A decade of the good fight: Tech 3 & Monster Energy in MotoGP
Herve Poncharal and the Tech 3 team he leads have been swinging and punching away at the factory efforts in Grand Prix for decades and with considerable bravado since the start of the century in the premier class. Tech 3 began running those distinctive and piercing black and green M1 Yamahas in Monster Energy livery back in 2009, and 2019 sees the end of a relationship that shocked, surprised, energised and erupted MotoGP with the forceful presence of talent like Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso, Bradley Smith, Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger and Hafizh Syharin. It’s been quite a ride.
We asked the talkative and gregarious Frenchman – an ever-present figure in the GP paddock since the 1980s – for some of his favourite memories and moments since those ‘dark horses’ ran amok on the MotoGP grid.
1) The origins and those first unique Yamahas
Your good memories are always linked to a good result but I can remember when we first came close to having Monster Energy as a title sponsor. It was Christmas day or Christmas Eve and I received a call from Bob Moore [Wasserman Sports Agent and former MX World Champ] explaining there was the chance to be with Monster. Since they came to MotoGP a year or two before it was easy to love the brand because the ‘M’ claw is so distinctive and appealing. It is something the fans love. It is the kind of thing that you see with other teams and think ‘I’d love to have them with me’. When it happened – out of the blue more or less – it was an incredible feeling. When I first saw the bikes all black with the claw was a great moment. I could feel how the public responded, and on a certain website our bike was voted the best looking in MotoGP for 2-3 years in a row and that's thanks to them. It’s a good feeling to know that you are ‘the Monster team’ and over the years it is almost like ‘Tech 3’ disappeared!
2) That home Grand Prix feeling, the best season and a certain Italian
The French Grand Prix, Le Mans 2013. It was very wet on race day and Rodney Sacks [CEO of Monster Beverage] was with me and it was one of the first weekends that we spent together and I happy to share time with him talking about racing, MotoGP, Tech 3 and Monster. He came with us to the canopy on the pitwall and Cal Crutchlow had a fantastic race and was second. The conditions were really difficult with a lot of water on track and Cal made a beautiful race. He was closing on the leader, Dani Pedrosa, at the end. Anyway, to have my title sponsor there and following everything with a lot of tension, passion and enthusiasm behind the wall when your rider is moving up the order made me proud.
Monster was a title sponsor of the event and the crowd were mad. We could show that we were able to fight with the top teams. I’ve spent time with Rodney and I respect him a lot and I can see he has passion for MotoGP. It was a special moment. We then went back to the hospitality to have a celebration. It was a really nice weekend, and a special moment when I think about Monster and connected to a race result.
The previous year, in 2012, we had Cal and Andrea Dovizioso as riders and it was a strong season. Many times they were fighting together for the podium. We got a lot of trophies that season – I think there were eight.
Andrea Dovizoso was a special rider. I think he is one of the top three riders we ever had. He is not only very fast – and he proved it since he left us – but he has the capacity to motivate the group and to build one that work for him and believe in him. He is a team player. He gave us a lot of podiums in 2012 and we’re really proud of that. Cal was his teammate and newer to MotoGP but fought a lot with him and learnt a lot from him. Dovi was happy to progress together and they were very different. Dovi was more ‘northern Europe’ style and quite calm and Cal was more like the Italian! It was a really good year. Before Misano he invited us to his place – not to a nice restaurant like some other riders would have done – so we could see ‘who’ was Andrea. It was a nice house but nothing ‘bling bling’ and everything in order and very clean. He showed us into the garage where he kept his motocross bikes that had all been well maintained, by him, then we met his mother and his daughter and he was the one cooking. He took care of us in a way that you would not imagine or expect from a top MotoGP rider. He’s a really nice person and as a rider he is technically very skilful. He is a gentleman with a big heart and behaves like a normal guy even if he is an alien on track: you have to be to fight with Marc Marquez. When he came to us it was from HRC and he was a bit bitter not to have stayed there and when I offered him the possibility to come with us I was really happy but also a bit scared because he was used to top level machinery and we don't have the same means as a factory team. We could not offer him everything. He accepted a lower wage, and a logistic and set-up at a lower level than a factory team and he never, ever complained. So I’m proud to have given him a possibility to bounceback because after his season with us he went to Ducati and he went on to do what he is currently doing. It is difficult to pick one highlight from his year because I think the whole of 2012 was fantastic.
3) The magical Frenchman
2017 and the French Grand Prix with Johann Zarco. It was his rookie season and his first ever home GP on a MotoGP bike. He qualified on the front row and had an unbelievable race with the two factory Yamahas. On the last lap they were all fighting and Valentino unfortunately crashed and Johann finished second. That was his first ever MotoGP podium…and at home as well! It was an incredible feeling. The crowd were crazy. It was unforgettable. I was very proud and very happy. It is one of the strongest moments of the Monster Energy Tech 3 years. Why? I think because it was the first podium for Johann, and it is not easy to be up there in MotoGP especially in your rookie season. You want to shine everywhere but you want to shine more at home. It’s because of friends, family, media. We live MotoGP and we love it. We know it is stronger in some countries and it is strong also in France because the Grand Prix always has a lot of spectators. There is special TV support but when you have a good result then it feels like you are reaching an even wider circle. You feel that this is a result will help the sport reach new places.
4) The curious case of the Gung-ho German
The 2017 season again and with another rookie and a rider we miss a lot – Jonas Folger. That season everything was working well for both riders but it was going better for Johann Zarco. I could see that Jonas had the same level of potential as Johann but could not quite make it happen. We could see that he was fast. The German Grand Prix at Sachsenring was also something unforgettable. Jonas is someone who is not quite sure of himself; he is a bit shy in every department. He did not have the same confidence as Johann. He was a bit overshadowed. Sachsenring, and his home GP, is a track where the Yamaha has not really been working so well in the past and the two factory guys and Johann were struggling. So we could not believe what we were seeing when Jonas made an incredible start and then took the lead by passing Marc Marquez, especially Marquez in Sachsenring and all the unbeatable form he has had there. Jonas managed to open a gap until Marc caught it back and passed him but until the last lap he was right there. Marc said afterwards how much he had been pushing but could still hear Jonas behind him and wasn't sure if he could stay ahead. That was another proud moment.
Jonas went through some up-and-down moments and I signed him quite early the previous season. A lot of people in the paddock – I call them Mr ‘I know everything’ and there are plenty of them! – told me I was crazy to sign him. So when you see this rider fulfilling his dream and you are showing these guys that I was - in fact - not that stupid was also unbelievable. Johann in France and then Jonas in Germany?! These are two countries where MotoGP is not as big and famous as it is in Spain and Italy and the fact that both of them were on the podium for their home Grands Prix in their rookie seasons mean 2017 was a great year.
5) So close to that first MotoGP win
Johann once more. This time in Valencia for the last round of 2017. He was the Rookie of year, the best Independent rider with podiums and Pole Positions and we were dreaming of a win that season. I don't think we have been as close as Valencia where he led most of the race. I thought Marc Marquez would be the main threat and when he almost crashed at Turn 1 I thought: the chance of a win! The Ducatis were fighting each other and Dani [Pedrosa] was following but not really in a place to attack. We had been dreaming of a race like that…and we were a bit bitter to lose it on the last lap as he passed Johann. But it was still a beautiful weekend and beautiful way to finish that season. We went to the prize-giving ceremony and were already thinking about how 2018 could be better but wondering what factory support we could have after what we achieved. It has been a fantastic journey. Without Monster we would not be where we are today.