EXCLUSIVE: ‘Remember one guy, Valentino Rossi?’ Rider still makes the difference

Tech3 boss Herve Poncharal believes Pedro Acosta’s rookie performances show the rider still makes the difference in MotoGP.

Herve Poncharal, Pedro Acosta, MotoGP, Qatar MotoGP, 7 March
Herve Poncharal, Pedro Acosta, MotoGP, Qatar MotoGP, 7 March

When Valentino Rossi turned his back on Honda at the end of 2003 it was to try and show that, despite the new era of exotic four-stoke technology, the rider was still the main element for MotoGP success.

The Doctor proved his theory not only by winning on his M1 debut en route to Yamaha’s first premier-class title in a decade, but also by being the only Yamaha race winner for the next four years.

Watching Rossi’s remarkable run from the satellite Yamaha garage was Tech3 boss Herve Poncharal, who cites the stand-out results of Rossi and later Marc Marquez at Honda when describing the arrival of his 2024 star rookie Pedro Acosta.

"Everything plays an important part in MotoGP success, and I understand a lot of fans and media are very interested in the technical side,” said Poncharal, whose Tech3 team now runs under the GASGAS/KTM banner, during an exclusive interview with Crash.net at Portimao.

“So sometimes we spend weeks or months talking about a new aero device, or a new holeshot device, thinking it's going to be a night-and-day difference.

“But what is still good in our sport - and I think this is also the main contrast with four-wheel racing - is that the input of the rider is essential. And this is why I really love the sport in every class. Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP.

“Sure, it's better today to be on a Ducati than on an ‘X’ bike from the Far East. But remember what one guy, Valentino Rossi, was doing on a Yamaha for years when the others were nowhere. I was with Yamaha then and we were not even in the points sometimes.

“Or when Marc Marquez was with Honda, what were the other Hondas doing?

“So the rider is essential. And although we’ve had a lot of top riders recently - Moto2 world champions like Remy and Augusto, plus Raul who was vice-champion - when we saw Pedro coming, we saw this guy is special, this guy is different.”

Pedro Acosta, Moto3 race, Doha MotoGP, 4 April
Pedro Acosta, Moto3 race, Doha MotoGP, 4 April

‘Acosta has something in his DNA. He just understands a bike’

The moment Acosta arrived well and truly on Poncharal’s radar won’t come as a surprise: It was the youngster’s debut Moto3 victory, in only his second race, despite starting from pit lane in Qatar 2021.

“I had followed him in the [Red Bull] Rookie, but then what he did in his second Moto3 race in Qatar, starting from the pit lane and winning…

“Then he won the Moto3 title, but it was how he won it. Because he was riding like the smartest and most experienced guy out there, even though he was a rookie!

“Then he won another title in year two of Moto2. But still I said wait and see, because once you jump on a MotoGP bike you have different tyres, different brakes, a lot of electronics, two bikes to work with, technicians talking to you. Sometimes it takes a while before you are fast.

“He first came to us in Valencia for the test. He was tired after finishing the season, the conditions were cold and windy. There was some dust on the track. So you are always a bit scared, you know?

“But woah, what he did was impressive - on track but also in the pits.

“I asked Paul Trevathan, his crew chief, at the end of the day, ‘How would you describe Pedro?’ And he said, ‘he’s a sponge’. And I like that description very much because it’s true.

“Every time Pedro comes back after a run, he’s digesting everything. And the next run, he puts into practice what he learned in the run before.

“This is not normal. Normally, you try something based on the rider feedback and you do a run. Then you have a debrief with the team. Sometimes the rider says what you tried works and sometimes not, so then you go back a step to what you had before.

“So far, almost all the time, for Pedro it's better, better, better, better. He's very methodical. He's very clever. He has something in his DNA. He just understands a bike.

“He sits on the bike with these tyres, these brakes, this special technology. Everything so different to what he’s had before. And you don't have to tell him what to do or watch out for. He's immediately in harmony. He has a kind of understanding of the package.

“So the winter tests were super good. But we didn’t know what to expect when it really counted at round one. And it was fantastic. He got the fastest lap of the race and broke the previous lap record. Even though he had some issue with his arm, maybe to do with [the positioning of the handlebar switches] on the bike.

“But without this small physical problem, I believe it was a possibility to fight for a podium…”

Acosta duly went on to take his debut MotoGP podium in Portimao, a few days after this interview was conducted.

Pedro Acosta, MotoGP race, Portuguese MotoGP, 24 March
Pedro Acosta, MotoGP race, Portuguese MotoGP, 24 March

Acosta ‘one of the key players in this championship, very soon’

Like his teenage rider, Poncharal is keen to avoid setting precise targets, which can quickly become a millstone around  your neck if not achieved.

But the Frenchman - who founded Tech3 in 1990 and has competed in the premier-class, with Yamaha and then KTM since 2001 – had already seen enough to know that Acosta will be a ‘key player’ in MotoGP ‘very soon’.

“He’s a rookie. We did a great winter, great round one, and we will see. But for sure Pedro Acosta is going to be a top rider for the next I don't know how many years in MotoGP.

“For sure, he will be one of the key players in this championship, very soon.

“I'm very happy he's doing his rookie season with us. And I'm very happy Pierer Mobility Group [KTM, GASGAS etc] has got a rider like that.

“The Pierer Mobility Group have pushed so much and worked so hard on this project, but if you don't have the right guy on the bike – who also trusts the project.

“Because some that guys came here said, ‘this is not a winning machine’. But Pedro arrived with no pre-conceived ideas, an open mind and after the first lap he said: ‘I love this bike!’ And still he says, ‘I love this bike. I feel good on this bike’.

“Now with Brad [Binder], who has experience, and Pedro, who has the potential as a rookie, I think these two guys will become the leaders of the Pierer Mobility Group project.”

Pedro Acosta, MotoGP, Portuguese MotoGP, 24 March
Pedro Acosta, MotoGP, Portuguese MotoGP, 24 March

Acosta ‘not dreaming, ready to struggle more’

Despite Acosta’s instant success, Poncharal repeatedly highlights that the Spaniard is ‘ready to struggle’ and knows MotoGP won’t be a walk in the park.

“What I like is that he’s humble. He works hard and has ambition, but also has respect for everyone,” Poncharal said.

“He comes from a modest family, which I like a lot. His father, who is a fisherman from a small Spanish port, and mother are normal people. They are both here. And he's also got a good education.”

“After completing a full weekend in Qatar – qualifying, Sprint race, main race - he’s more calm [in Portimao]. And he knows his potential.

“But he’s not dreaming. He's ready to struggle more. He knows that will be part of the rookie season process. He is here to learn.

“But we are very happy. We have an exceptional rider and a great person with us. And for me, after all these years, the main thing is to get results but also part of that is to have a great human relationship.

“Because a happy rider is a fast rider, and to make the rider happy you need to have a group that he feels good with. That he trusts. This is my target at Tech3.

“Pierer Mobility develop the bike and I am here to give him the group he needs and the group he deserves around him.

“Then it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”

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