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EXCLUSIVE Ronald Ten Kate (Pata Honda) - Q&A

21 August 2013

By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with Ronald Ten Kate, team manager of Pata Honda.

The Ten Kate team has won eight World Supersport titles and one World Superbike championship since 2002, all with Honda machinery.

This season, the Dutch-based squad is running Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam in WSBK, plus Michael van der Mark and Lorenzo Zanetti in WSS…

Crash.net:
How do you and Gerrit divide your roles in Ten Kate Honda?

Ronald Ten Kate:
I'm involved in running the team on a day to day basis and spend only a little time at our tuning and racing dealership business whereas Gerrit is the opposite and spends less time with the team and more on the business side of things. Gerrit comes to most of the European rounds but tends not to come to the more distant rounds.

Crash.net:
So is the team a money making venture?

Ronald Ten Kate:
No. It's a non profit organization. However, since I spend 80% of my time on the team, 80% of my salary also comes from it. Gerrit doesn't get any money from the team. At the end of the year we want the income and spending to reconcile to 0. We want to be spending all the money from the team on the racing and any money we make comes from the dealership business. If we'd wanted to be rich we should have worked in a different industry!

It was a company decision right from when the team took off 10 years ago that we didn't want to make any money from the racing team.

Crash.net:
Didn't you originally compete in Motocross?

Ronald Ten Kate:
That was a long time ago! But we've been racing on the road for about 20 years and before that I had a bit of a career in the mud. At that point Gerrit was already becoming a tuning guy for motocross bikes.

I still get my hands dirty every now and then, but that's mainly at a private level because my son has picked up motocross and he's just won a trophy for coming second in a big race in Holland. On a day to day basis though my job has become quite boring as I'm dealing with ever more paper work and administration. When I say boring, I'm still very proud that we've come from a small private team to the level that we are now.

Crash.net:
Are you a frustrated rider?

Ronald Ten Kate:
No not at all. I realized a long time ago that I could never make it to even the top 10 in a national series. I've never tried to ride a bike on a circuit and I have to say that I don't really want to. I've never tried any of our bikes and have never wanted to. I'm privileged to work with a number of riders who have more feeling and talent for a machine in their little finger than I have in my whole body, so why would I want to take a bike out without being able to use it.

In the old days before we had a dyno we would test and run in bikes on the street and even did some high speed testing on closed roads so I do know the speed of the bike a little. You need a professional rider to use a superbike properly though. We have days when we invite some journalists to try the bike and it's not many who still have it pinned at 14000 rpm they tend to have it pinned at 6, 7 or 8000rpm, it's only professional riders who take it to the limit.

I have great admiration for the riders we work with, I admire anybody who does their job well, but the rider has a very particular job and they have to be the stars of the show and make us look good on Sundays. It takes something special to go around a track that fast.

After 20 years of working and having worked with perhaps 40 riders now, you start to realize that it's a special breed.

Crash.net:
Of the riders you've worked with, which have stood out?

Ronald Ten Kate:
That's so difficult, but putting some in a random order, I would say James Toseland, Jonathan Rea, Sebastien Charpentier, Kenan Sofuoglu and Karl Muggeridge. With Leon I can't make a judgement yet because he's been injured for the whole season.

Both Karl and James had great determination, whether or not they were the most talented of the riders we've worked with, they always gave everything and gave 100% of their talent. Without determination they would never have achieved what they did and sometimes the most talented rider isn't the one who works most. They can be a little lazy because they've had a free ride. Talent is one thing but for me it's determination which makes the rider both in the good times and bad times. This also tells you how they're going to come back from an injury and how much work they'll do over winter and that they'll never give up.

All riders have a strong ego which means that it's always, 'If you give me the Repsol Honda, I'll win the MotoGP title for you', or 'If you give me James Toseland's bike I'll win the WSBK title for you', I'm going to win it, I'm the best, I'm the best, I'm the best, it's all talk, talk, talk. Then you ask them face to face, looking them in the eye; 'Will you win the world championship for me?' then there are only a few who will answer 'Yes' with a sparkle in their eye whereas other will hesitate. That has always been my trick with selecting riders, I think you can take it from the eyes, the fire in the eyes tells you a lot about their determination. We are taking riders from a higher level anyway so we already know if they have talent.

Crash.net:
From the outside Ten Kate seems to have a distinctive family atmosphere, do you encourage this?

Ronald Ten Kate:
We like to win, but for us it's also very important to keep things human and to have respect for each other. The atmosphere in the team has to be right, when we assess the team, we also consider how people fit in with the team with regard to their character and try to push team members to bring out helpful aspects of their personality. Human relationships are very important in a team, we're not robots.

We're a family run company and I think that reflects on the team and it's important to look after one another whether that's a rider or any other member of the team. No matter whether you are having problems in your personal or racing life, you'll be looked after. I think there's an element of loyalty in the team.

Crash.net:
What is the contract situation at the moment with your 2 WSBK riders?

Ronald Ten Kate:
The riders contract is directly with Honda. Leon is on a 2 year option deal with Honda having the option for next year and they'll have to decide whether to exercise that at some point and Johnny is on the one year deal now and we'll start talking next weekend [interview conducted at the Silverstone round]. He's been with us since 2008, he's a really nice guy and we've seen him grow from a very young and ambitious rider to an established star but still with the ambition to win. He'll be a father soon too.

Crash.net:
You mention that their contracts are directly with Honda, so how 'factory' is the Ten Kate team?

Ronald Ten Kate:
Basically, what we're doing is taking bikes from a dealership floor, taking them to the team's workshop and building world superbikes from them. We use a lot of parts made by our workshop and some supplied by HRC which we have to buy and pay for. This year we have also swapped to the HRC electronic kit. So, how factory are we? It's a difficult one.

When you compare us to Kawasaki, we're less 'factory', if you compare us to Aprilia, we're a lot less 'factory' and also a lot less than Ducati. I would say that we're probably quite close to what Suzuki is doing in WSBK. We're close to the lower end of factory involvement.

Honda would make parts available to us that they might not to a different Honda team though, that's the factory support part.

We're backed by Honda Motors Europe. Honda Japan may throw some technology behind it, but we're a Honda dealership and we're fully committed to them. I can't imagine racing with any other bike. We think Honda, we feel Honda, we are Honda! Sometimes I almost feel that we are more Honda than Honda itself! (laughs)

The Honda founder always said that development had to come from racing so it's in the DNA of the company. It's not as if we just want to go racing for a couple of years like some other factories do, it's not a strategic marketing choice, Honda goes racing because they have to.

Crash.net:
So which features of my Suzuki SV1000 I ride every day have been usefully developed directly from racing?

Ronald Ten Kate:
I'm sorry, I'm not a Suzuki man, so can't really comment.

When we take a bike racing, after very little time, we'll find any weak components and also the limits of others particularly in the engine. That's valuable stress testing.

Because we take the bike right to the limit, we'll immediately see if the chassis is too weak or strong and what adjustment the swing-arm may need to get a better feel. There is a constant feedback to the production bikes and that'll result in a better bike in the end.

Also, the kind of things we are doing with the electronics at the moment will end up in street bikes. Not to the same level, but will influence their design. Aspects such as different power modes, traction control modes and ABS. They want to bring ABS to racing.

Crash.net:
ABS in racing?

Ronald Ten Kate:
It's already been on the World Endurance bikes for two or three years. In rain, the riders love it; you can just slam on the brakes as hard as you can.

Crash.net:
Won't that take away control from the rider and compromise the racing?

Ronald Ten Kate:
As a racing fan I'm with you, but as a team principal I also understand that the speeds we're getting from the bikes is almost too much to send guys out without those electronic aids. We can discuss about how much electronics aids we need, but there is no discussion anymore as to if we need them. We need them to a certain level, or we'll have to detune the bikes, so maybe go to 600 or 700cc's or even to 750s like we once did.

Crash.net:
With that in mind, what do you feel about the new Dorna rules?

Ronald Ten Kate:
All the conversations I've had with Dorna don't indicate that it's going to be Superstock.

If you look at BSB for example, it's pretty OK, but the manufacturers here don't want to have a one make ECU because of the ability to develop road bikes from the race ones.

The [new] EVO class will help to make the grids fuller and give a more affordable entry to the World Superbike field.

Crash.net:
Johnny has been loyal to Honda, would you encourage him if he were to look for other opportunities in the Honda family?

Ronald Ten Kate:
I always encourage a rider to make the best of themselves and if there is an opportunity for example to run in MotoGP then I'd encourage that, but only on the correct machinery. Every now and then Johnny and I just sit down and speak openly and he knows that at that time I'm not the team manager but more of a friend. We've had our ups and downs but we've always stayed open and honest.

Crash.net:
The WSBK Honda seems to be one of those bikes that some riders have difficulty with, would you agree?

Ronald Ten Kate:
Not really, when Carlos was with us in the last year he was also winning on the bike. We then had a couple of years where the riders weren't doing what we expected from them. I think this is the first year again with Leon on the bike where we have someone with Jonathan who can really push him. Leon's recovery is almost complete now and we should be able to understand soon if there is someone else out there who can ride the bike and I strongly believe there is.

There's a rod all the way through Leon's leg and he wanted to come back so early and if you look back, maybe we should have waited a bit. On the other hand though he wants to ride, the doctors assessed it as not dangerous and you have to give the rider a go. I'm not a doctor. He was so keen, I would have needed a hammer to get him off the bike. After the August break, I expect him to be fully returned.

Crash.net:
Where did you find Michael der Mark?

Ronald Ten Kate:
He was already riding to a certain level in 125s and then moved to 125 GPs and got screwed over by his team. So he was down, without a job, disillusioned and almost didn't want to race any more. Then our guys from Tuning and Racing Products picked him up when he was walking around the paddock.

They just asked him, 'Can you test this little bike for us?', I think it was a Moriwaki 125 production racer we've got. They just said 'Can you test this, we just want to hear your opinion?' He went out and after the first outing he had a smile on his face and after a few more outings we got to know the guy. He's very funny, very friendly, knew exactly what he wanted from the bike and was freakishly fast.

My tuning guys were saying 'Ronald, Ronald, this guy Michael van der Mark, you've got to test him on the stock bike!' We put him on the stock 600 at Magny-Cours and he was fast immediately and came third in his first season. We then put him on the bike for another season. Many people were trying to push us to move him to Supersport but we wanted to take it slowly and calmly. He was a young guy and needed to grow. Last year he won the title for us and I've got to say that he's growing faster than expected.

You have to look after the young riders, it's all too easy to throw them in the deep end and say 'Swim'. Some riders will swim, others though won't swim and you'll lose a fast man for nothing. You've got to be sensitive to where they are with regard to their personality, their feedback and as a rider and sometimes they just need one more year at a level to pick up speed before moving on to the next.

After his showing at Suzuka [8 Hours] where he qualified quickest out of our guys, he has to be a prospect for the bigger bikes. His dad is always telling us that he goes better on the big bikes. He's going to do a speed test for us next week.

Crash.net:
In the light of what happened in Russia, do you think the rules for riding in the wet need looking at again?

Ronald Ten Kate:
That was just a wet race, and in a wet race we know what to expect, in my opinion there wasn't too much water to race. If we discuss this, then we ultimately have to discuss if we race in wet conditions at all or cancel the meeting like they do in America.

It was a tragedy of course, but it could also have happened in the dry. I think the last three people we lost in racing were all because they fell off and were then hit by other riders and I don't think we can stop that with rules. We can make the track safer, the bike safer or the helmet safer, we can only change the things we can influence. Being hit by another racer can't be influenced by rules. The only way to avoid racers hitting each other would be to send them out 10 seconds after each other, that's not racing though.

Crash.net:
Talking of wet weather regulations, is it true that the Honda is the only bike without a quick change wheel?

Ronald Ten Kate:
There isn't really any quick change machinery around because you don't need it. You've got 25-30 seconds to change the wheel so we don't need to access the Suzuka 8 hours equipment. In the 8 hour race they change wheels in six seconds so if we needed it we could just contact Honda to get it. Russia was the first race where we did the wheel change and it went more smoothly than expected so we don't feel that we need anything else.

Crash.net:
Thanks Ronald.

Ronald Ten Kate:
Pleasure.


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