The Monster Mash

Cycle News Staff | September 16, 2011

The following Feature is from Cycle News Digital Edition Issue 29…

The long time Monster men: Tech 3 Yamaha owner Herve Poncharal and MotoGP racer Colin Edwards.


Celebrity sells and in motorcycle racing there is no bigger celebrity than Valentino Rossi. Win or lose – and he’s mired in the longest losing streak of his career with no end in sight – Rossi’s star burns brightest and has for years. A wide variety of companies have used the nine-time World Champion as a sales vehicle, gladly accepting the publicity he generates.Witness Yamaha. Fiat was happy to back the team with Rossi as the principal rider, but when he left, they left, and Yamaha, despite three World Championships in a row, couldn’t find a replacement.Rossi has represented big oil (Repsol Honda), beer (Nastro Azzurro), and cars (Fiat Yamaha). But mostly he’s been used to sell cigarettes, which isn’t as inappropriate as you might think; the 31-year-old Italian is a former smoker. He’s sold French cigarettes (Gauloises) and American cigarettes (Camel Yamaha and Ducati Marlboro) without hesitation, though like most riders he’s careful about how his image is used; you won’t find an authorized photo of him holding a cigarette.Other than the team sponsor, which pays the most money and gets the most space on the leathers and bike, personal sponsors are where the money is, and where Rossi has been very shrewd. Do you have any idea what KeraKoll makes? Probably not, but for years Rossi was paid handsomely to wear their hat whenever he appeared in public. (KeraKoll is an environmentally conscious building materials company.) The hat he’s worn the past few years, other than on the podium and at the post-race news conference, when he’s obligated to wear the Bridgestone hat, displays the distinctive green Monster Energy logo, with a much smaller Ducati patch on the side.Phillip Morris’s Marlboro brand is the last of the great tobacco sponsors. Their contract with Ducati runs out at the end of this year, but negotiations are ongoing. Marlboro was the first to lavish tobacco money on racing, but not the last. In motorcycle racing they were eventually joined by Lucky Strike, Rothmans, Gauloises, Kool, Camel, and a slew of others.  When they were legislated out of existence, they left a void that wasn’t easily filled. Formula One found banks willing to jump in before the financial crisis of 2008 forced them to re-evaluate. Santander, a Spanish bank, has prominent signage on the Ferraris and will soon take over as the main sponsor.Banks never caught on in motorcycle racing. Instead it was energydrinks. Energy drinks have become a leading source of sponsorship for teams and riders, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Unlike big tobacco, which riders wanted no part of, energy drinks are a natural fit. Energy drinks back the top two teams in the AMA Pro Road Racing series, Rockstar Makita Suzuki and Monster Energy Graves Yamaha. A number of riders have personal sponsorship from Red Bull, while the Fast by Ferracci/Celtic Racing team is sponsored by ARMA, a company that sells fruit and nut-based energy products and backs of number of extreme athletes.On the world level, most all of the top riders have a personal affiliation with an energy drink company. Red Bull, the energy drink market leader, sponsors all three Repsol Honda riders, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso, as well as many others, including Moto2 contender Marc Marquez. Rockstar has only one rider, but it’s the very high profile MotoGP World Champion JorgeLorenzo. Teammate Ben Spies is a Monster Energy rider. The Corona, California-based division of Hansen Beverages has personal sponsorship deals with more high profile riders than anyone else. Rossi, Spies, Marco Simoncelli and Cal Crutchlow in MotoGP, Bradley Smith in Moto2, and Brno 125cc winner Sandro Cortese and Pol Espargaro in 125. They also have both Yamaha World Superbike riders, Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty.No one knows what it cost to get Rossi in the hat with the distinctive green logo, but the number often thrown around is in the range of $7-8 million. Monster also sponsors Ricky Carmichael in his NASCAR endeavors, Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, the FIM AMA/World Supercross Championship, the Monster Energy Grand Prix of France, the Vans Warped Tour, the Kawasaki motocross and Supercross teams, and the Pro Circuit Kawasaki motocross and Supercross teams.  Four-time World Trials Champion Toni Bou is a Monster rider. The list goes on.Unlike Red Bull and Rockstar, which don’t sponsor MotoGP teams, Monster Energy does, and that team is owned by Frenchman Herve Poncharal. Poncharal, who speaks fluent English, has partnered with Monster as the “official” MotoGP team since the start of the 2009 season. By sheer coincidence, all of Poncharal’s Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders have been English speakers. Colin Edwards, who doesn’t have a personal sponsorship from Monster, is in his fourth year with the team and on his third teammate. The first two years it was fellow two-time World Superbike Champion James Toseland. Toseland flamed out at the end of 2009, leaving a vacancy that was filled spectacularly by Ben Spies, also a World Superbike Champion. When Spies left for the factory team at the end of last season Brit, Cal Crutchlow, a World Supersport Champion, took over.

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Without Monster, Poncharal would find it very difficult to go racing. Poncharaldoesn’t waste a dollar and he gets the most of his personnel. Crew chief Guy Coulon designed the team’s Moto2 frames, which are built in-house, thereby saving about $100,000 per bike in rolling chassis costs alone. Tech 3 mechanics also built the vast canopy that covers the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 hospitality, which is the go-to place for the various national Monster distributors who visit the race track.”The Monster family connection, organization, I think we are part of it and in the paddock the Monster place is the Tech 3 hospitality,” Poncharal said during a recent interview. “And we see all the riders from the MotoGP from other teams, from Moto2, from 125 still, they all come in the evening to the Monster place, which is the Tech 3 hospitality. At the moment, Tech 3 and Monster, for the MotoGP paddock, is one and the same.”

The Monster Energy Hospitality is like no other.

Poncharal said that he is constantly reminded, “every single day how lucky I am tohave Monster as a sponsor and this is absolutely true. Because their brand, Monster brand, has got so much power on everybody following the races. I consider since we’re with Monster, since Monster is our title sponsor, the interest in the team has boosted a lot. Their logo is famous. It’s so popular. You can’t imagine how many guys I have on the phone or coming to visit me at the workshop and ask me, I need that sticker. Can I paint my bike as a replica of yours?”Also Monster, the merchandising is selling better than ever. So I think clearly Monster has been a big boost for us in terms of the team’s image, the profile of the team, and it helped the team a lot in our profile. For sure it helped us because they are funding us, so we need a sponsor to lease our bikes, to pay the riders and pay the whole staff and the travel and the logistics. Not only, I mean, the financial support is important, I think also they helped the team profile to rise, a lot. This is the third year we’re together and I can feel every year more and more, and I’m very happy to be, now, because it’s the third year so it’s been quite a while, we are the Monster team in a lot of people’s minds. And I’m happy of that, happy and proud. I like the way they communicate; I like the way they’re promoting their brand. I love their logo. The girls we’re having are always so special the way they dress and, no, I am very, very happy to be with them. And the only thing I hope and I wish is to stay as long as possible together with them.”Poncharal has good reason to be so unequivocal. Before Monster came along, his was one of many teams subsidized by Dorna. With the energy drink lifeline, he can focus more on racing and less on looking for money. And he takes his sponsorship very seriously.”I am always acting as a Monster guy, so every time I’m going out, I’m looking when I stop on the highway to make gas, I check in the gas station if they’ve got Monster to sell,” he said. “Yeah, I feel part of the family. They are really good people. You see in Europe how the hospitality is and we made a Monster corner for them and this year we got Cal [Crutchlow], who’s been a Monster rider forever. In Moto2 we have Bradley [Smith] and Randy Mamola is around.”That his hospitality is the epicenter of the weekend is undeniable. Even with the Monster backing, he has a number of sub-sponsors who all demand attention. Many of them are more concerned with getting face time with the riders and having a place to hang out than racing. Over dinner last year, Poncharal joked that he’d gotten into team ownership as a way to race, but ended up as a restaurant owner.And I enjoy a lot looking and helping young riders to learn. This is something I like a lot. This is very rewarding for sure, almost as much as winning races and this is why I also invested in the Moto2 team. Now we have Bradley Smith, who’s doing really well and hopefully we can do more good races in Moto2; one day he might move to MotoGP with us and who knows what he’s going to do in MotoGP and one day maybe join the factory Yamaha team, so that’s where I want to go.”The relationship with Yamaha is “clearly exceptional.” As a way of helping the satellite teams attract talent, a rule was put in place in 2010 that mandated any rider coming into the MotoGP championship had to join a satellite team, if the brand had one. (Suzuki is the only manufacturer without a support team.) “I’m so happy and proud to be with them and every time the Yamaha management is asked about MotoGP, they don’t say we have two factory bikes and two satellite bikes, they say we have four factory bikes.”Edwards has been the old hand to the young guns who’ve joined the team. He takes his mentoring role seriously, but, Poncharal notes, that doesn’t extend to the racetrack.

The Monster Energy Tech 3 Yamahas have a different look.

“This is an independent sport and each rider wants to be in front of the others and maybe the one you want to beat the most badly is your teammate,” he said. “This is what has always been said. Clearly, yeah, Colin always gives good advice to his teammate, but I’m not so sure he wants to be only the teacher. He wants to help, but race day if he can he will try to beat them.”And Poncharal is “not at all unhappy with the fact that we are like a junior team. Okay, we have Colin [Edwards] for quite a few years; he’s not very junior. But I think once Colin will stop we will really be the junior team.”The perfect example of how the system works was in 2010. Fresh off his World Superbike Championship, Spies joined the team. In his rookie MotoGP season, and on machinery that was below factory level, Spies earned two podiums and a promotion to the factory team.”I understand it won’t happen all the time, because Ben [Spies] is exceptional and also there was a room free at the factory team, so that won’t be always the case. I mean, what Yamaha’s done together with us, bringing Ben in Europe, winning the Superbike Championship, move to the satellite team, which is Tech 3, doing extremely well, and then moving to the factory team, this is what we want to do and this is what we want to show together with Yamaha.”Asked if last year’s team was his strongest ever, Poncharal can’t agree forcefully enough.”Oh yeah. Yes, yeah, yeah. For a long time, yes,” he said. “Clearly. Yeah, yeah. I think Ben was doing an incredible job and Colin was always the backup guy, always there. Yeah, yeah.”Spies has carefully managed his public image and isn’t given to inflammatory statements. Not so for Edwards, who this year is falling behind teammate Crutchlow in the battle to be the most profane on the team. Has this ever been a problem for Poncharal?”No, never,” he said. “Of course, a lot of people would like to format everybody, but I think MotoGP should be showing heroes, showing the icons that are not normal, in a way. Even for us more, because we are Monster. And Monster image is fitting so much with MotoGP image, because you need to be a Monster guy to be in front in MotoGP and this is the sponsor, so that’s why I think the match between MotoGP and Monster is working so well.”Monster has never asked Poncharal to muzzle his riders, which he’d be reluctant to do in any case.”You’ve got to be sometimes outstanding,” he said. “You need to come out of the pack and, no, I will never ask my riders to be too corporate, too political. We don’t need that. I mean, the sport does not need that.”No, no, I’m very happy with what Colin is saying and Colin always makes everybody laugh.I mean, there is nothing worse than having a press conference and to see the pressroom falling asleep. I remember that Colin attended the pre-event press conference in Assen, I can’t remember if it was ’09, and the post-race press conference, because he was on the podium. And Casey [Stoner] was crying, literally crying, and he told him, ‘Make sure you come more often because it was so much fun. It’s so much fun when you’re coming.’ I think we need people like Colin.”Cal is a bit like that. I think these guys, they are wild and you need to be wild to do what they’re doing and we shouldn’t try to cut that. Of course, you need to be correct. But I mean, correct doesn’t mean boring and dull and flat. I’m never drinking flat water, I like fizzy water,” especially when it comes in the tall black cans with a green M on the front.”   CN

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