Interview: Paul Denning on Crescent Yamaha, Martin Barr & British MX

Paul Denning is a well known name in the industry as not only is he involved in the Crescent Yamaha Motocross team but he’s also the team manager of the Factory Yamaha WSBK team.

In terms of running a team, Denning knows exactly what is required as he has plenty of experience. For the 2019 season, he’s signed up Martin Barr to partner Jake Shipton to take on the Maxxis British Motocross Championship.

We caught up with Denning to get his thoughts on signing Barr and the current state of the British Motocross scene plus much more.

Gatedrop: Can you give me a bit of background about yourself, the team and how you got into Motocross?

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Paul Denning: Well, where do I start? The family business, Crescent has always involved motorcycles since 1950 in a motorcycle shop in Bournemouth, the South of England. When I was growing up and I was six years old, I had what then was a school-boy scrambler bike and I raced motocross since I was 6 or 7 years old. I’ve never stopped really, I’m 52 years old now and still riding what is a 450F now and still enjoying more now than I ever did.

It’s always been part of my life personally, therefore the business started to grow in Motocross sales as well with street bikes, road racing and what have you. It’s been nice to actually put something back in and look to support a couple of riders and work with a distributor like Yamaha UK to move things forward. The idea is obviously to promote Yamaha, Crescent Yamaha as our business. Ultimately, the biggest motivation is probably personal to support the sport and to be involved at the highest level in the UK to try and help two riders achieve their goals.

Gatedrop: How do you oversee both the WSBK and motocross teams? You must be busy!

Paul Denning: At the moment, yes. Honestly speaking on the Motocross side, once it’s up and running, I won’t be involved on a day to day basis. With Martin (Barr), he’s been involved long enough, has enough experience and understanding of what’s required. With Jake (Shipton), he’s more local with us so there will be more day to day involvement and integration. Apart from just trying to create a budget and just work with partners and what have you.

Just over the last couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for the sport, a lot of what people call teams, there’s six or seven riders. Ultimately though, the riders aren’t actually getting any support. There’s a truck and a tent and that’s kind of it really. The crucial thing at UK/National level in Motocross is to have a good technician with the bike, have the bike well prepared and just an easy, simple structure around the rider. There are very few teams actually doing it properly, obviously David Thorpe’s team, there’s a structure there and they’re doing it properly. They have been doing so for many years. There aren’t many teams at that level that are really doing it properly.

Rather than trying to create something huge and something that would require a huge amount of management, we’ve just tried to put something together for next year where we can properly support two riders. We will put a decent structure together and make sure they have decent equipment, the best equipment for the bikes and we’ll try to have some fun along the way.

Gatedrop: Just on Barr, how did the signing all come about – obviously he impressed last year, were you surprised he was even available?

Paul Denning: I mean, basically as I said, the budgets in the UK from the manufacturers are extremely limited at National level. Going to International and MXGP level, the situation does change. But at National level the budgets are limited. Martin was very keen to ride the Yamaha and approached Yamaha UK. For a ride at his level, it was difficult and there wasn’t really anything Yamaha UK could do so they spoke to me. Together we managed to put a compromise together where we can support Martin as much as we possibly can. We’ve put some budget to it with bikes, parts budgets and technical support budget etc.

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We will work together to create an overall budget but I don’t want to say, because it wouldn’t be the case, that Martin is making huge amount of efforts himself to put a budget together on his side, for the operational side to make sure he’s covered financially to make sure he can put food on the table. We are working together on that and ultimately, I have a huge amount of respect for the length of time he’s been around and the amount of ability he’s got with the consistency he shows. More than that, the motivation to sort of keep working and keep trying. I don’t believe there was a package out there for him that would simply allow him to turn up at the track with a decent salary and jump on decent bikes and ride. That just wasn’t there so rather than sulk, he’s dug in deep and tried to put something together. It’s quite a pleasure to be able to help him on that basis.

Martin Barr will be back on a Yamaha in 2019! Pic: Barr Instagram

Gatedrop: Barr is obviously too old to race the EMX250 class in 2019, did you ever consider him putting him in the MX1 class for 2019 because then he could have done MXGP wildcard rounds or was that never an option?

Paul Denning: No, he never even asked about the 450cc. He was always focused on the 250cc but we have discussed that if things are going well in the UK and he feels at one with the bike. If his level is good then he’d love to do a couple of wildcard MXGP races towards the end of the season but one step at a time. If there’s an option for that then we’d like to help him with it.

Gatedrop: What do you think Shipton needs to improve to become a top five guy in the British Championship? You clearly believe in his ability!

Paul Denning: Yeah, he’s a local lad basically and our business is local, it’s fabulous to support Martin (Barr) but at the same time we are looking to drive local lads through the door who are interested in Motocross and Enduro etc. The local influence is important for us and we started to help him in 2016 on KTM and then on the Rob Hooper Yamaha in 2017. I think that the ability is definitely there, I think it’s quite difficult when you are trying to get to the next step of consistent performance. In the British Championship, let’s say you have Shaun (Simpson) and Tommy (Searle) are doing the races for example. Jake Nicholls obviously has fabulous experience at GP level as well. Those guys are at a good level and they’ve done it. The next group if you like, are all trying to reach to that level and it’s not an easy step at all to take.

Jake (Shipton) obviously got badly hurt in March this year and probably tried to ride too early, the enthusiasm got the better of him and it wrecked his season because of that. Staying fit is the first thing, but also the one thing we lacked last year was decent team structure around him. We also lacked a consistent technician, we have a good guy signed up for Jake’s bikes this year. The other thing that I honestly think will help is Martin, Jake really respects and likes Martin. He always has time for him and Jake is just a nice lad, he’s got no edge to him or any ego aspect. I think someone with the experience of Martin, they won’t be racing against each other but they’ll be working on the same plan. What I really like about Martin is when it’s sh*t and the track is full of holes, horrible and your feet are off the pegs, he always grinds out a result. At a hard pack track that Jake feels at home on, he’s as fast as anyone in the UK but sometimes when the tracks are truly horrible – when you need to grind out a result, that’s maybe his weaker aspect. I think Martin will be able to help him with that as well.

The Crescent Yamaha line up for the 2019 season

Gatedrop: You run a WSBK team too, would you say that’s where your main passion would be? And if so what got you running a team in motocross?

Paul Denning: No, I went from racing Motocross myself to doing some road racing. The road racing then developed into a professional team with myself running the team rather than riding. I’m passionate about competing and presenting the team in the best possible way as well as looking after our commercial partners and trying to win. I’ve formerly been with Suzuki in MotoGP for seven years and now with Factory Yamaha in WSBK. We won some races this year and finished third in the championship, the next step is an even more challenging one to make but the bottom line is I’m passionate about that competition whether it’s results or the commercial aspect, being about to put a whole package together wanting to be the best it can possibly be.

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In terms of personal enjoyment or fulfilment, you know sticking the motocross bike in the van and going to the track is what I love. If I could be at Mugello or at a practice track on the motocross bike, I’d be at the local practice track, that’s the bottom line.  My son is eighteen and rides for fun, we have a nice group of guys to go riding with and if there’s an opportunity to ride that’s still very much a hobby and the passion. It’s nice to be able to take that to a slightly higher level and support two really good riders that I like.

Gatedrop: Obviously you’re very busy during the season with WSBK and British motocross, would you go to many Motocross races during the season and what’s your thoughts on the current state of the British motocross paddock?

Paul Denning: First of all, I probably won’t go to many Motocross events. We need to have a structure – the mechanics, Martin’s family etc and the way it works is that it doesn’t need me or someone else from Crescent Yamaha to necessarily be there. I won’t be at many but when I can get there then obviously I will be.

With regards to what I think of the British Championships, it’s difficult. You know the sport at grass roots level is still quite good. Okay, it’s not directly related but I tried to get into a Hare and Hounds race on Saturday at a nice sandy venue and the event was sold out two weeks ago with 160 riders so I couldn’t get in. The enthusiasm for people to get out in dirt-bikes is still very much there and in that sense the sport is ticking on okay.

But, at a professional level, I really feel for riders and enthusiasts, for example, I see a team and people spending a lot of their own money. Like the Verde KTM team, you just have to say hats off because they’re the kind of guys keeping the sport going at that professional level. But they haven’t got big budgets from manufacturers, external sponsors, it’s all sort of self funded. It’s a challenge because when you look at the next level you need to get too in order to get in MXGP or the level of racing at the AMA Nationals for example, the only way a rider can really jump to that level is if they have significant sponsor or family funding. That’s a little bit of a shame, effectively it is what it is and it’s easy to be down on it but perhaps the best way is someone like ourselves putting a bit of a budget together and supports two riders and suddenly that’s two more good riders on the start line.

I haven’t really got any direct experience from running a championship or the commercial aspect of it but looking as a fan and an outsider, it’s clearly struggling a bit in terms of venues, the commercial aspect and in terms of content but fingers crossed by getting involved, more teams getting involved and the quality of the content it can hopefully move forward. Perhaps it’s not going through one of its easiest times at the moment but it might only need one company perhaps to suddenly decide that it’s the platform for their brand to sponsor the championship to a higher level to promote it to a high level and for the media to be stronger. Suddenly more Grand Prix riders could be involved and ride the series, it could take steps. I’m not sure what those answers are but by supporting it hopefully we are helping move it forward rather than it staying stable.

Gatedrop: Would you ever consider running a European or World Motocross team in the future or is that just not an option for you?

Paul Denning: I would say never say never but it would involve not running in World Superbikes anymore. I have a real admiration for the second tier teams in Motocross Grand Prix because that’s tough. You have your factory teams with huge operational budgets and development budgets so to sort of push up against those teams and try to be competitive is a real challenge in itself. Of course, MXGP with 20 rounds now is becoming a real challenge on the budget as well.

At the moment we are going step by step, we’ll try to do as well as we can in the British Championship and try to build this platform we’ve put together for next year. We’ll treat this as step one, if you like in 2019 and then see were it goes after that.

Pics: Crescent Yamaha

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