How do you get hold of a busy man for an interview? By making the best possible use of a ‘quiet moment’. For example, while the kilometers on the way to Germany flash by we spoke with Kemea-Yamaha boss Hans Corvers. Hans talks with us about a great 2018 season for his team and looks ahead to the new season.
Small in stature, but great with decisions, Corvers led his team from the first steps in the VLM amateur federation to the absolute world top in the World Championship motocross. The ex-GP rider retained the family atmosphere that characterized KEMEA – an alphabet for Kom Er Maar – behind, while at the same time the structure became more professional and international.
Hans talks with knowledge about sporting aspects. As a team owner and businessman he also has a sharp view and a strong opinion about everything that comes with running a top team in 2018.
With what feeling do you look back on the past season?
Hans Corvers: “I look back with great satisfaction on 2018 because we started a completely new project. We started with three new riders that we saw something in. We knew that there was potential. Yet we did not expect them to perform in the first year as they did. Vsevolod Brylyakov came back from a severe injury. We knew that he has the speed, but finishing a season had not been successful for years.
Provided an injury-free season, a top-5 in the final score was achievable. In the end, Seva went out in his own country on 1 May while he was sixth in the World championship. A top five was therefore definitely possible unfortunately it was not allowed, but Brylyakov was actually our joker, we could do anything with him.
Ben Watson had already shown many beautiful things as a younger rider. Then his progression stalled for a number of reasons. However, we saw a potential, we have taken him to Belgium to live and train here under the wings of Jacky Vimond. The result: six fourth places, a third place in Russia and a fourth place in the final standings of the World Championships. While he was 16th the year before. Beforehand, the target was between 5 and 8, which he has more than achieved. “
After the bad luck of Brylyakov you had to fit in Anthony Rodriguez.
Corvers: “I have not talked about Rodriguez just because he was a replacement, but he showed very nice things. From Yamaha he has been ‘transferred’ to the World championship from the American Supercross, so to speak. In the beginning he had a lot of adjustment problems but in the end he also achieved some strong results. Anthony was also a very nice guy in the conversation. He was a super guest as a rider and as a person. I am very sorry that he did not find an MXGP (class) ride in Europe. He has potential but certainly in the MXGP life is very hard right now. “
For Belgian fans and media, Jago Geerts was, of course, the story of the year.
Corvers: “Certainly! Everyone looked at Jago with a big eye after the beautiful course that he has covered in the 85 and 125cc. His first year in EMX250 was a disappointment. Both for himself and for the experts. He fell regularly, there were flashes, but it was not the Jago everyone had expected.
When I saw Jago riding on the KTM-and I say that with all due respect- I thought he would fit better on a Japanese motorcycle. Then of course I am mainly talking about us and my brand, Yamaha. But I suspect it also applies to other Japanese brands. Apparently that combination was not right for him. I spent a year behind him to convince him. That was quite difficult, besides, as everyone knows, he could go everywhere!
KTM also wanted to keep Geerts. I am very happy that he chose Kemea. On top of that, he has had a wonderful first World championship year. He became Rookie of the year, which is well deserved given his 8th place in the final championship table. Especially because he missed three GPs after he broke his collarbone in Switzerland during qualifying. Otherwise, Jago would have finished seventh.
Then he also added the Dutch Masters of Motocross title to his name. Latvia was excellent with that second place, the second moto in Lommel was absolutely impressive … for Jago we had scaled between 10th and 15th with some flashes. So we can be super, super satisfied about his season. He is allowed to be pleased with himself, although he was not because he is so demanding for himself! “
What is the preparation for the new season?
Corvers: “At the moment the winter is going very well and the boys are working hard. As every factory team is fighting and we hope to go for the world title. You have to have ambition, but the title will still be a year too early. At the moment Jago is driving gruesomely hard, I can say. (smiles) In my eyes, even too hard! Top five (and more) is possible with both Ben Watson and Jago, with secretly that expectation of a top three. After a transition year that was 2018, the pressure is now naturally higher. Honesty is fair; if the men do not finish in the top five, I will be disappointed. “
Depending on the status of Kemea and the internal plans of Yamaha evolved, your autonomy in the field of technical development has been adjusted over the years. Is the engine now developed in-house?
Corvers: “Our engine comes from the factory together with Rinaldi Motorsport (ed. The structure behind the Yamaha MXGP factory team). It is therefore really about factory equipment. We can not do anything about it. That is entirely in agreement with Japan, but the fine-tuning is done in Italy by Rinaldi. Yamaha works super hard to offer us the best possible engine. By 2018, we have made enormous progress on the technical level. Both riders are not content, but super content! I think that you will certainly see that in the races back to the performances of our riders. “
Since joining Kemea at World championship level in 2012, you have taken a nice course.
Corvers: “Not only in terms of results, by the way. We have also taken significant steps within the plans of Yamaha in recent years. Now we have also ended up where we have to be as the team in the MX2. There is a lot of support, we feel that this support will become even more towards 2019 and 2020.
The Japanese are starting to get more involved and that is very positive. As I just indicated, involvement in technology is on the rise. We have also decided to go from three to two riders. This way we can support our riders better. Neither Brylyakov nor his replacement Anthony Rodriguez were available for the MX2 World championship due to the age limit. We have an agreement with Jago and Ben for the next two years, so it was obvious to focus exclusively on them. “
Overseas Grand Prizes can also offer new opportunities for the teams?
Corvers: “On paper. Those overseas GPs are presented as an opportunity, both for the sport, the MXGP brand, and for the teams to increase their market value. So (theoretically) that you could attract sponsors from another continent as well.
Then I ask the question: which team has won a sponsor from those continents on the six, seven years that I participate? I think that question is pertinent. In practice, there is no answer to that question at all. Why would YouthStream not take on the sponsorship of these big brands for the teams?
For example because the sales manager of YouthStream represents the various teams at Panasonic, for example. Why would not Yamaha, Honda, KTM or Kawasaki for such GPs in China or Hong Kong, for example, bring in Samsung as a sponsor?
YouthStream seems fine to me. They bring the World Championship. we have to follow. Okay, but what are the commercial possibilities so that it is not just an investment for the teams? If Youthstream lands there and creates a show on TV for millions of people, then big, international brands should be aware and part of it? You can imagine that we, as teams, Tim Mathys, Jacky Martens or whatever else, could benefit from that budget.”
How could such a thing look like in practice?
Corvers: “I do not need a megadeal yet. Imagine that you appeal to such a brand – whether it is Alibaba or LG does not matter and you offer them visibility to all teams, the budget that goes with it is then divided among all teams that come to that GP. Even if that is only €100,000, that can at least help to cover a piece of transport costs. As a retailer, it seems to me a feasible card. In this way, such an overseas Grand Prize also yields something. Such a sponsor can also be different per overseas GP. In my view, something like that has to be achieved. “
What does a team boss do during the off-season? Is there time to ride some enduro yourself?
Corvers: “At that moment I spend a lot of time in Corvers Biofuel Benelux, Corpellets etc. In addition, I am working on a large building project in Belgium, I am currently working on the new development of a production process for Corvers Biofuel Benelux in Beringen and of course stop I also spend a lot of time in Kemea! So there is not much time to ride enduro!
Recently I went to Bali for off-road together with friends / sponsors. It was a very nice experience. Everyone at Bali only thinks of sun, sea and beach or diving but we have crossed the whole country with a great guide. That was late October in early November. My previous noteworthy ride dates back to a year ago in Cambodia! “
Hopefully you can find more time on the motorcycle for 2019!
Corvers: “Thanks, that’s a nice thought!”
Text: Tom Jacobs
Photos: shotbyBavo, CDS