Ten Kate Racing will be making a return to the WorldSBK paddock. At either Imola or Jerez, the Dutch squad will be racing a Yamaha YZF-R1 with Loris Baz. With still some testing and development left to do, racing at Imola in early May is a tough challenge, but Ten Kate will definitely be racing at the Jerez round of WorldSBK to be held from 7th – 9th of June.
The switch to Yamaha is a dramatic break with the past for Ten Kate. The team grew out of a Honda dealership in Nieuwleusen, 45km south of Assen, and went on to win multiple championships in both the World Supersport and World Superbike categories. But on 30th October last year, Ten Kate were told at a meeting in Amsterdam that Honda would not be continuing with the team, but had chosen to partner with Althea and Moriwaki instead.
That decision had enormous consequences. Ten Kate was already developing engines ready for 2019, had ordered parts and supplies for the following season, and had signed a second rider alongside Leon Camier. Coming too late for Ten Kate to seek alternatives, the decision forced the race team into bankruptcy, and caused them to completely reevaluate their plans. After speaking to multiple other manufacturers, they eventually reached agreement with Yamaha Europe to race in WorldSBK for the 2019 season, with the first signs of a deal coming shortly before Christmas, while the details of the deal were only agreed in January.
The reasons for Ten Kate to choose Yamaha and Loris Baz to choose Yamaha and Ten Kate was the completeness of the package. Ten Kate will be supported by Yamaha Motor Europe, and will start with similar equipment to the Crescent Yamaha and GRT Yamaha teams. But Ten Kate will also work on their own development of the bike, and hope to make the bike much more competitive by the end of the year.
The deal also has a secondary benefit for both Ten Kate and Yamaha. The Ten Kate dealership also has a Racing Products shop, where they sell parts to professional and amateur racers. Ten Kate also sold the parts which they had developed in their own racing program, both in World Supersport and World Superbikes. But with Honda stepping slowly back from production racing, and fewer riders using Hondas for either racing or track days, Ten Kate Racing Products was starting to branch out to other manufacturers. As a by-product of Ten Kate's deal to race a Yamaha in WorldSBK, Ten Kate are now also selling Yamaha's GYTR line of racing products.
The goal for Ten Kate and Loris Baz is to aim for as many podiums as possible. With the championship already well underway, it is too late to chase a championship position, Baz said, so the objective is to focus on results race by race.
Team principal Ronald ten Kate described the range of emotions he had gone through after hearing from Honda that they would not be continuing the relationship. Anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, he had been through them all, he said. But the most difficult thing for him had been on the drive back from the meeting, knowing that the end of the contract meant that he would have to lay off so many of the people he has worked with for years. From a staff of over 20, Ten Kate will be returning to WorldSBK with a crew of around 8.
Asked if he felt any satisfaction at seeing the Hondas continue to struggle in WorldSBK in the hands of Althea and Moriwaki, Ronald ten Kate shrugged his shoulders. "Whether they are at the front or at the back, it doesn't really affect us," he said. At least it demonstrated that HRC had not been holding any magic solutions back from the team.
Loriz Baz had been prepared to wait for the Ten Kate team, while they prepared for the new season. After a difficult year in 2018, the Frenchman was willing to wait for a competitive package. He had been in talks for rides in BSB and MotoAmerica, but the combination of Ten Kate and a Yamaha R1 was worth holding out for. Baz had spent the winter working even harder on his fitness, in the hope that he would get a chance in 2019.
That chance will come at either Imola or Jerez. If Ten Kate go racing at Imola, then it will be very much a shakedown, with little time for testing or preparation. But they expect to have everything in place for Jerez, and to be able to go testing before the race there.
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