An exclusive interview with Marcel Duinker, Tom Sykes' crew chief at the Kawasaki Racing Team in World Superbikes...

Crash.net:
Do you think you could have done anything to get a better result on Sunday [race two, Lausitzring]?

Marcel Duinker:
Tom crashed in the first lap of the race. After a crash, especially in these very slippery conditions, a rider loses confidence. So, it is hard to say where he could have ended up.

But looking at the big picture, since Tom and me have been working together we've had some great success and incredible results. Before 2012 they were struggling to get anywhere but together we have put that right.

But that has also influenced these kind of results because as you micro tune the bike for the dry and get it sharp for those conditions it makes it more difficult to find a good setting for the wet and that's where we've been suffering. The conditions over the weekend were the problem as we are currently struggling to be successful on a wet track.

Crash.net:
Are you saying that the very fact that a bike is well set up for the dry means that it is then more difficult to find good settings for the wet?

Marcel Duinker:
Yes 100%, that's nothing new and we of course have very good settings in the dry. Also in Superbikes we're now more limited in the adjustments we can make and this has made it even harder.

It's not that Tom doesn't like or can't handle the wet, we've all seen him do well in the rain, it's that we've got the bike so sharp for the dry.

You'll also find top riders having difficulties in wet conditions in MotoGP. The podium tends to look very different in the wet.

Crash.net:
In all your time working at Kawasaki have you changed how you work at all?

Marcel Duinker:
Yeah, absolutely. When Tom and I started working together it was my first year as a crew chief working from my own initiative.

Of course in the past I had some good examples in MotoGP where I'd been observing from the back of the box but you can never understand what it means to be a successful crew chief without doing it. This is something that I somehow had to develop myself.

At the end of 2011 I never ever expected to almost win the title in 2012 and nail it the year after - I think we surprised ourselves and also some other people.

It's been a real journey of learning and for sure I am still learning now. In 2013 and 2014 we were still quite conservative with the kind of strategies and settings we were using but now we are much more open minded about being radical and making big changes over a race weekend.

Since the rules changed after 2014 we have had to work like this. In 2013 we had got the bike beautifully tuned for Tom's riding style but in the 2015 season you could say that the key component to allow us to do this was taken away from us and since then we have had to work so much harder to make our bike competitive.

So to answer your question perhaps the biggest change is to be less conservative and more innovative, trying new things and having the confidence to experiment. All of this was brought about because of the rule changes which affected our bike a lot.

At Kawasaki we didn't necessarily like the rule changes but have to live with them. When we first had the group of new people working around Tom we had full freedom to adjust the bike. We knew his strong points and used all strategies available to develop the bike towards his style and needs and when we had a really fast bike all we then had to do was to make the tyres last.

When that was done we started to win races so it was hard for us to have the key components for Tom's success taken away from us in 2015 and we knew that from then on it was going to be difficult to repeat those results.

Crash.net:
So it sounds as if you have now become more confident with the bike and feel enabled to experiment and try things?

Marcel Duinker:
I would go further than that and say we absolutely must do this. In the past more than once the only changes we made between tracks were what you could call 'mind' changes but because we had that base set up Tom was always fast.

It was wonderful to have this base setting bike that could almost win anywhere but unfortunately we don't have this technical advantage anymore compared to the other manufacturers and now have to work much harder and be more innovative.

We have to take more risks at a technical level to find a good set up.

Crash.net:
As a technician, does that make it more fun for you?

Marcel Duinker:
Unexpected wins are the best! In the past that we have worked very hard to reinvent our set-up and finished the weekend with a victory and this is of course great.

But if your base set-up is at the correct level and you have these technical advantages we can win even more and more is of course better!

It's harder now though but it's got to be said it's good for learning. I'm just hoping that I can find that 2013 set up again.

Crash.net:
Has your role changed at all over your years at Kawasaki?

Marcel Duinker:
Not formally, I've been part of a journey though.

Since working together we've changed the Kawasaki from being one that riders saw as a bike to ride when you career is over to a winning machine that every rider wants to be on. We went from p14 in 2011 to breaking some lap records the next year.

It was just a matter of putting the correct people in the correct place. We were a new team, starting from scratch, and able to develop ourselves with Tom as a top rider and myself in my new role as a crew-chief. Maybe this was one of the keys of success. I am still very proud of being part what made this bike so successful.

We don't really concentrate on roles we just try to make the package successful. As a crew chief anyway you have a lot of responsibilities ranging from the technical, managing the garage, and conflict resolution to taking care of the mental state of the rider so the remit is wide and has a large element of management anyway.

It's just a shame that we gave our competition a gift in 2014 because we shouldn't have finished second - Tom was by far the fastest man out there, but our roles have never changed - we're still the group in Kawasaki doing most of the development.

I'm strictly speaking a technical man, I was not involved in decisions such as rider choice as I was sure that Tom was staying with me and Kawasaki anyway. But when we started working with Provec who had been a 600 team before there were a few people with MotoGP experience, including myself, who could give the team shall we say a push start.

Overall my role comes naturally and is similar to many other crew chiefs.

Crash.net:
How would you rate your side of the garage's performance this season, are you satisfied?

Marcel Duinker:
Really I can answer that by simply saying that at the moment we are second and not first and that's life!

We can't force circumstances to make us win but by definition at the moment we are not the best. We still have a chance though and won't give up and if we don't succeed we'll try again next year.

Of course the company target is to have a first and second but from our point of view we're second and we'll see if we are there at the end of the year.

Crash.net:
Was Johnny's performance a shock to Tom's side of the garage?

Marcel Duinker:
Honestly, no, we already knew Johnny and expected him to do well - the bike was developed and ready to challenge for a title but it's true that his level was super strong.

By coincidence a few days ago, I had the rider's performance from last year on my computer here and you can see how incredible his performance was. It was made worse for Tom though because the rule change affected him strongly and removed a key element for getting the best out of his style in particular.

Crash.net:
...and what is that key element?

Marcel Duinker:
It's the character of the engine. Tom has a unique riding style in that he keeps the corner very short. He decelerates hard into the corner and then has hard acceleration out of it and does this more than most riders.

The new rules in 2015 took a lot of our control of that away but fortunately for 2016 we have got some useful elements of it back and it's definitely better now. If in the near future we can bring the engine character and rider back or close to what it was before he will be unstoppable.

Crash.net:
I noticed that Tom put some pretty heavy moves on Johnny to win the second race in Thailand, was that a kind of 'this far but no further' moment for Tom?

Marcel Duinker:
I don't think it was any kind of statement or strategy. He was just ready to take his first victory.

Tom is the type of rider who will always, always get the maximum that he can get and you can be sure that if he can win then he will win.

I feel that what you saw was just Tom being Tom. That's the great thing about him, I've known him for a long time now and I know I can trust him to bring back the maximum for any circumstance.

It was a nice fight and was his first win of the season but I think it was just Tom's fighting spirit we were seeing. Though I have to say that ultimately we can never know exactly what is going on in a rider's head! That performance was also an expression of the new settings we're able to use this year.

The 2016 machine is definitely suiting Tom's style more than last year's and the reduction in engine inertia has really helped us. In 2015 we were unable to make any adjustment relating to that so Kawasaki decided to include elements of that in the 2016 homologation which has made those available to us.

Engine inertia is involved in virtually every area of engine management - it allows you to stop easier so you don't stress the front end as much which makes the final turn-in faster and also helps with the pick-up and acceleration.

These both help his unique superbike style. Any reduction in rotating mass will also make the bike more nimble.

Crash.net:
Was there any sign of discouragement from Tom in 2015?

Marcel Duinker:
No, I can't say so, he is simply the type of rider who never gives up. I'm often surprised by how he keeps his determination and motivation regardless of what can be achieved. He still impresses me after all these years.

I never need to doubt him in this respect, a crew chief needs to have trust and belief in the rider they work with and I have that.

Crash.net:
How would you compare the competitive atmosphere in the box between now and the years when Loris was riding for Kawasaki?

Marcel Duinker:
Honestly about this subject I don't really like to go back in time. Everybody knows what happened then and we were so to speak quite out of balance then. The atmosphere now is much better though.

There is strong rivalry but it is healthy, they fight on track and compete together and will battle to the last for the title. They are the two best out there fighting to the last. For sure this gives some tension in the box but aside from that they both talk freely about technical things and also private things.

It's actually a great situation, we've got that healthy rivalry but also the management around to make sure the tension and rivalry doesn't turn into stress.

Crash.net:
Do you enjoy beating Pere Riba as much as Tom enjoys beating Johnny?

Marcel Duinker:
Honestly I don't really see it that way. Of course there is rivalry between both riders and both crews, but it is healthy because we are a team. In the end beating Johnny doesn't feel that different from beating Chaz Davies. The target is always to get the title with Tom - coming first is the thing, anything else is second. But I also have to say that the overall target is a 1, 2 for Kawasaki.

Crash.net:
You are obviously strongly committed to Tom so at the risk of asking an unanswerable question; if Tom moved teams would you go with him?

Marcel Duinker:
Wow that's hard because whatever I say someone will get me wrong! I am lucky because as it stands this situation hasn't been relevant and I've never needed to think about it.

But in general I can say that for next season I've had a number of offers including in MotoGP and I've decided to stay here so perhaps that shows my commitment to my situation. Getting offers from other top teams does make you feel good though and vindicates what you are doing.

I have never felt that Tom was going to leave so my decision to stay for another 2 years was easy - maybe we'll actually finish our careers here.

Crash.net:
Wouldn't a change to MotoGP be an interesting technical challenge?

Marcel Duinker:
I've worked there for 5 years and know the championship and atmosphere well but I find superbikes to be a good compromise between success, working atmosphere and technical challenge.

There's no substitute for success and being able to challenge for the first 3 positions in the championship is very satisfying and that's something I can do here.

I can't say I have no interest but I feel very comfortable here at Kawasaki after 12 years.

People sometimes say that the WorldSBK paddock is a friendlier place but honestly for me I arrive at the pit box at 7.30 and go home at 10 in the evening so for me I rarely get to see the atmosphere out of there anyway, would I notice a difference?

Crash.net:
Would you say that WorldSBK is in a good state at the moment?

Marcel Duinker:
We noticed straight away when DORNA took over and we immediately saw improved organisation of the series. We could also see a direction where they were trying to make sure that all teams could get the best out of their machines and were treated in the same way.

The rules were also tightened which has allowed more even racing and even though that might not have been to our advantage, I think their decisions were correct.

Crash.net:
What about the Saturday/Sunday race day format?

Marcel Duinker:
For us it makes things more difficult. In the past we had 4 sessions; 3 of 45 minutes and 1 of half an hour so you had four track sessions and four opportunities to analyse the data and try to improve your machine.

Now we have 2 times 1 hour and the 15 minutes before superpole.

The total track time is not reduced so much but from my point of view you don't gain anything from the extra 15 minutes from the 1 hour sessions. It is the number of sessions and the time between the them which give you more possibilities to improve our machine and select the correct tyres.

So in effect our useful technical time has been reduced by almost 50%.

It's the same for everybody but the effect is that the team with the best base machine will be more successful.

I can't complain because we are currently 1st and 2nd, I don't think it is technically helpful though.

Also I don't think that having the races on 2 days helps from the spectator point of view. I even have the feeling that people may not come to the races anymore because they only get one race per visit.

When they came on the Sunday before they used to get a full show but now they need to use the whole weekend and maybe those that live further away may be put off.

I guess that DORNA will have all the figures and will make the correct decision for the future.

Crash.net:
How about the BSB ideas of having the second grid decided by the speeds in the first race and having a shootout at the end of the season?

Marcel Duinker:
For me with the grid idea this is definitely a possibility. But I don't think that this will change the outcome of the podium much.

As for the shootout, I wouldn't go for that. The idea that you do a great job for the whole season and then lose the championship in a few races isn't fair.

From my point of view, the championship needs to be decided by the results of the full season. It's important to know that you need to perform from the first until the last race to be able to fight for the championship.

Also a full season results system is better for the consistency of development we are doing as a factory team.

Crash.net:
Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us Marcel.

Marcel Duinker:
It's a pleasure!

 

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