Ronald Ten Kate: WorldSBK for Life

Rennie Scaysbrook | July 12, 2017

“After the first session already our data engineer came to me and he said, “Hey, Jake’s good. He can ride a bike.” — Ronald Ten Kate

Ronald Ten Kate
Ronald (right) with Honda Moto Europe WorldSBK Operations Manager, Marco Chini. The two have had a trying season so far in WorldSBK.

Dutchman Ronald Ten Kate and the Ten Kate Racing team have been a fixture in the WorldSBK paddock for over two decades. The Dutch outfit has won everything there is to win under the guidance of Ronald and unlce Gerrit, and since 2015 has taken the role of official Honda WorldSBK team—a position they almost always had, but it’s only in the last two seasons it’s been made official.

Ronald has seen champion riders come and go and has the dubious honor of being the final team the late Nicky Hayden raced for, prior to his death in a cycling accident in May this year. Since that time, however, a new American has stepped in to fill the great Kentucky rider’s shoes at his home race at the weekend, with Jake Gagne impressing the team bosses with two points scoring rides on a machine that’s so far proven difficult to extract top performance from in the new Honda CBR1000RR SP2.

We sat down with Ronald at Laguna Seca to get his thoughts on everything from his passion for racing to the proposed new rules for Superbike competition and being pleasantly surprised with new boy Gagne.

Ronald Ten Kate
Ronald (right) and uncle Gerrit in mourning at Donington Park, the first race after Nicky Hayden’s passing.

Cycle News: This is the first American race without Nicky Hayden. How’s the feeling been in the team this weekend?

Ronald Ten Kate: Of course, we already had some races now without Nicky. The first one at Donington which was so close to his passing away. The team was pretty down. We still had to race, but usually, we go racing because we want to race. At that point, I think nobody in the team was really wanting to be there at all.

Coming here (Laguna Seca), there’s a lot of fans wanting to have some posters from him, signatures, or just want to give us presents, which is nice. They were behaving really well. There’s still a big, empty spot which nobody can fill.

Ronald Ten Kate
Gagne in full send-it mode at Laguna Seca. His ride was measured, calm and impressive to the Honda bosses.

How has Jake Gagne been going this weekend?

Honestly, we hardly knew him. I can pretend like we’ve been following him the past 10 years or whatever, but we have not. So, his name comes up and the American Honda guys were, of course, enthusiastic about having Jake with us.

You can see his career. He is a talented guy. He won Red Bull Rookies. The funny part about him is being a good motocross guy as well. Some resemblance there with Jonathan Rea, who is so good at motocross. It just tells you if a bit if you can do both disciplines in a good way—that is something which makes you special. Then we got to work with him here.

After the first session already our data engineer came to me and he said, “Hey, he’s good. He can ride a bike.” There is stuff he needs to learn and he needs to improve, but basically, he’s not doing strange things on the bike. He is adapting. He is feeling what the bike needs. He’s good.

Ronald Ten Kate
Gagne’s adaption to a WorldSBK-spec Honda didn’t take long, the youngster quickly getting up to the speed of teammate Bradl.

What has been the biggest thing for him this weekend? Is it the tires or is it the bike itself?

I think it’s everything, to be honest. Just moving to the world championship itself, working with a team organized in the way we are, is all different. The bike itself is more powerful than what he used in America. There’s way more electronics on the bike. And being with these guys on the track, which he doesn’t know, is another point.

He’s getting used to it fairly quickly. He’s learned much about the tire—we got him very quickly to understand that when he taps into the throttle that he needs to pick up the bike and go to the fat part of the tire. That’s what he does now as well.

Also, changing his riding style a bit from just swerving in and making a round corner to try to make him square off the corners more. For example, as Jonathan Rea in corner two, Jonathan always almost overshoots the corner and then brings it back over the curb. That’s what we would like to see with Jake as well, which he is doing.

Ronald Ten Kate
Team Red Bull Honda WorldSBK rider Stefan Bradl in preseason testing at Portimao in Portugal. It’s been far from plain sailing for the new Honda CBR1000RR SP2.

This year’s been tough with the new CBR1000 SP2. Where can you guys improve? What do you think you need to change?

It’s been more than tough.

We are working on a lot. The bike came late because of the earthquakes in Japan last year, which was a major setback for the production of the machine. So, it arrived only in January to our workshop, and unfortunately, it doesn’t come like full-on HRC package where you just fire up the bike and take it to the track. It comes with mirrors on it.

You get a streetbike.

Yes. We are a dealership and normally we take machines from the dealership floor and transport it to the race department and built it into a racebike. That’s how we operate. Really, it’s a production bike.

Ronald Ten Kate
Eight years of constant development with the previous generation CBR made it into a nearly-there title contender, but the other manufacturers (namely Kawasaki and Ducati) had moved the goalposts in that time.

What’s been the big development change with this new bike as opposed to the old bike?

Well, there was a change in rules as well. Last year we had Ride-By-Wire on the bike already but it was a home-built system where we also had the separate throttles. So, we were mastering the one and two and soon the three and four.

That’s the same system the Kawasaki’s use, isn’t it?

Yeah, but they have the double throttle bodies. They don’t have the split system anymore, but they have two throttle valves.

It looked over winter when we switched it off because of the new rule, we couldn’t do the split system anymore and we had to use the standard Ride-By-Wire throttle system on the CBR. We switched it up last year and the riders liked it. We were surprised.

Ronald Ten Kate
Hayden’s final races were not up to his usual standard, battling set-up and development issues with the new SP2.

Have there been any nuances with the Ride-By-Wire system?

It was very cool over winter testing. We had a period where we were not testing because we were waiting for the new bike to come. We had a lot of rain and extremely cold conditions in Europe. Then when we took it to Phillip Island, round one, where conditions were very hot. All of a sudden, not having the split throttle was giving more problems than ever anticipated for us. So, we’re trying now to cure that with settings and strategies on the electronic system, by testing in the season. We’re only allowed eight days of testing in total.

Ronald Ten Kate
The variety of WorldSBK is there, but Ronald still believes the rules need to be tweaked.

What are your feelings of the talk of rule changes for next season? What would you like to see?

I want to see the rules first before I have an opinion! I’m not against a change because what racing should be about is all the brands racing should have an opportunity to be on the podium and winning. Right now, the field is quite stretched with Kawasaki and Ducati always in front and then this big, big gap to the rest. World Superbike racing should not be like that. It should be a much more condensed field. So, I do think we need a change. The big question mark is, what do we need?

I think we need people to speak about the single ECU, which has worked quite well in MotoGP. So, it’s not about electronics all the time, but it’s about different stuff as well.

Ronald Ten Kate
Ronald believes the near electronic-free environment of the British Superbike Championship is a bridge too far for WorldSBK.

Would you like to see something like what they have in the British Superbike Championship with very minimal electronics?

We might need a little bit more than that, to be honest. Then on engines, there is some discussions going on or rumors spreading around that they want to almost bring it to stock, which I’m not too sure about. There should be a bit of freedom to at least compensate the different methods of manufacturers to make it more even. But we need to change. The way the championship is growing now is not the way it should be.

Ronald Ten Kate
Ronald with his first WorldSBK rider, then WorldSSP Champion, Chris Vermeulen in 2004. The Australian would take a double win at Laguna Seca that season.

You’ve been involved in this championship for a long time.

I’m a dinosaur. I used to be young.

What was your favorite period so far that you’ve been involved in World Superbike?

It’s fun every year for different reasons. This year is not a fun year for a number of reasons. I enjoy racing every year. I just love bikes and I love racing. I love to work with the crew like we have, who are dedicated and able to adapt to stuff.

But if you have to appoint, probably 2007 was like the best. We were winning with James (Toseland) in World Superbike against all odds. We won Supersport in the same year. Even our Superstock guys, which we had them in a semi-factory setup, were winning. We were European Superstock champions in that year as well.

That was everything from successful perspective. Also from the year back in 2004 with Chris Vermeulen, which was the first goal we ever had at World Superbike level. We came here with our little home-cooked bike. The beginning of the season everybody was looking at us going, ‘who are you going racing with?’ At this point in the season, we started to beat the factory Ducati boys. Chris doubled up that year at Laguna Seca as well.

Ronald Ten Kate
Kenan Sofuoglu during Ten Kate’s heady WorldSSP days, circa 2007. The Dutchman  would love to have his team back in the smaller class but it makes no commercial sense to Honda Motor Europe.

Would you consider moving back into World Supersport?

We would love to, but there’s a solid reason behind it. Lately, the project has been backed by Honda Motor Europe. The CBR600RR is not commercially available anymore in Europe, so there is no reason for Honda Motor Europe to back up the strategy.

It still is a great, great bike. Back in Europe, we are now supporting a couple of teams. It’s still capable of winning. We would love to run World Supersport again, not only because it’s the class where we have been successful for so many years, but also because it’s a program where we can bring up not just younger riders, but also engineers. They can grow through the ranks there and then join World Superbike teams.

Ronald Ten Kate
Ten Kate insists there must be a proper middle stepping class between Supersport 300 (pictured) to WorldSBK machinery.

That’s got to be an issue though because you have the Supersport 300 championship, then Supersport not getting any development, and then you have Superbike. The jump is too big between 300 and superbikes. What’s the solution?

That’s the question mark I have as well. You can’t jump from a 300 bike to a World Superbike. Of course, we have the European Superstock 1000, which is working and that could be like an intermediate class. Personally, I’m a big fan of Supersport itself. We need something in between for the racers who are coming through.'

Rennie Scaysbrook | Road Test Editor Our newest member of staff is our Road Test Editor Rennie Scaysbrook. A lifetime rider, the Aussie made the trek across the Pacific to live the dream in the U.S. of A.