From the Blog

Hayate?

Most of you with decent memories will remember the days when the four major Japanese manufacturers all ran teams in the MotoGp World Championship. Three of them still do but we lost Kawasaki some years ago. The Big K has a long and illustrious history in Grand Prix races having snared multiple wins and world titles in the smaller classes through the efforts (mainly) of Antipodean riders, Ballington and Hansford, as well as Grant, Mang, Lawson and others. But that was then, this is now.

After their success in the now-defunct Formula 750 category it seemed obvious that they should field an entry in the premier class, but the 500 bike was a project that not only didn’t succeed but never even looked like succeeding. Built around a monocoque alloy chassis the KR500 was a classic illustration of the adage that, if something looks right, it usually is. In this case, it didn’t and it wasn’t. It was long and awkward-looking (some wag suggesting that the front wheel was in a different postcode to the rear one) and, despite the efforts of the engineers and some pretty handy riders, it never did “gel”

photo courtesy of visordown

Fast forward to the 90’s and Kawasaki came back to GP racing. Its success in building powerful four stroke engines encouraged their engineers to build a MotoGp bike and it was run in the new formula by a European-based outfit headed up by the talented Harold Eckl. However, when Kawasaki found out that Eckl had had contacts with another MotoGp team, Kawasaki took the running of the team off him and set up their own organisation, Kawasaki Motors Racing. This was in 2007. The new bike for the 800cc formula was ridden by Randy de Puniet and Olivier Jacque. Jacque suffered a series of career-ending injuries and Anthony West was drafted in to replace him.

For 2008 de Puniet was replaced by John Hopkins but the change did nothing to enhance the team’s success, 2008 was a very lean season. Marco Melandri was signed to replace West for the 2009 season but events away from racing were hastily conspiring against them. The Global Financial Crisis affected everyone and particularly KHI it seems. On the last weekend of 2008 it was announced that Kawasaki would not be competing in MotoGp in 2009. Now here is where it gets interesting.

It seems that DORNA were not impressed with this precipitate announcement and told Kawasaki that DORNA’s lawyers would be looking closely at the paperwork regarding Kawasaki’s entry in MotoGp. Now DORNA is as secretive as the manufacturers with whom they deal but it is believed that DORNA basically said, “You have a contract with us and we will make sure that you keep it.”

As a result of these “negotiations” Kawasaki announced that they WOULD be entering a team for 2009 but that it would not be badged as Kawasaki, rather as Hayate. Now, as best as I can find out, Hayate is a Japanese word that means “fresh wind” or something to that effect (it is always a good idea to look at the MEANING of Japanese names, they place great importance upon them) So, it was implied by the name that this would be a fresh start for the team and that they were planning on getting on with it. It was clear, however, that their heart wasn’t really in it, the home company only providing limited support and the team only fielding one rider, Melandri. Despite all this, the team did pretty much as well as the “works” teams had done but, when the shutters came down at Valencia at the end of the season, it was clear that that was the last we were going to see of Kawasaki in the big time, at least for the moment.

So, what went wrong? Well, basically it was a great team with a good bike and riders fielded by a company that just didn’t spend enough money to take it to the next level. MotoGp is a huge money pit and even though KHI, the bike company’s parent, is a massive worldwide juggernaut, the budget for the MotoGp project was never enough. And, unless you spend big you won’t get big results. Added to this, Kawasaki was already a big force in their road bike division and it seems many within the company felt that a racing budget would be much more effectively spent in promoting their road bike range.

So, why the mention now, and whatever is the meaning of the picture at the head of this article? Well, it turned up on Facebook the other day and it is of a coffee shop in Sepang, Malaysia where a group of Aussie Kawasaki fanatics set up camp during the MotoGp weekend in 2009 as the “Official” Hayate Racing team headquarters. They also did the same thing at Phillip Island proving that Kawasaki fans are amongst the most fanatical (and funny) fans of them all.

With Kawasaki’s continued domination of the WSBK arena it would be a brave man to predict any return to MotoGp by Team Green any time soon.