German rookie Jonas Folger was one of the quiet success stories at the recent Phillip Island test, ending up fourth overall on the Tech 3 Yamaha, .493 of a second behind leader Maverick Vinales.
But just how long can he maintain that pace with the Yamaha satellite team run by Herve Poncharal? Not long, if recent history is any indication.
Tech 3 is one of the most well-liked, hardest-working satellite teams in the paddock, with a history of punching above its weight. The French team finished third in the Team Championship in 2012 and 2013, ahead of the Ducati factory squad both years.
But the team –in terms of riders ascending to a factory team–has fallen on hard times. A Tech 3 rider hasn’t stood on the podium after a MotoGP race since 2013, when Bradley Smith scored a surprise third-place finish at Phillip Island.
It’s hard to blame Poncharal or his team, led by longtime crew chief Guy Coulon, a mechanical wizard who Colin Edwards II held in the highest esteem during his four-year tenure with the team from 2008-11.
But it easy to point fingers at Yamaha. The Tuning Forks’ lack of support for its top satellite team compared to the parts and funding offered by Honda and Ducati to its lower-rent outfits is well known.
Tech 3 continues to draw promising young talents such as Folger and 2017 teammate Johann Zarco, no doubt attracted to Poncharal’s management and Coulon’s mechanical skill. But how many of those riders besides Ben Spies in 2010 have used Tech 3 as a springboard to the Yamaha factory team or a long-term, strong factory ride?
Cal Crutchlow moved from Tech 3 to Ducati in 2014 for an inferior bike but a vastly superior pay check. Crutchlow lasted one season at Ducati before resurfacing and winning at LCR Honda. Crutchlow’s signing bonus from Ducati was said to be more than his Tech 3 salary the season prior.
Pol Espargaro rode for Tech 3 for three seasons from 2014-16, possibly as a Yamaha man in waiting. He’s still waiting, earning a factory ride this season with the fledgling KTM MotoGP team. If KTM hadn’t entered the MotoGP class where would Smith and Pol have ended up? WSBK? Moto2?
Andrea Dovizioso rode for Tech 3 in 2012 in what could only be called a gap year after being a victim of Repsol Honda downsizing from three to two factory bikes due to Dorna regulations. He scored six third-place finishes and ended up fourth in the riders’ standings before signing with Ducati and its much bigger paycheck for 2013.
Dovi remains with the Boys from Bologna this season, finally breaking through for his first Ducati victory last season at Malaysia.
Tech 3 is a good team. Poncharal is well-liked and runs a tight ship. There’s no shame in riding there, it’s just that a riders’ chances of using the French team to springboard to the factory Yamaha team or a top factory team is apparently quite limited.