No team has undergone more change than Ten Kate Honda this winter. With a new team manager and rider line-up will they have a change of fortunes?
It's hard to imagine a more tumultuous season than the one Ten Kate went through in 2017. On and off the track the team faced incredible challenges. The death of Nicky Hayden robbed the team of their leader and hindered the developed of a troubled bike. They had a season unlike any other and the winter has seen them make drastic changes for the 2018 WorldSBK season.
The introduction of the new Fireblade was supposed to be a game changer rather than a headache. A season that saw a best finish of seventh illustrated the task ahead of the team and wholesale changes have been made for 2018. Kervin Bos has been promoted to team manager, and Leon Camier has been brought in to lead the team as a rider.
For Bos, a long-time Ten Kate employee and former rider, the challenge is huge. The 30 year old replaces Ronald ten Kate, and inevitably with any change of management, the vision and direction of the team also changes.
“I'm really excited to get started,” said Bos. “It's going to be difficult because we've had a big change to the structure in Ten Kate. Ronald ten Kate will look after the 'big picture' of the company. In terms of the race team we will change the structure. The technical side of the team will be split into three departments. We will have the tuning department, chassis department and R&D all working together instead of one person giving them direction.
“I will be working with the technical areas to help organize the race team. It's very different to the past because in the past Pieter Breddels decided on everything on his own. Now we have three people working with me to organize everything. Our goal is to get back on the podium this year and over the next few years is to get back into the top three and to fight for the championship again.”
The weight of expectation
To aid that fight for podiums the team hired Camier. The Englishman has rebuilt his reputation in recent years. Having been left high and dry in 2014 he turned a variety of substitute appearances into an MV Agusta ride. Despite not registering a podium finish for the Italian marque the progress the team made was due to Camier's ability to lead their development. That will be key for Honda and something that he is excited about.
“It's not easy to win in WorldSBK but even after just six days on the bike we've already making progress,” said Camier. “It's still a very new bike whereas with the MV it's an older bike. I'm hopeful that the Honda can be a more consistent package and can help me to deliver podiums and hopefully a win. It's difficult to know the potential of the Honda because of everything that happened last year.
“It was still early in the development when Nicky had his accident, and it was hard to judge with Stefan because, from the outside, it seemed that Nicky was leading the development. Once you lose that leadership, the program seemed to lose it's way. We'll see in Australia and then Thailand and then the rest of the season what our development is like. It's difficult to know what to expect just yet.”
While Camier may not be sure when fortunes will improve his team manager is convinced that he's seen enough this winter to know that he is the man to lead the team.
“Leon is already fast,” smiled Bos. “His pace is consistent and he's been fast on the qualifying tire too. He's been able to join the team and fit in well. His approach is actually very similar to Nicky's approach. He's hard working and honest. He has a clear opinion about what he wants and works hard to get what he feels he needs. It's great to work with riders that know what they want but also know how to get the team to that point it's always good. If you look at the progress made this winter it's already been huge. There'll be pressure next year on all of us but I think that we can surprise some people.”
Having been able to fly under the radar in recent years Camier knows that he now needs to deliver. Riding for big name brands brings with it big-time responsibility.
“There's more pressure on my shoulders this year because the expectation changes when you go to Honda and have support from Red Bull. That being said, nothing changes for me because I'll be doing everything I can to help drive this project forward. Hopefully that'll be enough to get some decent results but all I can do is give it everything I have.
“We've still got work to do learn this bike because with this bike it's very different to the MV. I still need to understand how to find the right balance. If you have too much weight on the rear the front is good but it doesn't turn. If you overload the front you can start to get some bouncing from the front. When the weight is on the rear you've got grip, when it's on the front you've got none. It's difficult to find the way to balance the bike but we're getting better.”
One of the keys for further improvement should be the electronics package. While Cosworth has been used throughout winter testing, due to a shortage of parts, it is expected that the team will make a switch to Magneti Marelli. In a winter of huge upheaval that could be the most significant change the team make.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2017 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.