In the third and final part of an exclusive interview with Herve Poncharal, conducted at the Australian MotoGP, attention turns to the financial side of motorcycle grand prix racing and the future of the world championship.

In addition to running his Tech 3 team in MotoGP and Moto2, Poncharal is also president of the teams' association IRTA, representing the organisation during meetings of the Grand Prix Commission - alongside Dorna, FIM and MSMA - which decides the rules and regulations.

Click Here to read part one of the interview, focusing on the Tech 3 MotoGP team, and Click Here for part two, about the Tech 3 Moto2 team...
As president of IRTA, how do you feel about the MotoGP championship in general?

Herve Poncharal:
So, let me make clear that the MotoGP championship is run by Dorna and FIM. I am only the IRTA representative, or president - but I don't want to sound pretentious!

Nothing is perfect, but when you look back at what happened when we switched from two-stroke 500cc to four-stroke MotoGP [for 2002], everything we did at the beginning was under a lot of criticism: 'What are you doing? Grand prix is two-stroke, this is shit, it is going to clash with World Superbike.'

Then when we changed from 250cc to Moto2 [in 2010] - that was also going to be a complete disaster: '250 is the class that can make strong riders for MotoGP, they can learn because a 250 is a proper racing bike, blah blah blah'.

Moto2 is a real success. It is cheaper than 250 was. It is completely open because anybody has the package to win, which was not the case in 250. And when you see what Marc, Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith are doing, you cannot say that Moto2 is not preparing riders to be strong in MotoGP.

Then Moto3 [which replaced 125cc in 2012] is producing some really, really exciting racing. We are working on making sure that the costs are not too high - there will be some decisions taken for next year and the year after so that it is affordable and open in terms of competition. I'm quite happy about that.

In MotoGP we introduced the [privateer] CRT class [in 2012], which was under a lot of criticism also. 'What is this? It is Superbike'. Which is true, but what do you do?
There would only have been twelve bikes on the grid without CRT...

Herve Poncharal:
Everybody was laughing at CRT at first, but if you look this year Espargaro is finishing in front of some of the factory bikes in almost every race. He is doing some incredible qualifying. In two years the level of CRT has improved so much. Just ask [Ducati riders] Hernandez, Iannone or Pirro if it's easy to beat the fastest CRT. It's not easy.
Cal [Crutchlow] mentioned that unless someone like Casey Stoner rides the CRT bikes, you don't know what the real difference to the factory bikes is...

Herve Poncharal:
Exactly. I fully agree.

I believe also that the concept of CRT has not only helped put more bikes on the grid, but now we have reached agreement with the manufacturers who understand that they have to help.

Next year Honda will bring the Production Racer which, I believe, will be quite competitive. What Yamaha is doing [engine lease with Forward Racing] is also interesting.

It is exciting because these bikes represent the future in a way, because we know that the factories are only allowed to use their own ECU software until 2016. At the moment. It might be brought forward.

Everybody else but the factory bikes - from Honda, Yamaha and Ducati - will be using the complete championship [control] ECU system. But we might see some of these Open bikes quicker than our [factory] bikes so we might soon all switch to that class.
Is it a turning point in the direction of the championship?

Herve Poncharal:
Clearly for next year the MotoGP 'norm' is the Open class, the bikes using the championship ECU and 24 litres of fuel. The exception is going to be the factory class bikes, which until 2016 are allowed to use their own software.

Until this year the norm has been the factory bikes, with 21 litres, and the exception has been the CRT class. Now CRT is gone and the Open class is the MotoGP class. This is the future.

Until 2016 any factory that wants to join, can join with their own software but that means 20 litres and five engines for the season.

So I believe next year the grid will be much more competitive with guys like Aleix Espargaro on the Open Yamaha, Nicky Hayden and Scott Redding on the Open Honda.

I think this will be very exciting because they might have a small handicap on the software, but they will have quite a big bonus with the four litres of extra race fuel, the softer tyre - at the moment they are keeping the softer tyre - and more engines.

They might be able to run full rich when we are running lean in a race and the softer tyre could especially help them get a good grid position in qualifying. It's going to be very interesting. Very interesting.

Still in all three classes - MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 - we need to continue to work on reducing costs, keeping it affordable and making it very open. Meaning everyone has the possibility to have a competitive package.
When you say reduce the costs, what are the main areas that can be reduced further?

Herve Poncharal:
The total cost of a team can be split broadly into the technical cost, which is usually the lease fee for the machinery, the logistical costs - including staff, travel, your assets, hospitality and trucks - and the cost of the riders.

The top four or five riders will always be very, very expensive. Because anyone that has a big sponsor or is a full factory team wants to win and in our sport the rider plays an incredibly large part in the result. It doesn't matter what bike you have, if you have the right guy you can usually make it.

In the rider market, let's say that the average - good - MotoGP rider who was making 1.5 million euros five or six years ago easy, is now making more like 500,000. So this has been reduced and this is the free market in action.

So on that point the market has helped to reduce the cost, which is good for the three classes. But if you take Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez, Rossi and the two factory Ducati guys there has not been so much cost reduction, because these teams can afford it and they are fighting each other to get the best riders.

Bike costs we have reduced a lot already and Carmelo [Ezpeleta, Dorna CEO] has put a cap on a lot of components. And clearly the new Open class format will help us to reduce the costs significantly. We have also been reducing the amount of tests.

On the other side of the coin, having more races will help also, because we - the teams - receive income from the championship when we go racing. So if we have the same amount of riding during the year, but swap some test sessions for more races, it's much better.

The logistic costs are difficult to reduce a lot, unless you have a superstar crew chief, but this is a very small minority.

I think every team now is careful with costs. Here [at Phillip Island] we stay in a rented house, most people fly economy class, use one rental car for three or four people, maximise the space inside a crate to reduce the freight bill. All this is already done and it is hard to save any more because there is a minimum that you need, that you cannot go under.

Top motorsport will always be expensive, but it only becomes too expensive when your income is less than your costs. Then there is a problem. When your income matches your costs the situation is correctly balanced.

When tobacco sponsorship was here, sponsorship was 100% of our income. Financial support from the championship was almost nothing. If a tobacco company had an amount of '10' - don't think in millions or anything - to spend as a communication or marketing budget, they basically had to put all '10' of it into motorsport.
Because the tobacco brands were so restricted in terms of where else they could spend their advertising money...

Herve Poncharal:
Whereas for any other brand everything is open. If the communication budget is 10 they will say, 'ok, we will do some TV, some radio, some online, some print. I like MotoGP, but I want to be everywhere, so I will give the race team 2 or 3 out of my total budget'.

It is almost impossible to match our costs with sponsorship alone now, which means to reach a balance we have to look at reducing costs and we need to have our budget coming from both the championship and from team sponsors.

To have more budget from the championship we need to show goodwill and understand how to help them, in order for them to be in a position to help us more.

The championship promoter [Dorna] basically gets money from TV rights, sponsors [advertising] and race organisation.

Sponsors are generally going down because of the world economy. TV rights are also linked to the world economy because if companies are spending less on advertising then the value of TV rights is lower. Let's say TV rights and sponsors are stable but not increasing. This is a worry for us but meanwhile for race organisation there are so many people knocking on the door wanting to host a race.

Next year we will go to Argentina, we will go to Brazil if not next year the year after, we know there is a strong project in Thailand, Russia... there are a lot of places. We need to be open to this. When I hear some people say, 'this is the maximum. I cannot travel anymore!' Our speciality is travelling. We cannot ask more from the promoter if we are not ready to help them be in a position to give us more.

We all need to understand each other. We need them to help us through rules that at least freeze the cost - reducing is difficult - and the Production Racer Honda is quite a good solution. I think that they will sell it for around 1.2 million euros. But then they are saying if you pay another 500,000 they will give you all the upgrades to turn the bike into the 2015 model.

So it will cost about 1.7 million over two years, which is 850,000 per season. This is clearly a strong cost reduction instead of leasing everything every year and at the end you will still own the bike. You could sell it to a wealthy collector, you could keep it, you could use it as a show bike which enhances the value you can give your sponsors.

At the end of the day we are making the show. We are the actors. The promoter owns the theatre and sells the tickets at the front, but if people sit down and there is no show on stage they will say 'reimburse us'.

So there is a strong link between us. We are not fighting each other. In Dorna we have a very open-minded promoter, always listening and willing to help. For sure they want to help us in order to help themselves, but this is life.

I'm quite optimistic. The financial crisis, we hear every year that we are near the end of the tunnel. I don't know. But even with this tough economic environment - even in Spain we had quite a good crowd and this is a country which is struggling in terms of the economy.

When you see what has happened in Malaysia, you've been there, the last four years there has been a huge increase in spectators.

I like to be optimistic. I like to see my glass half full, not half empty. It's easy to find problems but we are competitors. We should like a challenge and we have to fight.

We also need to show the world about the green technology - the fuel consumption of a MotoGP bike is incredibly low. A lot of R&D is done on the injection process and reducing friction in the engine that will be applied on road bikes. Also the tyres, we have good grip but with less friction to reduce fuel consumption.

So this sport is not against the environment. This is a test bench to prepare the technology.
How is the working relationship with Dorna?

Herve Poncharal:
You cannot please everyone, but as IRTA president - which means a representative of the whole paddock - I can tell the teams that we have a good promoter and I'm happy to work with them.

Ask the riders. The Safety Commission is the perfect example of how much Carmelo cares about what the riders are saying. I remember when Daijiro Kato had his tragic accident [in 2003] Carmelo said, 'We will never go back to Suzuka unless they remove that wall'.

Everybody said, 'He will bend in front of Honda power. We will go back there'. But he said, 'No, safety first' and we haven't been there since.

I'm not saying everything is rosy and I don't want to be na?ve or people to think I'm bought by Dorna. At the end of the day I say what I believe. I'm completely independent and can say whatever I want!
So what would you most like to change?

Herve Poncharal:
That's a difficult question [pause]. What I would like is for every single team manager or team owner - MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 - to have a big smile on their face and finish the year without being in a difficult financial position. I don't want any of them to be worried halfway through the season about the future, fearing that they are going to disappear and that they have to make some dodgy deal that they don't like because they want to survive.

I also don't want teams asking a rider to bring money, but it is difficult to fight against that.

In an ideal world that would never happen, because you want the rider you believe has the best potential and will therefore give you the best coverage, which means you have more possibilities to find sponsors.

But bringing money happened in other sports before it happened here. There were a lot of gentleman drivers in car racing before motorcycle racing. I'm not blaming the teams that do it because what if the choice is either to close, or choose someone who brings money?

It started with the riders themselves. They were competing for the very best rides and if one rider was a little slower than another they would say to the team, 'Yes, but I can bring you this if you choose me...' I can say that in my Moto2 team I have never had any rider bringing money from their own pocket.

Also something I really would like is to have fewer injuries in our sport. That is always in the back of your mind. We still have to work on the safety of the tracks and equipment, always trying to find new solutions.

The circuits now are quite safe, with a lot of run-off area and the leather companies are working hard with developments like the airbag system. But the search for better safety can never stop. We owe that to every rider.
Thank you very much Herve.

Herve Poncharal:
It's my pleasure.



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