Director of Enduro and Rallying at Yamaha Europe, Alexandre KOWALSKI was one of the key players who witnessed the changes to the format of the FIM Maxxis EnduroGP World Championship, which began in 2016. And now, with the first season of the latest EnduroGP format just around the corner, the French manager gives us his view of the discipline and, of course, of his official Yamaha teams...
Hello Alexandre, how do you look back on last season?
Alexandre KOWALSKI: « For Yamaha, 2016 was a building year. We had been absent from Enduro in an official capacity for quite some time, and it was important for us to come back and be a key player in EnduroGP. The arrivals of new products like the Yamaha WR450F have come into play. It also allowed us to help some teams and to be present in almost all categories; we had bikes running in Junior, E2, E1 and of course in EnduroGP... »
What are your goals for 2017?
A.K: « We have had good results last season with EnduroGP podiums and category wins. So 2017 is a year of strengthening. With this new format of categories, we will remain focused on the Enduro 2 and the EnduroGP classes. But I also do not want to overlook the Junior category, where will be supporting Mikael PERSSON (S). In 2016, we finished 3rd in E2 with Loïc (LARRIEU), so the objective this year is to be one or two steps higher! It will be necessary to regularly chase podiums, run at the top and be among the best. We want the same in Enduro 2... Despite an injury during last season, Jamie MCCANNEY was up the front in E1. Now we see that he is fully recovered, driven, and ready for a new season. We may only have three riders, but these are three strong riders who will perform at the highest level in each category... »
« Key contenders in each category… »
For a while there were talks of you being linked with a ‘big fish’, but in the end it didn’t happen…
A.K: « Things were almost done and dusted. But there was a personal problem that prevented this "big fish" from coming. But we are not disappointed. Today, I think we just have to look ahead. It would have been nice to have him with us, for Yamaha and for EnduroGP; it would have brought a lot of freshness. But this is how it is; we look to the future, prepare for the season that is fast approaching and stay focused on our goals. At Yamaha we really want to have a family atmosphere, that's why I wanted to bring together the Outsiders team and the Johansson team during this press conference with Yamaha Europe. This team spirit will allow our riders to stay focused on their goals... »
Are you aiming for the title in all three categories?
A.K: « Today, we are competing to drive the motorcycle market. We are here to promote an image of performance and results and especially to bring the best show to the customers and the spectators. So of course, when you compete at this level, it's to win and it's not to finish second or third... but I do not want to put pressure on the teams. I also think that there are titles that are won or lost in a beautiful way: we saw it again in Le Touquet this year with a fight between two champions who respected each other. When we take to the start line it is to go to win titles, but what it is really important is that the season is a brilliant one and that Yamaha is truly viewed as a leader of the market and of the Championship! »
In regard to the season opener in Finland, how will you prepare?
A.K: « Yes, it’s all planned! This year is special with this opening round in the snow; it will be something completely new. The format will also be new since the special tests will all be different and it will not be possible for the riders to walk them or check them beforehand. It's almost like a little revolution for Enduro! We know that Enduro has a very traditional, very conservative spirit, and I think it will be good to bring this new style of event into the mix. It does not make it easier for us because it requires additional investment, a lot of travelling and different preparations to the other races, but I think that in order to perpetuate and strengthen a championship such as EnduroGP, it must continue to evolve. The two new categories that will arrive this year will also bring a freshness, and this year we will truly have two Enduro World Champions. Having different race formats is also going to make a lot of difference overall. On the Yamaha side of things, we have the Johansson team, who are Swedish and thanks to our team cohesion, as soon as Joakim (JOHANSSON) knew that we were riding in Finland, he immediately invited us to train and prepare at his home »
« Social Media has changed the industry… »
Are you going to do the same for the British GP?
A.K: « Great Britain is another different format since there will be an Enduro Sprint on Saturday and a GNCC on Sunday. There will be specific training necessary, but we will not go there specifically to prepare. We must go to Finland because there will be snow and ice so we will have to ride with studded tires, heated grips... and there is a lot of logistical matters to be put in place »
As a Yamaha spokesman, were you in favour of the new categories and new racing formats?
A.K: « Twenty years ago, Enduro was very traditional. We must always take into account the past in order to see what has been built, but we must also live in the present moment and project ourselves into the future. We see changes happening in all disciplines and all sports. Mechanical sports are evolving; be it in Rally, Enduro or Motocross. There is an evolution among the spectators, and above all, the transmission of images. Social networks and social media have shaken up our business in terms of communication and image. So I think that today it is necessary to evolve and change with the times. We may make mistakes, but in any case, we must try new things because until now, Enduro was too conservative and under the radar. It is good to bring freshness and new ideas to open it up to the public more. It is important that people perceive the sport in a much simpler way. When you have ten categories and therefore ten plates with different colours, you cannot tell the difference... we could be at regional or national level. It is difficult to say it, because we would like to reward the maximum number of people for their achievements, but in high-level sport, there is only one winner, one champion; whether in running, tennis, sailing or soccer. It was important to simplify the visibility of the Championship and to have one or two Champions, like we have in MotoGP for example! »