of passion, the level of trust is something that isn’t just because it’s new. I’ve very rarely seen those things.
“You see so many faces in orange jackets that you think you’ll never know who is who – with time we will – but you have an unbelievable amount of nationality; German, Spanish, English, French, even Japanese, from all other the world, and everybody have the same kind of passion and will to succeed and you feel like they live this project, this adventure, this challenge very intensely and that was a very nice feeling. On Monday morning Pit Beirer came in the box and explained really well why he chose Tech 3, what he was expecting, the level of support and said he is proud to have us with him and that they want KTM to win and they don’t care if it is a satellite KTM or a factory KTM. This is something very special and all I guys were touched by that. Before you start, to have the boss giving you this kind of speech, it’s very motivating.”
Clearly, Pol has been riding like a demon. It was be on the podium or don’t finish the race. The conditions helped but it was fantastic to watch. Pol rode brilliantly. We know the KTM machine is very fast, very powerful, but to be able to have friendly power delivery in the rain, you must master well the electronics, you need to have a bike that is easy to handle, so it was an incredible feeling and I said to my friends, it was even more exciting to see Pol on the podium than it could have been to see Johann on the podium because straight after the race we were leaving the garage for the Petronas Yamaha team to go to the KTM garage. I know how tough the year was, how many negative comments KTM have had, I think everybody deserved it. When you know how hard they are trying, the investment, the amount of work they’ve put in, to end a season like this was a fantastic season and I was sharing their joy.
Poncharal then discusses how the move to KTM came about: “We have common values and common challenges. Life makes things, even if they are very exciting. Everyday life can make it less sharp, less exciting and when you get used to something, the passion and the excitement disappears a little bit. I like excitement, passion challenges. Through ’16 ’17 there was a lot of talk about Valentino having his own team. Yamaha couldn’t supply three teams, which would be six bikes, so I was a little bit on hold, waiting for Yamaha to let me know what was going to happen. You always want to be better.
The 2019 rookies ride their maiden laps in MotoGP™
“I was happy to see HRC supporting Cal with a factory bike through the satellite team. I was also impressed by the commitment of Ducati supporting Petrucci through the Alma Pramac team with a factory bike. Of course, there was a best Independent Team championship and Independent rider Championship, so we were competing with Cal and Danilo for the those, and you feel like you’d like a bit more support like the other factories are doing. I was in that state of mind; happy waiting, but wanting to get some answers to my question.
“At that time the first contact started with KTM and I was very honoured to be talking to them. To hear how they saw our operation and what we could eventually bring them. From the very beginning of our discussion, it was obvious for them that they wanted four bikes, same spec, same year, same model and it didn’t matter which colour, which team or which crew was behind, or the rider on the bike. When I saw the passion and involvement of Mr. Beirer, I knew I wanted to work with these guys. The fact that I was sharing a lot of values with the KTM management, and they were interested and needed me, I said ‘let’s go'.”
20-year partnership: Poncharal on two decades with Yamaha
And what is his expectations for their first year with the Austrian manufacturer? “We want to work in a common way. The expectation is to do the best we can, but that is not the right answer,” muses the Frenchman. “The expectation is to give Miguel what he needs to understand MotoGP and fight with the other rookies. I was impressed yesterday by his calm. His nice attitude, so help him to understand MotoGP. He’s riding now with Johann Zarco’s crew. This crew has a lot of experience in MotoGP in general. Of course, we are discovering the machine, but he’s in a good position, so I’m expecting him to grow. He’s a long time KTM rider and he’s been very happy to grow inside the championship through the KTM operation.
“Hafizh Syahrin, you all remember how it happened. It was difficult. Thanks to Razlan, he almost destroyed his Moto2 operation, which was Hafizh Syahrin in the Moto2 class, to give us Hafizh and from that moment it was an incredible journey. His first test was in Buriram. He had a lot of pressure from a lot of people in my team because nobody thought he was going to be good enough. They thought he lacked spirit. I said let’s try this guy. Not only is he coming from a place that’s exciting for the business and our community, but also he has talent, let’s give him a chance. He was under a lot of pressure. He knew he had to be fast and not crash, and he did it perfectly. From Buriram, he was our rider. For me, it was never a possibility to not do a second year with him. What he did with us was fantastic and we have to pay him back. He said to me ‘Herve, I want to stay with you, with the team, I will follow you.’ I’m excited and happy.”
Poncharal then speaks about two of his previous riders; Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco. Both of whom he likens to one another, as well as mentioning another one of his former riders: Pol Espargaro.
The future? The future is now!
“The Ducati is considered the best bike on the grid, that’s thanks to Gigi Dall’igna, but also to Andrea Dovizioso,” comments Poncharal, with Dovi competing on the Tech 3 Yamaha for a year in 2012. “There are a lot of common points between Johann Zarco and Andrea Dovizioso. They don’t behave like superstar primadonnas. They’re close to their guys. They’re good to make a group behind you, supporting you, to motivate them. I believe Johann can do that with KTM, like Andrea did with Ducati. Johann lives MotoGP 100% of his time. He’s a very hard worker, a good technician. He has a good analysis of what’s going on on-track, and he informs us of technical information well to the team.
“Pol and Johann have very different riding styles and what KTM need more data and more feedback. They will have four riders in 2019. Clearly, Johann has a lot more experience than our two guys and Pol, you can’t underestimate. They can help KTM to grow and, in KTM they have everything you need to win; the budget, the engineer, the passion. They just need more time and more people; more riders, more technicians. They have good expertise, with Mike Leitner, will speed up the process of development. There is no reason why we couldn’t grow with KTM and this is our target.”
Fascinating insight from Poncharal, and you can listen to more interviews like this by tuning into motogp.com’s live coverage from the second day of the Valencia Test!