Yamaha confirm three rider MXGP line-up and two factory teams as Rinaldi ceases racing after 27 years in blue
In a nutshell Michele Rinaldi’s eight premier-class world championship winning team will halt Grand Prix operations to become ‘Yamaha Factory R&D’. The Monster Energy Wilvo Yamaha squad will convert to the ‘Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP Team’ fielding current riders Arnaud Tonus and Gautier Paulin with Jeremy Seewer bouncing back to the roster (ensuring all three athletes in 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions in the present MXGP standings remain in blue).
Rinaldi’s Parma-based workshop will house ‘Yamaha Factory R&D’ and will supply the tuning and development nuance behind the works YZ450FMs for the two Swiss and Frenchman as well as the ‘Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MX2 team’ that will drop the ‘Kemea’ moniker and continue to push Jago Geerts and Ben Watson (4th and 7th in the table) for the third successive year on YZ250FMs.
While there were emotional and dedicatory comments from Louis Vosters and Hans Corvers – two very successful businessmen who established both of their Yamaha teams (Vosters with Wilvo from 2016 after previously being a long-term sponsor and Corvers’ Kemea for the better part of 23 years with Yamaha) before earning the distinction of full factory support – there was also deserved reverence for Rinaldi; Italy’s first motocross world champion and one of the legendary names in the sport to rival the likes of De Coster and Geboers.
The 60 year old guided names like Alex Puzar, Bob Moore, Andrea Bartolini, Stefan Everts, David Philippaerts and Romain Febvre among others to world championship success. Michele himself had taken a back seat to team management for a number of years, handing the reigns to brother Carlo during the Everts era at the start of the century (and six consecutive titles) and then to Mino Raspanti for the last decade but still helmed YRRD and was Yamaha Motor Europe’s primary technical link to Yamaha Motor Corps in Iwata, Japan.
Rumours already surfaced during 2018 that Rinaldi was looking to wind-down his racing presence further as the head of a small staff roster that has been largely unchanged since the beginning of the millennium. The emergence of Wilvo allowed Yamaha to relocate their emphasis for MXGP. Initially there were fears that Rinaldi’s withdrawal would half Yamaha’s official line-up in Grand Prix and be a significant weakening of the brand for the premier class at a time when the absence of Suzuki is still occasionally felt (now two years and counting). News of the deal for Seewer (back at the team with which he made his debut in 2018) pushed the number back up to a respectable three riders and is a repost to the daunting might of Red Bull KTM and the names of Cairoli, Herlings and Prado together for 2020.
“I have achieved some success thanks to good staff and people, and with the same people we are now going to support somebody else,” Rinaldi said. “In a way, we’ll transfer the work from the rider to the manufacturer and it won’t be easy but we all know each other very well and I think the results prove that the base is super-good. I think I have lived many different situations and some very complicated with motivation, budget and riders but today Yamaha is pushing hard and that is one reason why I made the decision to step a little bit to the side of racing because to have that role means being a owner, to have a truck, riders and everything around a team. I think we have achieved a good compromise where we still have the trust of the manufacturer.”
“[Michele] did a huge job for all these years and is the centre and heart of our racing strategy,” commented Yamaha Motor Europe Off-Road Racing Manager Alexandre Kowalski.
With their bLU cRU Masterclass and youth initiative, EMX European 65, 85 and 125cc programmes and platforms in MX2 and MXGP, Yamaha have constructed a ‘pyramid’ and a channel from the roots of the sport to the very pinnacle unlike any other brand. Surprisingly the scope and potential outstrips even KTM or Husqvarna. “This is an important moment for us and after 2014 when we had a big restructure and established our strategic reason for racing,” said Yamaha Motor Europe Marketing and Motorsport Division Manager Paolo Pavesio. “MXGP is there to show young riders and customers what is the dream. This is a long-term commitment and we are proud of what we are building with the YZ Euro Cup and being able to see 120 kids that use 85 and 65cc Yamahas at their local tracks able to come to the Motocross of Nations. We are creating memories.”
Yamaha cited their figures of 17 GP wins, 98 podiums and 35 moto wins in this spell as evidence that the FIM World Championship organisation is competitive and making progress. “We had this vision five years ago and it is really flying,” Pavesio added.
With Jorge Prado all but sealed to leave MX2, the combination of Geerts and Watson are already premium names for 2020 and it will be interesting to see if either can make the link to MXGP for 2021 or 2022 to show the effectiveness of Yamaha’s connectivity. The only athlete on the ‘blue route’ is 19 year old Frenchman Maxime Renaux who dominated the 2015 125cc Junior World Championship and has remained Yamaha through the levels (and injury setbacks) to reach the position of MX2 starlet in 2019.
At Imola 2015 MXGP World Champion Romain Febvre – the rider that brought the manufacturer their only crown this decade and seven years after Philippaerts dramatically captured the MX1 gong in 2008 on home soil – was absent but this was expected as there is only a matter of weeks before the Frenchman is unveiled as Kawasaki Racing Team’s new recruit for 2020. The announcement is expected after the Motocross of Nations at Assen on September 28-29th.
By Adam Wheeler @ontrackoffroad
Photos by Ray Archer @rayarcherphoto