2018 proved to be the end of an era for the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team. Early in the year, team boss Hervé Poncharal signed contracts which would see them leave Yamaha for KTM, and Monster for Red Bull, becoming the Red Bull KTM Tech3 squad. 20 years of history with Yamaha, and 10 years with Monster Energy ended, a new future began.
At KTM's home round of MotoGP at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, the Austrian factory announced their program for the coming two years. As part of that, Tech3 announced they would also be switching to KTM for their Moto2 entry as well, with riders Marco Bezzecchi and Philipp Öttl moving up to the intermediate class, joining Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin in MotoGP.
On the Sunday after the race in Austria, I spoke to Hervé Poncharal about his plans for the next two years, and how he saw the years he had spent together with Yamaha. He talked about his pleasure at signing both Bezzecchi and Öttl, what he expects from his relationship with KTM, and ponders the predicament in which Yamaha find themselves.
Q: You announced your program this year. It’s also in Moto2, with Philipp Öttl and Marco Bezzecchi. You must be very excited about Bezzecchi.
HP: I am. This was a big mission because when we decided to move from Yamaha to KTM, I clearly took the decision to move everything - MotoGP, Moto2. But it was not easy to find the right riders. A lot of them were already signed. I’m very happy because Marco is… I don’t like to jump on the rider when he’s somebody, but I spoke to Uccio about Bezzecchi in Argentina, and even last year. So for a long time I’ve been working on him.
It was not easy, because he was not sure at one point if he wanted to do one more year in Moto3 and win the championship. I think that when he saw Martin moving up he said, “If he’s moving, I have to move too.” But then he had a contract, a two-year deal with Prüstel, his current team. So we had to negotiate. We had to think. In the end, everybody agreed, everybody’s happy. KTM, Prüstel, me, Tech3, VR46 because they are managing him and the rider.
But I’m so happy because I believe so much in Marco. He reminds me a lot of Valentino when he started. Today [the Moto3 race at the Red Bull Ring, which Bezzecchi won - DE] proved everything I said right. I’m really excited and I’m really happy to have him with us because he’s a very young, fast rider, but he’s also for what I know a very charming young man. He’s interesting and nice guy.
The other guy is Philipp Öttl. He’s fast. For sure he’s not as exciting on paper as Marco Bezzecchi. But when I signed Jonas Folger everybody told me, “You made a mistake.” I’m not saying Philipp is going to do what Jonas did last year, but I believe Philipp is fast. He’s a bit I think too tall and too heavy for Moto3 right now. He won a race this year in Jerez which is not easy, to win a race in Moto3.
And again, like Marco, I really like the guy. I’ve known his father for many, many years. KTM and Red Bull are happy because he’s a German-speaking guy. If you look at the lineup of the Tech3 in MotoGP: Portugal [Miguel Oliveira], Malaysia [Hafizh Syahrin]. In Moto2 Italy [Marco Bezzecchi], Germany [Philipp Öttl]. So, I’m happy.
Q: How much influence did Red Bull and KTM have in the choice of riders? Were you completely free choosing?
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