The full exclusive interview with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP boss and IRTA president Herve Poncharal, conducted at the German MotoGP.

Tech 3 has enjoyed a dream first half of the 2017 MotoGP season, with rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger both leading races and claiming a second place finish.

Zarco has also taken a pole position and fastest lap, with the pair currently sixth (Zarco) and seventh (Folger) in the world championship standings, as the top satellite riders...
Congratulations on the podium for Jonas, were you surprised by his pace?

Herve Poncharal:
Jonas had a great feeling with the bike and medium tyres in warm-up, so for me the only question mark was the weather and if Jonas would make a so-so start like in Assen. But he did well, was quite aggressive in the first few corners and when he was catching the Repsol Hondas I knew it would be an interesting race!

After he made a small mistake and lost the lead, it was honestly easier for my nerves to see him following Marc instead of in front. Then it was a case of counting down the laps - the race seemed so long! I knew if Jonas was close on the last lap he would try to pass but he did a slight mistake and made the right decision to take second place.

We are so happy. You need two good legs to walk properly and the French leg has been stronger than the German one. But now both of our riders have finished second in their home grand prix. We can't expect much more by the summer break.

Also what touched me was that Johann Zarco, without anybody asking him, came to parc ferme and hugged Jonas. For me this showed the team spirit and atmosphere we have. I'm proud of these two guys and the way the team is working and behaving.
There was some criticism when you signed Folger last year...

Herve Poncharal:
Sometimes in life, you can't explain, but there are people you have a good feeling with and think you can do something great together. Since I first met Jonas many years ago in 125, I had this feeling. For sure there were some up and downs in his career, but I always followed him.

We signed him early last year, in Le Mans, and had quite a lot of critics. It's true that after he signed for us his Moto2 results were not so good, but without wanting to sound pretentious I never doubted him. I think Jonas is like every young man in that he needs to feel support, needs people to tell him 'you can do it, have more confidence in yourself'.

I always say my first family is my team, before my real family, because we are together more. For me the best moments of the weekend are in the hospitality in the evening, when it's just the team all together having fun.

I know it's fashionable to talk about 'team building', but there must be a team spirit and maybe that has helped Jonas a little bit.

Poncharal and Folger, German MotoGP (pic: Gold&Goose).

If someone said in the winter that you'd be leading races, claiming poles and podiums by the summer break, what would you have said?

Herve Poncharal:
"I would have said 'you are a dreamer!' Some people might think we were being pessimistic or not saying what we were really feeling during the winter tests, when we were talking about being in the top ten. Honestly, this is what we were targeting. Because two factory Ducatis, two factory Hondas, two factory Yamahas, two factory Suzukis - they were coming off a great season with Maverick - plus Cal, Petrucci, Redding. On paper, it's easy to be outside the top ten.

"So the first part of the season has been unbelievable for us. We could feel something during the winter tests, but you don't really know if everybody is showing all their cards. We saw our guys were quick, but we didn't know if the same situation would apply in the races and in all started with a bang with Zarco leading in Qatar.

"But I was so sad, because I also thought, 'maybe that was our only chance'. Leading a race for six laps ahead of Rossi, Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso and all these guys might never happen again. I spoke to you on Sunday night in Qatar and told you Zarco had said, 'Herve, don't be sad because I know this situation will happen again'. And I thought... [raises eyebrows].

"But from the next race in Argentina, then Austin, then Jerez, Johann just went up and up. We've had a front row and podium in Le Mans, pole in Assen and now a podium for Jonas in Germany. This is for sure something we didn't expect and way beyond our targets.

"From the business point of view, in Valencia last year the Monster representative told us, 'thank you for what we have done together in the last nine years. 2017 is going to be our last year because we would like to have more visibility, better results. We would like to be with a factory team'.

"And I understood. I was sad, but not upset because this is part of the game. But their position, like all our other sponsors, has changed. Now we are in positive negotiations with them to renew. So very clearly what Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger have done so far has also helped the team in this respect."
Are your other sponsors also looking to renew now?

Herve Poncharal:
"Our two main sponsors are, number one Monster and secondly Stanley Black and Decker. I have a three-year contract with both companies which ends this year. So I need to find something for 2018."
And how about Yamaha?

Herve Poncharal:
"I always sign a two-year deal. So I signed last year for 2017 and 2018. As you know, I've also signed my riders for 2017-2018. So we are together Yamaha-Folger-Zarco-Tech 3 until the end of 2018.

"We hear a lot, and I of course hear a lot, that Valentino Rossi wants a MotoGP team. He has denied it but still there are rumours and having a Moto3 and Moto2 team it would make sense one day to have also a MotoGP team. I'm not stupid!

"So what will happen in case Valentino retires at the end of 2018? I don't know. Valentino recently said he might continue riding in 2019 anyway...

"The thing I can tell you, and this is very clear, is all the teams have a contract. Factory teams and independent teams. But let's talk about the six independent teams: LCR, Pramac, Gresini, Tech 3, Aspar and Avintia have a contract until 2021. That contract says that no-one can come into this championship as a new team.

"If someone wants to join they must either buy an existing team, or make a deal with an existing team. The only thing that is clear is that at the moment we have 23 places and the 24th bike will go to Lucio, because the format we want is two riders per team. Nothing else but a second bike to Lucio can happen until the end of 2021.

"So it's impossible for somebody, let's say VR, to join in 2019. It's impossible, unless everyone agrees to another two bikes. That's not going to happen because you lose your value."

Zarco, Dutch MotoGP (pic: Gold&Goose).

As far as leasing costs in general, has the new contract created more of a 'market', with factories competing for the extra money given by Dorna to the Independent teams to cover the lease of machinery?

Herve Poncharal:
"I can tell you every manufacturer is going to the maximum cap, the maximum price [2.2million euros per rider]. At some stage it could help, but right now the top manufacturers still hold the cards.

"The problem is that, a bit like in Moto2 where everyone wants a Kalex, in MotoGP if you don't have a Yamaha, Honda and now Ducati it's difficult. Because right now KTM, Suzuki and Aprilia are not in front.

"Even if these three factories would agree to lease bikes, which team would take them? Because basically you would lose out on having the top riders.

"We're doing great at Tech 3 this season, which is helping our sponsors to reconsider their support for us. Why? Because of our results. And the results are down to the rider, team and technical package.

"Maybe if I have another brand I cannot keep these riders. So even if I got a small discount on the bikes, if I lose my sponsors and riders the situation is worse. So I don't think we, the Independent teams, are in a stronger position than before in that sense."
What do you make of the championship in general this year. Most people thought last year was a one-off, but this year seems even more unpredictable?

Herve Poncharal:
Last year, with all respect to Jack at Assen, Cal at Brno - to be clear, Cal in Australia was a real win, full slick conditions - and Dovi in Sepang, some races were in very special weather conditions. That might happen again.

Anyway, this year we have three factories that are clearly almost at the same level - Yamaha, Honda and Ducati. Last year it was still Yamaha, Honda, and Ducati was behind. Ducati won two races, but one was on a special circuit (Austria) and the other in the wet (Sepang).

This year the big disappointment and big question mark is Suzuki. Why? Is it because the bike is worse than last year, or because the riders can't use the bike... I'm not going to say which, because someone will kill me!

But to explain a little: Thanks to the technical rules we have, Yamaha, Honda and Ducati are all close this year. I am Yamaha so I can tell you there is not, from 2016 to 2017, a huge evolution. The bikes are almost the same as last year because of the frozen engine, more-or-less the same tyres, the same ECU, the aerodynamic is more or less blocked now etc etc.

So I don't think the Suzuki is less competitive than last year. I think Vinales is a special man. Some people also didn't understand the level of Aleix Espargaro because you can see what he is doing now on the Aprilia. So they had extremely good, motivated, fast riders last season.

This year, and I'm not blaming anyone, but Aleix is a rookie and has been injured. Iannone has been riding the Ducati which is a different bike and has been shocked not to be able to adapt. But look at Lorenzo, it's the same story in reverse.

The 'problem' is Ducati kept Dovi and Suzuki changed both riders. But if you had Lorenzo and 'X new rider' joining Ducati maybe their situation would be the same as Suzuki. Because if you take out Dovi from the results... Everyone expected Lorenzo to be stronger, like they were expecting Iannone to be better at Suzuki.

So, to answer your question, we have had five different winners and I'd like to see guys like Petrucci, Cal and eventually Zarco and Folger winning races on a regular basis. So far we've had the two factory Hondas, two factory Yamahas and one factory Ducati. But I think some satellite guys can win races.

This situation, where satellite riders have the chance to win, didn't happen overnight, but we always gave priority to the show when deciding on the technical rules.

For the show you need a battle, which means you need a competitive grid. The single tyre, frozen spec engine, maximum number of engines have all been important but the single ECU was the thing that helped most. In the past, that was the biggest difference between factory and satellite.

It's an incredible feeling for us to compete with the factory guys. Sure Vinales and Rossi will finish ahead of us in the championship, but it is more exciting for everyone that we can sometimes beat them.

And at the front of the championship, as Valentino was saying, after Catalunya he was almost out of the title chase and Pedrosa in the middle of it. One race later and Pedrosa is, some people think, out of it and Valentino right back in.

Zarco, Spanish MotoGP (pic: Gold&Goose).
You've worked with a lot of riders over the years, how would you describe Zarco?

Herve Poncharal:
He's very exciting, when you have a rookie rider doing what he is doing, you cannot help but be excited. After Qatar I thought 'maybe he is a bit too much like a rookie, riding outside of his potential'. But I think the next crash he had was in Catalunya. So although he is new, he is pushing, he is a fast and he is learning - and as we saw in Assen he still doesn't understand everything - I'm less and less scared watching. He's a safe rider.

Assen, where he pitted to change the bike, was a typical example of being a rookie. It was very interesting. Saturday had been fantastic but Sunday was a disappointment. And in the heat of the moment you don't want to ask too much or be too hard, and we had to pack up straight away for Sachsenring.

When we arrived at Sachsenring we had time to talk. Johann is always trying to understand why something works or why it doesn't. As you know, he was in the front group when the rain began to fall and during our meeting he said to me, 'when I saw those drops of rain, it is normally a situation that I like, but I was completely scared because the drops were quite big on the screen and visor. I was obsessed by 'I'm going to crash, why?'' he said.

'I've been re-watching the race and it's because of my Moto2-Dunlop feeling. If you have that rain in Moto2 and push like the other guys were pushing, you'd crash'. That's why he pitted. He said he couldn't ride. Really scared. But after watching that race back he learned that you can push like that in MotoGP. It's just a rookie thing.

Same for Folger. He had an okay start at Assen, but then he got pushed in the first corner and was last. Then he was catching and the only clear lap he was 0.2s quicker than Johann, who was leading at that point. He just got excited, got nervous, got impatient because in Assen you can't pass everywhere. And he crashed.

So both of them have shown, even though we are having a great season, still they are rookies. Guys like Vale, Dovi, Marquez know so much more.
Johann has chosen the soft tyres quite a lot, is that a speciality of his?

Herve Poncharal:
Johann is quite smooth. His riding style is helping him do more laps with the soft than some other guys. But that is not the main reason.

Johann said, 'I need to learn. I need to understand more about riding a MotoGP bike. To do that I need to push. To push I need to be confident and with the soft tyres I'm more confident'. So he's been using them more and in Texas, Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello and Assen he's had great results with softer tyres than the opposition. So it was not just a crazy choice for the first 5-6 laps of a race.

But he told me that the more information, the more knowledge, the more feeling he has with the MotoGP bike, for sure he will go to harder compounds. But if you go with the hard, don't really understand it and have a problem, you lose confidence. Even a small crash is one step backwards.

The information given to the media and fans is that the tyres are a 'soft', 'medium' and 'hard', but they are all very close. It's not like with Bridgestone where there was a big gap between and the soft was almost a qualifying tyre. All of the tyres we have from Michelin are race tyres.

Also, it's not as simple as it seems because sometimes one side of the asymmetric medium has been harder than the hard tyre, for example.

Poncharal and Crutchlow, 2013 French MotoGP (pic: Gold&Goose).
Going back to a previous Tech 3 rookie, Cal was recently talking about how, in his first season, he told you he wanted to go back to Superbike?

Herve Poncharal:
Cal is somebody - although sometimes I think he is completely crazy - I will always respect and like a lot. Maybe I can say I love him! Because he is such a character. He loves to create polemics, he has a sense of humour, he has big balls and he is everything a motorcycle racer should be.

Cal was very fast but crashing all the time in his first year. I remember a conversation at Laguna Seca, in his motorhome, at the last race before the summer break.

I told him, 'Cal, you can't carry on like this. You are 15th in the world championship and a lot better than these guys you are behind. But you do not have the consistency because you crash too much'.

He said, 'If you don't like me, sack me!' And we argued back and forth. I didn't want to get into a fight with Cal - especially because he is much stronger than me! - but I didn't back down.

Everybody is always trying to support their rider, but your rider is like your child, especially a rookie, and sometimes you have to give them a wake-up call. You don't shout or criticise because you don't like them; it's because you want to help them and educate them.

Although Cal basically told me to f**k off! [laughs], I think when I left he must have thought about it - because Cal is anything but stupid, he's clever - and afterwards he said, 'thank-you Herve, because you faced me'.

But Cal from the very first day was fast. His problem was not the speed, it was crashing too much. Every time he was pushing he was crashing, maybe due to the different tyres in MotoGP, or because the MotoGP bike is more rigid than the production-based bike.

At some stage that year he did say he was thinking of going back to Superbike. But because Cal is strong and a special guy. Has a never-give-up attitude, always. And is very proud. I don't think he would ever have done it. That would have been like 'I've failed, I'm not good enough to be here'. And his dream was always to be in MotoGP and he was sure he could be fast in MotoGP.

So I don't think he would ever have gone back to Superbike and the whole MotoGP world is lucky that he decided to stick to MotoGP and became so successful, because we certainly have an interesting character!
Something interesting this weekend was the use of dashboard messages in the race, for the first time. Would that have helped when Zarco pitted for his spare bike at Assen?

Herve Poncharal:
It would not have helped then, because his feeling was that he was really scared. The guys in front of him were staying on track, he could see that. So I don't think so.
Are dashboard messages a good thing generally?

Herve Poncharal:
I read Bradley Smith's interview where he was very negative about the dashboard messages. We could forget about any electronic aids but they exist and it doesn't mean we will have boring races. It doesn't mean we will go the same way as Formula One.

There will never be a conversation between pit wall and the rider. Too dangerous. It was rejected. This is going to be a small, limited list of things and in the end it will help the races to be closer and more exciting, I believe.

I have a lot of respect for Bradley and we spent some good years together. What he did in Misano 2015, staying out on slicks, was very dangerous. It worked, but it's a fine line between 'hero and zero'.

And was that race exciting? It was exciting for us in the pits because we could understand what was happening. But for the spectators it was confusing.

I think, as Aleix Espargaro also mentioned on, you have to be very careful about what you display - especially at a track like this [Sachsenring] because you have almost no time to look at your dashboard. So you need something very simple. But for me it is always a plus to have the possibility to give the rider some information.

Triumph to supply Moto2 engines from 2019 (pic: Gold&Goose).
Turning to Moto2, is the Triumph engine deal what the championship needs?

Herve Poncharal:
Yes. I think Moto2 has been successful in terms of bringing riders into MotoGP, look at Marquez, Vinales, Zarco, Folger, Iannone - and most of those guys have been an instant success. But next year will be the ninth year of Moto2 and I think nine years with the same spec engine and electronics is enough. We kept it like that because the teams were asking for it, but now it's time to change.

Not only will we have a new manufacturer, a famous brand, joining the class, but the triple engine configuration is going to sound so good! Together with this bigger, more powerful engine will be the new electronics. By Magneti-Marelli. It's going to be a big step compared to what we have now. So clearly the Moto2 class, which is already sometimes close to MotoGP lap times, is going to be a lot closer. I think it's also going to be a great challenge for Dunlop, to develop some different tyres and be challenging the slower MotoGP guys at some circuits.

Triumph arriving is incredibly good news. At the moment they are engine supplier to Moto2, but you never know, they might say; 'this championship is bringing so much attention why not join as a MotoGP manufacturer in a few years?' I'm not saying that will happen, but they will be inside in our paddock which is really exciting.
Tech 3 had 13 constructors' points in Moto2 at this time last year, and 46 points this year, despite the injuries for Remy and Xavi...

Herve Poncharal:
Being completely objective, four very fast riders left Moto2 at the end of last year. Our two MotoGP guys, plus Sam Lowes and Alex Rins. So when you finish ninth now, you would have been 13th.

For sure Xavi started the season really well. But also it is his second year. Look how many years Zarco waited before winning? Four. How many years was Morbidelli waiting? Four. Alex Marquez is now in his third season.

In the MotoGP class you need to have some experience, but it looks like it's easier for a rookie to be in front in MotoGP than in Moto2. From the results this season.

Xavi now has a year behind him and is a lot faster. Unfortunately he had a very light crash in the wet at Assen, but his hand stayed under the bike and his left thumb was destroyed.

But in general I'm happy with our Moto2 team. The bike package together with Kayaba is seen as much more competitive than before.
Thanks Herve.

Herve Poncharal:
You're welcome, anytime!

By Peter McLaren

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