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Johann Zarco at the 2018 GP of Qatar
NEWS

Paging Herve: 15 minutes with the MotoGP Team Boss from the depths of Argentina

Apr 112018

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha Team Owner Herve Poncharal is already a prominent paddock figure and personality but he is having even more impact on the sport through influences past and present. We called him up right after a riveting second round of MotoGP where his current rider, Johann Zarco, missed out on a first win by just two tenths of a second to one of Poncharal’s former ‘employees’, Cal Crutchlow. We also talked sensational Malaysian racing rookies…

“I think Johann has that confidence that not many have. He is not surrounded by bodyguards or beautiful girls. He is just focussed on the job and is very different to all the others I’ve been working with because he is polite and almost shy in a way: but not on the track. At the moment he is a very complete MotoGP rider. ”

Give me an impression of how things have been considering the drama and Jonas Folger’s last minute withdrawal at the beginning of the year? It seems to have turned out quite well so far…

It was very tough to hear Jonas Folger telling us just a few days before heading to Malaysia for the first test of the 2018 season that he was not only missing the test but also the whole year. We basically had a one-rider team and the other guy would be there to make up the numbers on the grid. We were thinking, thinking, thinking and we tried Yonny Hernandez in Sepang just have to someone on the bike and to give him a chance. While we were there I was walking through the paddock with the weight of the world on my shoulders and I came across Razlan Razali, who is the CEO of the Sepang International Circuit. We were chatting and an idea popped into my head and I said “Razlan, what about Syahrin on a MotoGP bike?” He replied “Yeah! How much?” and I said: “It’s free! But I know you have a Moto2 programme” but he said any kind of MotoGP deal would be great. From that moment on I started to get excited again. It was a tough mission to convince the partners but we made it happen. MotoGP is an exciting and extreme sport but a lot of times people in it are very conservative. When you have a situation like we had with Folger leaving then you have two solutions: take no risk – which is not ‘MotoGP’ – and you end up with something boring that will bring zero excitement and coverage and zero return for the sponsors and investments or you try to do something a bit more ‘rock and roll’. Since Syahrin jumped on the bike in Thailand for the second test of the year he has been like a dream. It is always a big gamble when you change classes and he was not dominating Moto2 so it was an even bigger challenge when you think that Zarco was double world champion in the category. So, I’m extremely happy because not only has he been very fast but hasn't made many mistakes and gives great technical feedback. In Qatar he was in the points and second behind the first rookie, [Franco] Morbidelli, who is a world champion and in the second race he was the best rookie by far. Besides the performance, the guy is so refreshing, so different to the ‘superstars’ that you have to work with sometimes. He is full of energy and naivety but in a good way.

A word about Johann; he is knocking on the door of bringing the team’s first MotoGP win…

You know Johann was the surprise of the 2017 season. He was not only the rookie of the year but also the top satellite rider and was just 0.3 from winning the last race in Valencia. We didn't know what to expect for ’18: we wanted to improve on 2017 but we knew it would not be easy. Winter testing was a dream and then Pole Position in Qatar and leading 17 laps from 22 and unfortunately only a tyre problem robbed him of a potential victory or podium. Argentina: front row again and a good fight. All credit to my old rider Cal Crutchlow because when he was behind Johann I could see that he was strong and Honda have always been fast in Argentina. Cal was also on the podium last year. It was a tough track to pass and there were still some wet patches. He wisely decided to settle for second, which puts him third in the world championship and the best Yamaha. We can look optimistically at the future.

People see Johann as a quiet and polite guy. Now into your second year working with him what is his character like and how has he handled the whole adaptation process to a new level of profile? What did you discover?

I’ve discovered that this guy is very different to all the others I’ve been working with because he is, as you say, polite and almost shy in a way: but not on the track. He comes from a very normal background and he had to work, together with his friend, to climb all the steps from local racing to MotoGP. He has been more dedicated than anybody I’ve seen. It was never easy for him and he is the hardest worker I’ve had; second behind him was Andrea Dovizioso. Johann is so motivated and willing to succeed. More than anything he loves MotoGP racing, more than a lot of riders; he lives MotoGP. He has an attitude that you [as team manager] dream for. They are all very fast and very talented and all work very hard but I think he has that confidence that not many have. He is not surrounded by bodyguards or beautiful girls; he is just focussed on the job. Some top riders get confused and won’t have the results people are expecting and sometimes I think that is because they don't have the method to work and also the surroundings. I’m not a nationalist and will never be but I think speaking the same language – even though Johann and the whole crew speak good English – helps to really convey some feelings. He seems really good with the team, especially Guy Coulon [Crew Chief] and Alex Merhand [Data engineer] and this is really important. Johann is one of the guys who has spent the most hours in the [pit] box to understand, to talk, to read and to check, and at this level this is also important. MotoGP bikes are powerful and electronic control is now so strong and difficult to use properly; if you do it well it can be a friend if not then an enemy. At the moment he is a very complete MotoGP rider.

“If someone is beating us then I’m happy if it is Cal. He deserves it. He is a super guy. Some people call him a bigmouth…but we need bigmouths like that. He is full of life and MotoGP needs him.”

Lastly two of your ex-riders have won the first two rounds of MotoGP. What’s your emotion seeing Andrea and Cal making those achievements?

Yes! I’m proud. I know Andrea had a tough time when he was dumped by HRC and he came to us and got some great results, I think it was six or seven podiums in 2012. We had a really good year that helped him to bounceback and be hired by the Ducati factory and I have no doubt that he would succeed. He was perhaps not as charismatic as some other guys but I knew his level and his commitment. I knew if someone would trust him then he would not disappoint them. Every time I see him in front I have a good feeling and regarding Cal I would say it is the same, maybe even more. When Dovi came he was already a 250cc World Champion. Cal was a rookie and came from Superbike and is not an easy transition. His first year was difficult. Cal and I have two different characters and we had some proper fights! But he thanked me for that and said I was the first one to stand in front of him. After the race in Argentina we spoke for a long time. I was really happy to see him on the top step and if someone is beating us then I’m happy if it is Cal. He deserves it. He is a super guy. Some people call him a bigmouth but we need bigmouths like that. He is full of life and MotoGP needs him. I’m proud also to have worked three years with him. It is a good feeling to see two ex-Tech3 riders win the first two races but when I say ‘proud’ it is not because I feel they owe me or us anything, for sure they helped us to grow and we helped them to grow, and that's it.

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