Wilco Zeelenberg, do riders make the best team managers?

It’s that time again! The Last On The Brakes Podcast is back, and it’s a belter with Petronas Yamaha SRT Team Manager Zeelenberg

Lately, it’s become very apparent that the Last On The Brakes Podcast is a lucky charm. After speaking to Herve Poncharal during the lockdown period and KTM Motorsport Director Pit Beirer on the Thursday before the race, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) went and won in Styria. The team chatted to Razlan Razali – Petronas Yamaha SRT Team Principal – in June before the 2020 MotoGP™ season began, before a certain Fabio Quartararo picked up a debut dream double in Jerez. And now, after catching up with Petronas Yamaha SRT Team Manager Wilco Zeelenberg before the San Marino GP, Franco Morbidelli went a stormed to a maiden MotoGP™ victory on home turf… coincidence? We think not.

Recorded before the opening weekend at Misano, hosts Matt Dunn and Fran Wyld had the pleasure of getting to know Zeelenberg. The Dutchman is a former 250cc Grand Prix winner and he’s the man who guided Jorge Lorenzo to his three premier class World Championships, Cal Crutchlow to his World Supersport title, and now the Team Manager of two premier class race winners in the form of Quartararo and Morbidelli. He is also the first ‘rider performance analyst’ in the MotoGP™ paddock.  

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While getting to know Zeelenberg better, the conversation touched upon an interesting topic: do former riders make the best team managers? Arguably, the general consensus is that athletes who have participated in a sport and had success are the best-equipped people to thrive in managerial and coaching roles. But does the 10-time Grand Prix podium finisher agree?

“It’s easy to say yes of course, but I don’t think it’s always that easy as every person has their own needs and wishes,” comments Zeelenberg. “But to have the experience as an ex-rider and to understand what’s going on, there are many moments to understand how the riders are thinking and what they want and what they need. Sometimes they are right, but sometimes they are wrong.

“And I think it’s important how you basically try to guide them in the right way without them getting angry and understand that we come from their position but they also need to adjust sometimes. I think it cannot work always otherwise, well, it’s not science but you need to be also understandable. I think it doesn’t always work.

Zeelenberg then chats about what it’s like to work with riders like Lorenzo, when – as a rider coach or team manager – you have to sometimes say: “No, you need to do this, this and this.”

“It is sensitive of course. We as riders, our egos are very, very big and you have to have that. Bottom line is you do things right more yourself and compared to others. Somebody jumps in and tells you to do this and this, you think “I know better”. But then there’s a moment where you recognise the team behind you just wants to make you take a step up. You will not maybe react directly but you listen.

“Jorge never agreed that I was right, or Ramon was right. But he picked it up and he tried it. Sometimes you are talking about skills that riders need to do and it’s very difficult to find the way to go around the racetrack fast but also sometimes it’s nice that people around you point out where you really need to improve.

“As a rider, you’re just trying to find the limit of the tyres and the bike is still turning and stopping but where you really lose your lap time, sometimes you have no clue because you’re on the limit everywhere. But if someone can say “look, turn one, you have to brake earlier and let the brakes go a bit earlier”, it’s simple. This is some points where you can give this info and they will try because it’s easier to do as it’s not a matter of braking later. Sometimes it’s go slower to go faster. This is also very important in this category, especially MotoGP.”

Here are some of the other topics that you can enjoy on this week’s episode:

- Wilco Zeelenberg, the racer & performance analyst
- Why he started riding and racing, his proudest achievements as a rider
- The decision to retire from racing
- A disastrous first day in his new job…
- Do riders make the best managers, coordinators, analysts?
- The very first rider coach
- Kenwood Quickfire

Head over to you favoured platform to listen to the MotoGP™ Podcast, or head over to YouTube and watch it there! Enjoy the episode, leave a review if you liked it pretty please and any comments, get in touch using #MotoGPpodcast on Twitter, or comment below the YouTube version of this podcast!

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