The Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team has a point to prove in 2016.
After being in contention for Grand Prix wins, Nations glory and the MXGP crown for three years with Gautier Paulin, the drama of 2015 with Ryan Villopoto and the now retired Tyla Rattray was a sharp bump in the road for the Holland-based factory crew.
Having completed tests in Spain with new recruits Clement Desalle (after a six year stint with Suzuki) and Jordi Tixier (an MXGP rookie in ’16) and with both riders coming back from season-ending injuries this summer ‘KRT’ are looking for a swift return back to the heat of the action.
Team Manager Francois Lemariey offers some insight on the process of working with the Belgian and Frenchman compared to the tribulations of dealing with the Villopoto bandwagon that eventually faded away.
“I know Clement very well from when we worked together at LS Honda in 2009 and we have that trust. With Jordi it is similar because his mechanic Christophe, who was with him at CLS last year, is now part of the team,” Lemariey says. “So we are saving a lot of time because the riders know what to expect, we know how they work and what they want and its up to us to deliver. It is different. Ryan and Tyla were coming from the US and especially Ryan had his own circumstances so I would say it is back to a ‘normal’ European approach now.”
The Frenchman accepts that MXGP fans and observers will be watching to see how KRT come into the 18 round season in 2016.
At Qatar this year Villopoto and Rattray underwhelmed and later admitted a misdirection with their off-season testing that had to be solved with urgent work in between the Grand Prix at Losail and the fixture in Thailand a week later, which Villopoto went on to win, but the KX450F was still not race-ready for the former AMA Champion. Lemariey, quite fairly, says it was a mistake…and a blip.
“We all saw in Qatar that the ’15 bike wasn’t well set-up and I will not say ‘this wasn’t our fault’ because we were the ones that made the settings but we also worked on what the riders wanted from their US experience,” he says.
“For sure people are looking at us now but our partners and people who race with us have trust in the work that we do…and I will also remind anyone that 2014 was a pretty good year for us! We finished the season with both riders on the top of the podium at the Motocross of Nations.”
Tixier is a former MX2 World Champion charged with learning the ropes of the KX450F in 2016 but Desalle – a 19-time GP winner and who has finished in the top three of the standings five times in the last seven years – has been signed with the championship in mind.
His transfer to Kawasaki means he is riding green for the first time in his career and just when the manufacturer has brought a new KX into the mix. “Every rider is special and Clement has specific demands and requests but they are things we can handle,” Lemariey states. “A factory team needs to have that power to be able to adapt a bike to this type of top rider and give him the possibility to express himself.”
“We have a new bike so a new challenge,” he continues. “I would say it is almost 90 per cent changed [from 2015] so it means a lot of alterations for our race bike and some work to be done!
“We started prepping from the middle of 2015 and the tests with Clement and Jordi were confirmation that we’re in a good direction. They were both coming back from injury but we saw in the tests that they were both in good shape because they pretty much rode for five days non-stop. There is still some work to do but it is about fine-tuning the details.”