It is impossible not to notice how much Yamaha is involved in MotoGP, given it has Valentino Rossi on its books, and continues to fields strong entries in its official and satellite teams.
In the WorldSBK championship, which is a more grounded reflection of what each company’s real products are, or at least start out as, Yamaha has been expanding its participation of late.
It will soon field Ten Kate and Loris Baz as a fifth R1 effort on the Superbike grid. But Yamaha has a deliberate bottom-to-top philosophy going on too.
Yamaha runs its ‘bLUcRU’ effort, designed to train young riders to become stars of the future, in the WorldSSP300 Championship on R3s. It has almost the monopoly of top entries in WorldSSP via the R6, and promoted its former official GRT Yamaha Supersport team up to WorldSBK this season.
Don’t forget the talents of Lowes, Van der Mark, Melandri and Cortese in WorldSBK, on R1s that are basically all the same.
This total participation at a high level at almost all levels, however official or unofficial in their teams’ makeup, is quite deliberate company policy, it appears.
“Road racing is part of our life, part of our DNA and I would say – somewhere – part of Yamaha’s responsibility,” said Eric de Seynes, President of Yamaha Motor Europe, who was visiting Assen for the Dutch WorldSBK weekend.
“We have been always very much implicated in road racing. If you look I the 1970s and ‘80s, we were the brand developing the TZ and making a racing bike for all the private riders.
So I think the mission of our brand has always been to develop the best bike, in a reasonable cost, and being sure that we can support motorsport and not just try to shine in motorsport.
“Shining is good, winning is good, but in general you are losing more than you win, so you have to know why you lose, and why you are there, and why you want to fight to be back in the top again.
“I think the implication of Yamaha has been always so consistent. If you consider that from 1959 to now, we always never give up because we think that it is good for engineers, good for the development of our bikes, and it is good to be connected with our fans and customers.
“When you consider this mentality - and personally I am convinced by that - it is nice to get a brand who has this connection and credibility with private riders.”
For De Seynes, you have to have a pyramid that has a top, but also a strong spread right down to its base. Hence Yamaha’s continued participation and support for production derived classes, all the way up to WorldSBK. Throwing the net wider, for an affordable price, is the way forward for De Seynes.
“Obviously we have always been maintaining our MotoGP investment and there this is proto, development, this is top engineering and we have to win,” said De Seynes. “But I think it is not enough to support a total motorsport pyramid.
I am absolutely always scared to see what has finally happened to cars, and Formula 1, which for me is completely isolated, on top of nowhere. OK, then everybody says that it is ‘top, top TOP!” For what? But finally when you look in the back and around, it is like a desert.
“You have some promo-cups, and even karting now is… not lost, but very difficult. The connection between karts and Formula 1 is just about a money problem. I want to protect motorcycling from that.
“This is my ‘mission.’ I try to consider that we have to protect our sport and for that we need to do affordable classes and categories. The money must be reasonable. OK, it is expensive because this is mechanical sport.”
De Seynes has personal experience of needing to race for little money, which seems to underpin his approach to how Yamaha goes racing in some ways now. “I remember when I was racing myself, I was just 16, and my parents said ‘No, we will not help you. We are against it but if you do it with your own money we cannot say anything.’
“Which was quite a good education. So I did a lot of jobs and I was looking at the cheapest way to race. I did it and I never forgot it. I know what it means to be on the back of the grid and just racing because you want to do it.
“So I honestly do my best to preserve this possibility for a large number of people. This is why when we have the YZF125, when I was in France ten years ago. Immediately I went to the federation to say, “Sorry guys but you are lost with your Cup and Promo classes. I would like to help you to recover.”
Even at that time the President of the Federation said, “Eric, you are a dreamer, it is over, it will not work.” I said, “Let’s try, allow me to try?”
De Seynes started the series and for around €7000 Euros , including helmets and leathers, young riders got going in a national series for very little money. All 42 of them.
So you can see where the current Yamaha boss in Europe – not the racing boss – THE boss, is going with a philosophy of throwing a wide net and building up a pyramid in stages. Inside the WorldSBK paddock that means WorldSSP300, WorldSSP and WorldSBK efforts painted in blue.
Next up for Yamaha in WorldSBK will be the appearance of Ten Kate and former winner Loris Baz, which underlines their overall commitment to WorldSBK.
The undersubscribed grid will only ‘swell’ by one with Baz on it, but added to the all new Ducati and BMW efforts in machines, a new homologation Kawasaki and a full HRC Honda effort, there is no lack of strong entries in WorldSBK in 2019, but a few more strong teams would be ideal.