Vincent Bereni comments on losing Factory Kawasaki support and Febvre missing out on MXGP glory

The MXGP off-season is in full swing with a major shift in Kawasaki’s representation in the FIM Motocross World Championship as the MX ESCA team hand over custody of the works KX450Fs to the IceOne squad for 2022 and beyond. Thierry Chizat Suzzoni’s unit, led by Frenchman Romain Febvre, missed out on the MXGP crown by just five points after a final round, last moto showdown with Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings in Mantova, Italy. The decider, which saw Febvre classify as runner-up for Kawasaki’s best MXGP classification, was also the closing Grand Prix for Chizat Suzzoni’s operation which grew from former team owner and famed tuner Jan De Groot’s long and successful relationship with the Japanese factory.

Mantova was a tense and emotional send-off for the cosmopolitan Holland-based crew that are currently non-operational and have been linked with Triumph’s upcoming motocross project. They were informed of KHI’s decision to align with IceOne during the campaign in which Febvre – in his second season with the team and on the KX450F they had developed for a decade – fought for the championship and held the red plate into the Mantova climax.

“We had so much adversity this year, the challenge was the biggest of my career,” commented Team Manager Vincent Bereni. “When the news came out it was a punch in the face and you have the challenge to motivate your troops. I think we ‘won’ this year in many areas. We created a family with this team. We spent a lot of time together; we are in the world of Jan de Groot.”

“A good bike doesn’t come overnight and you are facing strong powerhouses in this paddock,” he added, exclusively. “Everyone knows about HRC, Yamaha have a lot of power, I worked for KTM so I know what they are like and they have grown tremendously. We’re like the little guys here, so you have to work for it. Since December 2020 it was eighteen-hour days. We had to do what we needed to do. [Former] riders like Clement Desalle and Julien Lieber also had an input; with Julien we had a lot of issues around his clutch and we spent many hours working on that. The same with Clement for new ideas on how to improve. Then someone like Romain comes in with a different way to ride the bike. Collecting all this data and making the mix is not that easy.”

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“I won’t miss trying to make people understand what racing is about,” Bereni said, pointedly on Kawasaki’s politics. “You have people in charge that know nothing about it. That’s the reality.”

2021 was a sterling final term for ECSA in Kawasaki green. Febvre lodged ten podium appearances and six moto wins.

“The bike was already competitive last year and we finished 2020 strongly,” Bereni assesses. “When Romain is happy then he is happy. He is very hard on himself and also the bike and it was our job to find those little details that can bring him more. We took a lot of notes last year and kept building up and then in the winter we put everything on the table. We kept working during the season as well.”

It was by far their most successful season after previously celebrating victories with Gautier Paulin, Clement Desalle and Ryan Villopoto. Bereni had been part of the staff roster since 2015 and the famous ill-fated link-up with the American. He was a key figure in the evolution of the KX450F; a new model of which last arrived three years ago and with which both Desalle and Febvre were able to succeed.

“Those two were completely different! Two different styles,” he smiles when asked to compare the Belgian and Frenchman. “When you have a guy like Clement riding at almost 4000rpm you need a different bike. I call Romain a ‘traction control man’ because his throttle control is amazing. He can beat any electronics. There are riders who have a sense and feeling for the motorcycle and Romain is one of those; he can make the difference when your bike is not the best. It is his commitment and his work and his style.”

Bereni was full of compliments for his countryman, who now moves into the IceOne structure thanks to a new two-year deal direct with Kawasaki and with former training partner Ben Watson as teammate.

“He knows what he wants and he doesn’t have the technical questions that cause some other riders to have doubts,” he says. “He won’t be worrying about clicks here or there. He puts trust in you. Some of the changes were risky. In Arco I was sweating for a few laps; we finished the moto and luckily there were still some nobs on a very soft compound tyre! He was willing to do that to go for a championship and that’s amazing. We gambled together and that’s cool, that’s fun.”

Words: Adam Wheeler