Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team have had some unusual testing experiences this winter with the presence of multi AMA Champion Ryan Villopoto drawing crowds to the circuits where the factory crew are going about their preparation work for the 2015 FIM MXGP World Championship.
For Team Manager Francois Lemariey he has not only had to organise affairs to cope with the extra (early) attention but also establish a fresh system around two brand new riders, one of which carries more hype that perhaps any other athlete in the modern era of Grand Prix.
“I have to say that after a couple of weeks with both Tyla [Rattray] and Ryan we have found a comfortable way to work. I believe that we haven’t had an atmosphere like it in KRT [before],” he says. “Everybody is pushing to do his best and it’s motivating to be a part of that.”
Rattray and Villopoto recently finished their 2014 KRT testing in Belgium and Spain before both riders flew back to their bases in the USA. Lemariey and his squad, who became such a formidable operation around the GP and Motocross of Nations winning exploits of Gautier Paulin, have had to orientate themselves around their new recruits and also Villopoto’s preferences, considering the investment needed to bring the AMA star to Grand Prix and the narrow one-year window they have to try and grasp the MXGP crown.
“He is easy,” Lemariey says. “Both of them are. They are good guys and professional. Communication is easy and they have plenty of experience in knowing and asking for what they want. As a team it is simple to head in a direction when the rider is sure of what he is looking for from the bike. Of course there are differences between the two because of their particular riding styles and experiences with the KX450F.”
KRT initially lost Paulin to HRC’s Honda World Motocross team and then had talks with Steven Frossard about re-appearing in Kawasaki colours after just one season in 2014 but the Frenchman was ultimately moved out to accommodate Villopoto’s late decision to head to Europe.
“It was a difficult situation because he was in the middle of the ‘story’ with Ryan,” explains Lamariey. “It was a hard situation for all the team and for sure we can understand that he is disappointed. This year the goal with him was to be in the top five and he managed it at the last race but the inconsistency of the results was maybe a weak point in terms of pushing to keep him in the team as a third rider or something like that.”
Kawasaki have not yet announced details of where and when Villopoto’s first race on European soil since the Motocross of Nations in 2011 will be, but if the team do take in one of the three Italian Championship rounds in February or the Starcross International at Mantova or the Valence International in France before the opening GP in Qatar then it will officially open their seven month campaign with the American.
With testing apparently going well and Villopoto pleased with the initial steps made in his professional swansong season the next question will be how KRT feel about persuading their star to consider another campaign in Grand Prix in 2016. Lemariey comments: “We will see. Ryan’s experience of Europe is too short at the moment to see if he will stay or not.”