WorldSBK: Highs and lows with Ten Kate
Motorcycle racing is filled with highs and lows. When a rider is winning races everything is easy. When the tide turns, it can become hard to see signs of encouragement. For the Ten Kate Racing Yamaha squad, this was certainly the case in late 2018 when their world was turned upside down. The Dutch squad, winners of ten World Championships, were told their long-standing partnership with Honda was over. With no bikes, no riders and no sponsors, the team had no prospects.
At the time Ronald ten Kate pulled no punches, saying: “We’ve been racing with Honda since 1994. Since 2005 we’ve been THE Honda team in the paddock. All things must come an end 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. I don’t believe that the parting was anywhere close to being done in a gentlemanly way.”
Ten Kate was incredibly motivated to find the right package to get back into WorldSBK and prove their worth again. The opportunity to work with Yamaha was too good to turn down. The bike is competitive and is well established. The chance to work with Loris Baz gave them a top rider in the class but one who was six years without a podium until Portimao in 2020.
The release of emotion for team and rider on Sunday was about more than just getting back on the podium. It was vindication and validation of their merits. Team and rider had felt slighted and now finally, they were back in the spotlight. Having lost the support of Honda, who opted to partner with the Moriwaki squad for 2019 instead, this was a moment where Ten Kate showed their ability as a team. By getting back on the podium Baz had showed that for six long years he had improved and made steps to be a much more complete rider than the one who left Kawasaki in acrimony.
Baz and Ten Kate are in uncharted territory. Having rejoined WorldSBK midway through last season, they’ve developed their bike in a different path to the other Yamaha R1’s on the grid. Baz, the tallest rider in WorldSBK, required a very different bike to other riders. Ten Kate found a way to give him what he wants on the bike and he’s flourished in their environment. With Mick Shanley as his crew chief, he has integrated perfectly into the team.
“Six years is a long time and I’m a very different person now,” reflected Baz. “Like anyone else my experience has made me better, it’s thought me how to train and I’m a better rider now. It’s been a long time but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved with the Ten Kate team. We were always at the front in the last few races, but we were missing a little bit but today we had a podium.”
Now the goal becomes to be consistent podium finishers and challenge for race wins. In Portugal, we saw that Baz was fast for all of the weekend but his Race 2 crash cost the team an chance for more points. With Aragon next on the calendar, the importance of scoring points at circuits that play to your strengths will become clear. A double header at the Spanish circuit will be tough for the Ten Kate squad who have been lacking in top speed all year. The long straights of Aragon will highlight their weakness and punish them, not to mention that they haven’t raced there with Yamaha or Baz.
It was important to strike while the iron was hot in Portugal. They did this so the monkey is off their back but in racing, you’re always under pressure. The pressure of expectations or the pressure of performance are omni present and now the goal of Ten Kate is to get back on the podium and not rest on their laurels.