Presiding over one of the most successful World Superbike and World Supersport teams, Ten Kate Honda team manager, Ronald ten Kate is a busy man heading into the 2009 season.

With a championship winning team underneath him, two riders that won Superbike races in their maiden seasons and another that has been straight on the pace in testing, Ronald may be busy, but he is certainly happy.

Keen to restore the Superbike success they experienced with James Toseland in 2007, as well as challenge for an eighth straight Supersport title win, Ronald spoke to shortly before he boarded a plane for the opening round of this year's season in Australia to talk about what he thinks will be an exceptionally close championship.
It has been a long few months out of action for the Superbike field, but with 2009 anticipated to be one of the most competitive yet, how are excited are you, as a fan, ahead of this season?

Ronald ten Kate
It is clear that World Superbikes have made great steps forward in the past couple of years and I think this year is going to be the highlight of Superbike racing in the history of the series.
You're entering a slightly revised rider line-up this year - one rookie, two second-year riders. How much stronger do you think your line-up is this year compared to last?

All in all, I think the line-up is better. We know that Jonathan Rea is very capable of riding a Superbike and besides that, Checa and Kiyonari have one year of experience under their belt. Most importantly, though, the Fireblade is in its second year. Last year we received it very late, so that can't be an excuse this year and I really see this year as the year that we harvest all of the work we did last season.
How much did the new Fireblade bike put you on the back foot last year?

We only got the bikes just before Christmas, so that ruled out any winter testing at all. This year, we have done a fair amount of testing already by going to Kyalami, Portugal and now a two-day test just before the start of the season at Phillip Island. Last year we were developing the bike through the race weekends, which was frustrating, but this year I think the bike is capable of winning and the riders are capable of winning too.
Both Carlos and Ryuichi enjoyed race winning debut seasons last year - how confident are you that they will be fully fledged title contenders in 2009?

I am confident that they will be up there from the first race. World Superbikes is more competitive than ever, so I can easily name about ten people who can win a race, but that narrows down to five or six people when it comes to the championship. This includes both Carlos and Kiyonari.
Where does Jonathan Rea fit in? Can he be a title challenger?

The first year for Jonathan in World Superbikes should be a learning year, because this learning curve will be very steep. In Kyalami, and in Portimao, though, he showed he can be right up there at the front so, without putting pressure on him, I expect him to be finishing on the podium and I predict he can win in his rookie season.
How invaluable was Jonathan's season in Supersports?

I think the first year in Supersports gave him the chance to learn about the tracks, but also about international racing. It was a year away from home, which is very different, so as a person I think he is ready for it and as a racer we will see how he can do in his rookie season. The choice of a year on Supersports first was a correct one - we just have to see how good he can be on a Superbike.
Andrew Pitt made his feelings felt about wanting to return to Superbikes - are you pleased he decided to remain with you in Supersports?

After last season, both Andrew and Jonathan deserve a year on Superbikes, but we are very limited to the seats we have available on that. So when we made our choice to take Jonathan up to Superbikes, Andrew was disappointed, but that is to be expected. Both riders deserved to move on, but Andrew is happy to be back with the team. He is enjoying his racing and has put a difficult couple of years behind him. Winning his very important to a rider, so to defend his championship is something he is really looking forward to.
If Andrew wins the Supersport title again this year, will you be tempted to promote him to the Superbike team?

It is hard to say at this point. You never know what is going to happen, especially with the way sponsorship is at the moment, but he definitely deserves a shot.
As multiple Supersport champions, who do you expect to provide your greatest challenge in 2009?

I believe that both Kenan and Andrew are up for the task to at least challenge for the title. When I look to the competition, I really believe that Crutchlow will be one of the guys that will regularly be up there at the front. Fabien Foret too, although we don't really know if he has fully recovered from the crash he had last year.
During Superbike testing, it was noted that Ryuichi Kiyonari was running in alternative, HRC colours during testing at Portimao - what is the motivation behind that? Is he running a slightly different bike to his team-mates?

No, the machine is completely built by us here in Holland. The reason for running a different livery is that Hannspree decided to only back two World Superbikes for us this year, so we had to find alternative sponsorship. Luckily, within the Honda company, through Honda Genuine Accessories, we managed to find a partner to fund the bike for Kiyonari. The bike is identical at this moment, although over the season we might see a few variations due to the individual riders choosing a different swing arm, link system, exhaust... but it is nothing to do with the difference in parts available for the riders.
When it comes to the credit crunch in motorsport, Honda has been hit particularly hard on two and four wheels. How confident are you that Honda will remain committed to World Superbikes in the immediate future?

At this moment, we have a two-year contract with Honda to cover 2009 and 2010. Racing has always been very important to Honda, but the financial situation they are in at the moment means that they need to cut back expenses all over the place. I am quite confident that they will remain in World Superbike to the level at the moment.
What do you make of WSBK compared to MotoGP at the moment, particularly with BMW and Aprilia joining this year?

World Superbike is on the up, while MotoGP is having a difficult time at the moment. There is always a life cycle for any championship though and, for some reason, whenever MotoGP is on the up, World Superbikes is going down - now it is the opposite way. I don't think we should point our finger at MotoGP, because I am sure things will come back together. I don't think it is a good moment to even speak about bringing both championships together. I just hope everyone will survive in 2009 and in 2010 we can go forward.
You've been interested in MotoGP in the past - how appealing does the new Moto2 series sound for you?

Moto2, because it is based on 600cc machinery, in which we already have a proven track record, is for sure a class we are looking at. But first we have to see exactly what the rules are going to be. There is a set of rules in place, but it is not so defined yet. So we're just going to wait and see. Probably during the second half of this season we'll decide if we are going to build a Moto2 machine or not.
Many would consider Kenan Sofuoglu a perfect candidate for this category. Would he feature in your plans?

I believe that Kenan's riding style would for sure be good for a Moto2 bike, but it is not an issue at the moment because we happy where we are and the project ahead of us for 2009 and 2010, which is in World Superbike and World Supersport. When and if there is going to be a Moto2 machine built, we would also need to decide if we want to run the machine ourselves, or just lease it out - or sell it - for customers to race.
Two of your former riders, James Toseland and Chris Vermeulen, are now racing in MotoGP. What do you think we can expect from them this season?

Well for sure from James we can expect quite a big step up this year. I truly and strongly believe in him as a racer. Also the new single tyre rule will definitely be a step forward for James. It was unfortunate to see him crash out so hard in testing at Sepang the other week, but I strongly believe that he will make a step.

With Chris Vermeulen we are going to have to see. He has already been in MotoGP for a couple of years now, so as a rider I can't see him making a big step. It probably depends more on if Suzuki will make a big step forward. Looking at the latest test results at Sepang, Capirossi was right up there, so we might also see a step forward for Chris.



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