For nearly a quarter of a century, Ten Kate was synonymous with Honda in World Superbike racing. They first started racing in World Supersport, and then later raced in both classes, gaining official support from Honda in 2001, and then becoming Honda's main flag bearer since 2005, winning titles in both World Superbike and World Supersport classes with big-name riders such as Michael van der Mark, James Toseland, Chris Vermeulen, and Kenan Sofuoglu.
So it came as a shock to the world when Honda announced they would not be continuing their partnership with Ten Kate for the 2019 WorldSBK season. Once, contract extensions were a formality, left until the last minute only because both parties knew they would be racing together the next season anyway. But all that changed on 30th October 2018.
If it was a shock to the racing world, imagine what a blow it was to Ronald ten Kate and the rest of the team when they were told at a meeting in Amsterdam that Honda had decided to partner with Moriwaki and the Althea team, and use Honda's Suzuka 8 Hour bike as a base for their WorldSBK campaign. At a stroke, the Ten Kate team were left without bikes, without backing, and without their main rider, Leon Camier, who was signed to Honda, rather than Ten Kate.
They were also left with mounting costs, having already invested many tens of thousands of Euros in the 2019 season. Equipment and parts had been ordered, and preparations already made. The team also had over 20 staff on the payroll, with no means to pay them. Driving home from the meeting in Amsterdam, that is where Ronald ten Kate's thoughts were, with the people he would have to lay off.
Ten Kate went through some dark days in the months which followed, but together, Ronald ten Kate and team manager Kervin Bos worked on a way forward. Early this year, rumors started to emerge of a return. And at the press launch of the Assen round of WorldSBK last week, they finally presented their plans: from Jerez, or possibly Imola, the team would be back with Loris Baz as a rider, this time racing Yamahas.
At Assen, Ronald ten Kate sat down with a small group of journalists to tell his tale. He went into detail on how the team ended up with Yamaha, how their association with Honda ended, and how they managed to pull through. He sheds some light onto the business side of both managing the team, and how the tie up with Yamaha benefits Ten Kate both as a race team, but also commercially, in their Racing Products business. It is a fascinating and moving tale of a side of racing we don't get to see very often.
Q: How did you end up with Yamaha?
Ronald ten Kate: How did we start with Yamaha? Basically, after the shock of 30th October when we were told we won't have our contract renewed with Honda, we tried to find a quick fix, just a quick restart of the team. It became quite clear that would be impossible, and that there wasn't a quick fix available.
But it also gave us then the opportunity to discuss with potential partners or manufacturers a little bit longer, and to think deeper. And at the end of the day, Yamaha gave us the best package from a technical point of view, and the perspective of what was behind it, because we have always combined the motorcycle shop and racing products with the racing team, that's been a direct link for many many years.
And also from that point of view, Yamaha was the best link for us, because they have the whole series of bikes, the R125, the R3, the R6, the R1. And shortly after we were coming to the finalizing stages of the agreement for WorldSBK with Yamaha, we were put together with other Yamaha people on a different table to speak about the Pro shop, the Racing Products shop, to distribute GYTR parts around the world. So that was a nice and a big bonus for us, but first of all, the most important question for us was which brand do we think we can be as competitive as we want to be, and that was Yamaha for us.
Q: It must hurt because your history is so closely linked to Honda?
RTK: Yes, well, we have been racing with Honda since 1994, since the start of Ten Kate Racing. Since the start of 2001, we've been an officially supported team, and since 2005 or 2006, we have been THE Honda team in the paddock. Then, to all things must come an end, at the end of the day. But the most important thing is the way you part. That can be done in a gentlemanly way, or it can be done in a nasty way. And I don't believe that the parting was anywhere close to being done in a gentlemanly way.
Q: Because it was so late, so sudden, no warning?
RTK: No warning at all. Everything was on course for the goal of racing again next year. New staff were employed with agreement from Honda behind it. That all happened in just a few weeks before we got the final message that the contract would not be renewed, so there was no warning at all for us.
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