Perhaps the biggest surprise after the first day of testing at Sepang was the sheer, unadulterated speed of Aleix Espargaro on the Forward Yamaha, racing in the Open category.

Seventh fastest, half a second off the fastest factory Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, and ahead of the two Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. By lunchtime on the second day, Aleix was closer still, just two tenths off the best Yamaha.

Naturally, all eyes turned to the Tech 3 garage, and the response of team boss Herve Poncharal. How would the otherwise charming Frenchman react to being beaten by a bike which Yamaha was supplying to a rival team for a third of the price he is paying to lease the Tech 3 Yamaha M1 machines, entered under the Factory Option rules in MotoGP?

A long line of journalists beat a path to his door, including us, to put those questions to him.

Poncharal spoke at length about the Open class, the issue of fuel consumption, and the performance of Aleix Espargaro. First of all, though, he emphasized the strength of his relationship with Yamaha.

Herve Poncharal: As I said last night at the Yamaha launch, I’m very happy to be with Yamaha, and to have signed with them for another two years. I feel good. Now, this is a time in MotoGP when quite a few things are changing, and for sure the biggest thing for the coming season is the Open class is coming.

Factory bikes are reduced to 20 liters, and this is exciting. For sure it is exciting, because it is already creating debate and controversy, because at the end of the day, when you have controversy you get people talking about MotoGP, so this is perfect.

This concept of Open class is going to bring some new faces to the front, new teams in front. If you take the Forward example, I think last year they were quite far behind, and never in the position to be in the light of the media.

Clearly for them, thanks to the Yamaha support they managed to get, it helped them to get a rider of Espargaro’s caliber, which is a good thing. And clearly that package plus that rider, plus Colin (Edwards) is going to bring better results than last year, and it should be helping them to find sponsorship.

So the Open class is going to make the grid more competitive. This is all we want. We want more guys on the front, we want not only the same three, five always in front, because this is not what makes the sport exciting. So on that point, I think it is a good move.

Second point, inside the Yamaha family, I am very happy. It is clear that we have to consider what’s happening with the rules, as a team, but also Yamaha as a factory. So factory team and Tech 3 team will be on Factory spec, and I think they’ve done a tremendous job over the winter. When we see what they’ve done with the fuel consumption, they have.

When you see the lap time, and when you see how much less fuel we use compared to last year, it’s unbelievable. This is also very good to show, and also to show that racing is working for production. Because what they are learning in terms of electronics, injection, friction, it is working for the future, really.

But it’s also interesting for Yamaha to check, because if there wasn’t that involvement with Forward, we could maybe all say what if? What would this engine do with the championship software? Is it going to be competitive? The engineers, they can check and they can compare how bad or how good the championship software is.

Basically, if we want to make a short comparison: Factory spec, advantage is more advanced software, handicap is 20 instead of 24 liters, less engines and the tire. So on the other side, the handicap is only software.

Now I think Yamaha can see how big or small is the handicap. And for sure, they will be in a much better position to decide in the future now they have some involvement in the Open class, than they would have if they hadn’t.

So I am very happy to see them having another team like Forward. I have no problem at all. If you are a racer, if you are a competitor, you must accept the racing and the fighting. For me, this is exciting, you know, Factory against Open, Tech 3 against Forward, that’s excitement.

So also as Tech 3, we will have a big challenge between Bradley (Smith) and Pol (Espargaro). Because they are two young riders with a high profile, high potential, and with high hopes for the future, so they are both going to fight very hard to make the next step. But also, we will have the two brothers, one on the Factory spec, one on the Open spec.

So for me I’m very happy, and maybe it won’t be as easy as it was last year to be sometimes on the front row, sometimes on the podium, but maybe the front row will have more value. I think if you just want to be here and do the result without any competition, I don’t think that’s the right spirit.

Again, I think what Yamaha is doing is a great job. I’ve heard some people saying that this not an Open bike, that it’s not following the rules, but sorry, it is. And I think if this comment is coming, it’s because that bike is fast. For example, they are always mentioning Yamaha, but they are never mentioning Ducati who are doing exactly the same (with Yonny Hernandez at Pramac, running a GP13 in the Open category – DE.)

But they don’t care about Ducati because Ducati is not a threat. And why don’t other factories do the same? Because clearly, that bike is an Open bike. They got an engine from a factory, they have to use the championship software, and they have to build their own chassis.

For the moment because it was late, they had some support, but they will build their own chassis, the bodywork. So for me, this is a completely Open bike. And a real Open bike. And it’s a bit like what is happening in F1. You’ve got an engine, and then you build everything around it, you do what you want.

Of course, always with good connection with your engine supplier. So I see why some people – you know who I mean – are angry and say this against the spirit of the rules. They decided another route, which today is not that bad, because yesterday, Nicky [Hayden] was quite far behind, but today he’s with Colin [Edwards] now, and he improved by two seconds.

I don’t understand how some people with experience are already writing and having some definitive position after just one day. We all know that what people are looking at is just the one lap which makes the classification, but this is a working test.

And honestly, I think inside Yamaha, and for sure in my team, what we are working on at the moment is fuel consumption, to see if we can do the race. It’s always good to do a good lap time: for our sponsors, for the confidence of the rider, but you cannot focus only on this one lap.

So this is what I think about Aleix Espargaro’s bike. I think Aleix has done a great season in 2013, he fully deserved the ride he’s having, and also, Open class fully deserved to have some top riders, and I think now with Aleix, with Colin, with Nicky, they have a lot of exciting riders.

And we know in the end, the single ECU rule is the future, like it or not. We will have it, sooner or later.

QIt doesn’t make you think about going into the Open classs earlier?

HP: We are a Yamaha team. My factory is Yamaha, and they tell me what they want to do. I trust them, it is up to them to decide. But it is clear that in 2014, there will be two teams on Factory spec, factory team and Tech 3, and one team on Open spec, Forward. 2015 is going to be up to them.

It would be outside of my role to ask, push, or decide. For sure I could tell them, hey, I lease the bike, I do what I want for my sponsor, but I think I would never do that. Because this bike is their baby, they know what they’re doing. They’re doing a lot of development all through the winter about racing with 20 liters.

So if they think we can do it, I have to follow them. You know, I think at some stage, we should understand how everything works, and there is not one person who is Mister I-Know-Everything.

So I run a team, I run a company, I have a factory supporting me, and I have to show respect for what they decide, because they know their whole thing much better than me.

And for sure they are worried, and now that, as I said before, they have also the feedback on the 24 liters and Open, on the same engine, if one day they think it’s better to go there, then …

QDo you think Yamaha might go Open?

HP: This is something you should ask [Kouichi] Tsuji [head of Yamaha’s MotoGP project – DE]. In 2014, the two teams, factory and Tech 3, they decided already for Factory Spec. In the future, I don’t know. You know, you need to be pragmatic, and bottom line, at the end of the day, you are here to win.

So to give a stupid example, if next year Aleix is winning five races, beating factory riders and Tech 3 riders, then maybe we have to think. This is entirely up to them. I respect their decision and I will follow their decision.

As I said before, this is only one-and-a-half days that we have done. I’m not too worried. I know how good Yamaha engineering level is. You know, the 20-liter rule was brought unanimously by MSMA. It’s not that it came from Carmelo or anyone else. I was at the GPC when it came, and I asked Tsuji, who decided that? And he said, MSMA. And I said, who?

And he said, unanimous support. So they know what they’re doing, and we mustn’t doubt them. And we will see, if Open bike can fight and sometimes beat some factory spec, then fine. This is more exciting, this is what we want. And this is I’m sure something that Carmelo will be so happy with.

QBecause Dorna’s plan is still to go single ECU in 2017?

HP: I guess so, this is something you have to ask Carmelo directly, but yes.

QThis is something which IRTA would also support?

HP: Of course. But this is working in a lot of championships, not to say almost all of them. This is working in Moto3, where some manufacturers that are involved in MotoGP are also involved in Moto3. So why not? And I think what Forward and Ducati, I mean, Yamaha through Forward and Ducati through Pramac are showing is it works.

And I’ve been talking to their riders, and they don’t think the championship software is something from pre-history. So I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t go all championship software.

I think it will make it cheaper in the end, because that should be supplied free of charge by Dorna, and we know a lot of research is on the electronics, and this is of course making the lease fee more and more.

So this is one of the things that will make the grid more competitive, and could make the bikes cheaper, so we have to go for this. If we have more exciting battles, more potential race winners or at least top-five finishers, and cheaper material, why should we be against? This is all that we are pushing for?

QDo you have the seamless gearbox?

HP: No. I work with Yamaha. Last year we understood, no way to have it in 2013. We understood also through Jorge and Valentino – and even last night, Jorge said it again – it’s a plus. How big of a plus we don’t know, but it’s a plus. We don’t have it here. But I’m confident, although I have no insurance from anybody, that we’ll have it quite soon.

I’m confident, but again, I know Yamaha is doing the best they can, and there’s no meaning for me to shout and complain, or bang the table. You don’t get anything like this. As long as you know that your partner is taking care of you and is willing to help, you have to respect also a lot of things.

It’s easy to talk behind the garage and shout at somebody, but when you know the whole picture, it’s not that easy. I know they want to support us, and of course we have a common sponsor with Monster, and one of our riders is factory contracted, so they have no reason not to help.

So I think when they will be able to give us a seamless gearbox, they will. I’m quite confident.

QAnd both riders will always be on the same level of support?

HP: For me this is essential. And I will make everything I can to have that, and Yamaha is on the same line. You know, both Pol and Brad are top riders, and I don’t want any different support and treatment.

Photo: © 2013 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • SBPilot

    Never to beat around the bush, great interview with Herve.

    Regardless of opinion, all the experts say this, electronics is what’s the most expensive.

    If there is a spec hardware and software provided by Dorna for free, cost to run a team will drop probably in the millions of Euros per team per year.

    In another interview, I read the highest paid team members (apart from riders) are the ECU technicians/engineers. So you’re saving hundreds of thousands of euros a year on specialized personnel plus the cost of the software/hardware itself which is easily few hundred thousand euros.

    This has to be the future, where you have Spec electronics and if that means Honda pulling out, so be it. If teams can out develop the spec software, they can tell Dorna and say hey, lets improve the software like this. Nothing is ever set in stone, rules can change, and so long Dorna provides the stuff for free, it has to be a good thing.

  • dan

    if honda left but the racing was better would anyone stop watching? i doubt it. i’d even go out on a limb and say that would generate even more viewership and interest.

    in addition, aren’t the riders asking for less electronics (i believe rossi has mentioned this several times)?

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    Let’s see, with spec software: costs go down dramatically, racing gets more exciting, and in terms of rider ability the cream will rise to the top.

    Downside is Honda might leave…Why isn’t everyone saying ‘so what?’ What don’t I get?

    I love how A. Espargaro is making people scratch their heads.

  • st1100boy

    Until recently, I never really thought much of Ezpeleta. Mostly because he let Honda have its way in almost every way, but also because of some of the puzzling rule changes (possibly Honda-driven) of the last several years: 990/800/1000 engines, fuel limits, the rookie rule, etc. But now, I think he’s on the right track, possibly because he realizes the status quo doesn’t work and isn’t sustainable. Honda doesn’t care about good, compelling racing. Honda cares about Honda…they’re basically bullies who traditionally outspend the competition, so they love rules that allow them to exploit their true advantage: cubic dollars. I hope Ezpeleta can bring Honda to heel. Don’t like spec ECUs, Shuhei? Then hit the bricks.

  • Westward

    I wonder if Honda’s gripe is that they have better software not a better bike…?

    My only problem with Spec Software, is that Dorna if they wanted to be unscrupulous could program an advantage to one manufacturer over another.

    and like Fox Mulder, trust no one…

  • Mark

    I agree with this article:


    A spec ECU dumbs down the prototype class. If you want a competition solely between riders, watch a different class of racing. The prototype class is supposed to be about riders AND engineers.

    I am not convinced that the costs will go down. “Everyone always spends all of their budget.” The money that teams used to spent on software development will now be spent on other ways of buying speed. The result is difficult to predict.

  • Mark


    So what if that is true? Honda’s better software results in a better bike. Software is not a separate entity from the hardware it runs on in a functioning system. Even in the pre-iPhone days of flip phones, a phone with bad software that crashed a lot and dropped calls was a bad phone. It was not a good phone with bad software.

  • SBPilot

    @ST1100boy: Shuhei has said several times it’s not his choice, it’s the board of directors. He just manages the racing, doesn’t make corporate decisions. So he’s not to blame or to receive flak.

    If Honda stopped racing, Shuhei could very well jump to another brand, he’s not a corporate figure.

    @Westward – the hardware and software comes from Magnetti Marelli, unless MM had vested interested in one team, I don’t think they would have software more flexible for one team compared to the next. That’s like saying Ohlins/Brembo or any other after market brand giving a team better parts.

    They will need to devise a system to make sure every team gets the same updates at the same time in a non behind the doors type of format. The teams would fight for this no doubt, so I don’t think it’s an issue.

  • L2C

    Some funny sh-t. Honda is the bad guy? Why, because Honda outspends everybody else? Folks say they want better, more competitive racing, but it’s evident that those same people who blame Honda for everything don’t like racing as much as Honda does.

    People are funny. My problem with Honda is that they haven’t been spending enough in Moto3. Yet nobody is all over KTM’s case. I wonder why… Oh yeah, I forgot, it’s because it’s KTM and not Honda.

    Yes, blame Honda. Don’t blame Yamaha because they don’t have the financial wherewithal that Honda has. Why can’t Yamaha land a title sponsor that equals or bests Honda’s Repsol sponsorship? Who knows, but it must be Honda’s fault. And Ducati has Marlboro, and now Audi — but Ducati is slow and not competitive, must be Honda’s fault. Hell, BMW and Suzuki and all the rest blame Honda too. For everything.

    Yes, it is true, Honda competes better than all the other factories/teams, so the skyrocketing costs of going racing is Honda’s fault and not the fact that the others don’t compete as well as Honda does. If they did, cost would be less of an issue. But since they don’t, it’s Honda’s fault. So Dorna makes more dumb rules to even the field, to punish Honda, and everybody that hates Honda also hates all the dumb rules that keep popping up, and then they blame Honda for it all because Dorna is trying to do the right thing even though Honda is only going racing and trying to do their best just like everybody else is trying to do, but for some reason Honda is the blame for that big mess, just like this run-on sentence. Makes sense.

    Honda threatens to leave the sport because they don’t like certain proposed rules? “F*ck Honda, MotoGP will be better off without them.” Yet when the other factories pitch a b-tch, what happens? “Aw man, BMW dumped more riders and teams again. At the last minute too.” “Boy, I can’t wait until BMW comes back!!” *sound of confused man-dog panting enthusiastically* Suzuki ups and packs their belongings, ditches teams and riders. What happens? “Oh man, props to Suzuki for coming back to MotoGP. I really miss Suzuki.”

    Honda stays in MotoGP, supports its teams and riders 100%, maintains title sponsorship, puts up with all manner of bullcrap rules, makes those bullcrap rules work for Honda and its teams and riders and sponsors — and the MotoGP fans, and what does Honda get?

    *boo hoo hoo, whaaaaaaa* “Honda cares about Honda…they’re basically bullies who traditionally outspend the competition, so they love rules that allow them to exploit their true advantage: cubic dollars.”

    Everybody hates Number 1. Yes, that is Honda’s fault too, because if Honda was not Number 1, there wouldn’t be a problem with Honda. Yet everybody loves World Champion Marc “kitchy-kitchy-koo” Marquez, and Casey “Aww man” Stoner, not that Honda had anything to do with either of those riders.


  • st1100boy

    My quarrel with Honda is not the fact they win. Good for them. Even with the most money, they still have to spend it properly, and they do. What I don’t like is the way they try to control the rules as BMOC in the MSMA, then threatens to leave when rules are proposed to blunt their advantage. Why Yamaha bends over every time the MSMA makes the technical decisions is Yamaha’s problem.

    I love motor sports, but I believe one of the reasons its appeal is waning in the USA anyway is the lack of competitive balance. The NFL is king in this country in part because numerous teams have legit shots to win each season. How many guys can win the MotoGP title, or even a race this coming season? Four, maybe. Probably only two or three given Rossi’s age and Pedrosa’s luck/injury history. Historically speaking, it’s always been that way in big time motorcycle racing of all kinds, so this isn’t a new problem, but I wonder if the fan’s expectation for more competitive balance is stronger. I think it is for me.

    One last thing: don’t interpret this as pushing for NASCARization and thinly veiled manipulation of rules and enforcement. But a stable set of rules which lowers the cost of admission and operation might help bring in more teams and manufacturers who have a legit shot. WSBK may be slowly finding their way into a model which provides some lessons learned elsewhere in the Dorna empire.

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    @st1100boy–well put. Exactly as I was thinking.

    @L2C, I get it–these are prototypes and the series is as much about the tool as it is the craftsman. Don’t blame Honda for having the best of both. …but a better balance needs to be struck in MotoGP and everyone knows it. No, I wouldn’t want them to NASCAR-ize the series…but right now watching MotoGP is like watching a Globetrotters basketball game, “hmm, I wonder who will win?” It’s a joke of competition.

  • Norm G.

    re: “Everybody hates Number 1. Yes, that is Honda’s fault too, because if Honda was not Number 1, there wouldn’t be a problem with Honda. Yet everybody loves World Champion Marc “kitchy-kitchy-koo” Marquez, and Casey “Aww man” Stoner, not that Honda had anything to do with either of those riders.”

    LMAO awesome.

  • Norm G.

    re: “Downside is Honda might leave…Why isn’t everyone saying ‘so what?’ What don’t I get?”

    lets review…

    1. repsol supports Honda
    2. Marcus is a construct of this Honda/Repsol collab
    3. Honda leaves, no more Repsol (possibly)
    4. no more Repsol , no more Marcus
    5. Honda leaves, no more M2 engine supply (possibly)
    6. no more M2 engine supply, NO MOTO 2
    7. VR46 retires in 2016
    8. no Honda, no Repsol, no Marcus, no M2 engines, and no VR46 =’s the death of grandprix as we know it.

  • joe

    Obviously Marquez and Pedrosa would have no rides at all if it wasn’t for Honda.

    Who else would hire them? ;-|

  • st1100boy

    @Joe: Great take on Pedrosa’s and MM being unemployable outside Honda. Of course, they are Spanish, right? Not too many young dudes in that whole country are finding work. The last thing Spain needs is more youth unemployment.

  • sburns2421

    What I read was a skilled politician that knew much more than what he let on in the interview. Everything was basically known to the public that he said.

    As far as Open vs Factory, he claims ignorance but you know after the speed of the Forward bikes Yamaha has to be wondering if a switch sooner rather than later would be the right way to go.

    In testing teams can use as much fuel as they want, basically Sepang II might have The M1’s testing the viability of going Open. We would only know that of the four factory riders some put up faster laps than expected, and the bikes had a few bits changed (like an ECU?) behind garage doors.

    One thing that seems to be progressing is that Factory rule bikes are being squeezed, five engines and 20L isn’t very damn much. So what if you can program your own ECU if you start from pit lane by August and finish every race on fumes?

    I assume Ducati will notify Carmelo they are full Open for all four bikes later this week. A part of me would love Yamaha to do the same at the last minute, convert Rossi/Lorenzo/BSmith/Pol to Open as well, enjoying the extra fuel, testing, engines, and tire compound while Honda arrogantly gets left holding the bag with their precious Factory rules only applying to them. It would be awesome.

  • SBPilot

    I personally don’t rag on Honda, I actually like the team. I’d be sad to see them go if they actually did quite over Spec software. I do not know why people are so quick to blame Honda for their winning ways, I for one like MM and the whole team.

    I also agree that Honda having superior software means that they have a superior bike. Nowadays, we have to look at ECU/Software as part of the bike, they are essential. I do not take anything away from the fact that Honda have done an excellent if not superior to others job in the electronics department.

    Equally, I can see why this is exactly the same reason Honda would pull out if there was Spec ECU/software because they think they have just threw out millions of R&D dollars.

    Having said that, I still stand by my original comment, where if there is a Spec software, it does not mean this spec software can’t evolve and develop and it’s up to the teams to maximize the software.

    We all know how to use Windows and iOS, but we don’t all know how to use it equally. If the spec software gets developed to a very high level (it seems it’s very high already looking at Aleix performance), than teams still have to be on their game to have the best engineers and technicians to maximize the software. In that sense, this is still prototype racing. Hell they aren’t racing with crap like Bazzaz here.

    The fact is, and this is not opinion, that spec ECU and software does reduce costs for teams by heap loads. This is what all team managers and other personnel have said in WSBK after similar rules have been enforced there. Since those rules were set in WSBK and that EVO rules will be the standard for next year, look at how many teams have entered WSBK. And it all comes down to the fact they don’t need to spend millions developing software/hardware (money on the actual software/hardware as well as personnel).

    What I actually don’t agree with is engine development freeze throughout the year in MotoGP for factory spec bikes/teams.