Interview with the leader of the Dakar Rally TEAM HRC

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Make the best team to get a victoryMake the best team to get a victory

Dakar Rally TEAM HRC will be entering the upcoming Dakar Rally with a big crew of 30 people from 11 countries. How did Honda build such a big team and what kind of people are working on it? We asked Team Leader Yamazaki about the team's membership and operational objectives.

Q.Tell us about the team members and how you selected them.

We built our team with the aim of creating a global Honda off-road team. The members include associates from the Motorcycle R&D center in Asaka and Honda of America Mfg., Inc as well as staff from totally different organizations. Our ideal was to remove the barriers of organizations and nationalities in order to build a team comprised solely of experts.

By selecting people based on this ideal, we ended up gathering a team of 30 members from 11 countries. Each staff member is not only an expert in a specific field, but also has all-around skills. For example, one member might be a pitcher, but he or she can also hit-and naturally their pitching is top caliber. These are the kind of people I selected. More than half of the team fell sick due to the food in Morocco. When there weren't enough people, the remaining staff handled their teammates' duties. That kind of flexibility is essential.

One mechanic was assigned to each rider, but the mechanics may not always be in top condition, so the other staff can cover for them. That is the kind of system we have created. I can also jump in if I have to. I have basically selected people who all have mechanical skills. Since our system is one in which we all cooperate with one another, there are no serious disagreements.

Q.Can you give us some more details about the team organization and staff members?

First of all, on the racing side of things, I am the representative and team director. I oversee the whole project. I am also the Large Project Leader (LPL) on the development side. This team has two different aspects in purpose: racing and development.

The team manager, who works directly with me, is Henk Hellegers from the Netherlands. Henk raced Hondas in rallies for many years, so I leave the hands-on management of the team to him. Machine Research and Development is supervised by Taichi Honda from the Motorcycle R&D Center. Maria from Honda Motor Europe handles public relations, and she reports directly to me. These are the members that discuss and decide rally strategy and development policy as well as the press releases for each.

The basic team organization is headed by Henk with the riders and mechanics under him. All orders go through him, but it is not a rigid vertical structure. We keep it flexible so staff can share information with other when they need to.

There are two professional masseurs on the team, and they are in charge of the riders' nutrition management. We also have rally support truck drivers. They serve concurrently as parts coordinators since they transport the parts. Also, there are the drivers of the cars the staff ride in. We have one six-wheel drive and one four-wheel drive rally support truck, three motor-homes for the riders, and four other trucks to carry the staff and our equipment.

Aside from Honda and myself, there are three other Japanese staff: Miyazaki, the PGM-FI supervisor, Noguchi, who handles electrical components, and Mori, who has the tough job of managing machine specifications. With this many staff members, there are still some people whose names I haven't learned yet, but that doesn't stop us from doing our job. We are all riders who love off-road riding, so we naturally help each other out if someone is having trouble.

As a rule, the team uses English to communicate, but you can hear all kinds of languages being spoken (laughs). The first time we had such a diverse group of members gathered in one location was the Morocco Rally, and I think it went very well. There was no trouble at all.

The reason is because I didn't employ a set method of management. I didn't give people detailed instructions and tell them to do this or that. Without saying anything, a kind of natural order develops. Everyone figures out what they need to do at the present moment, and they do it. Since there are people from many countries, things will not go well if you force any one country's values on the team because the cultures of South America, Japan, North America and Europe are totally different.

That being said, you need key personnel. Johnny Campbell, a rider with a magnetic personality who everyone respects, and Mr. Hanawa, a mechanic who not only speaks English, Spanish and Japanese, but who is highly skilled and has years of experience, have become the core around which the team works, so a good sense of unity has developed among our members.

Oh yes, there is also a Dutch woman named Mirjam Pol, who handles hotels and other logistics. She is only 29 years old, but she has raced in five Dakar Rallies. As she entered the Rally as a privateer, she really knows her stuff. She does excellent work.

The truck drivers are a reliable bunch, as well, since they are veterans who have raced in the Dakar Rally several times. This is my first time in a long time to be on a rally team, so I'm studying hard trying to keep up with them.

Q.You had a good start at the Morocco Rally, but you were not able to win.

Helder Rodrigues took first place in both the first and last stages, so I think we performed better than I had expected to at the Morocco Rally. We were number one at the end of Stage 3, and that night I even thought we could win the whole thing. Unfortunately, we had fuel system issues in Stage 4 so Helder had to drop out. We didn't win, but it felt like we were very close.

On a side note, there was a little bit of drama when Helder ran into problems in Stage 4. By chance, I ran into Jean Brucy, the experimental class winner in the '96 Paris-Dakar Rally. I was in charge of the machine he rode in that race, the EXP-2. We were very happy to see each other again. He said he was now working as a desert tour guide in Morocco and had come to see the rally. Just when we were enjoying getting reacquainted, I received word that Helder had machine trouble.

Helder was stuck in the desert and couldn't move, so we had to go help him. When Helder dropped out, he was in the middle of the desert, and our vehicle was not going to reach him quickly. When he saw that we were in a predicament, Jean said he would take us since he knew the area well. Putting on his tour guide cap, he took us to the location. Coincidences like this happen at rallies.

Q.What is your dream for Dakar Rally TEAM HRC, Mr. Yamazaki?

On a team, not everyone is working at the same time. There may be some people repairing the machine and some people doing other work while others are eating or sleeping. Rallies are long events, so if you get tired part way through, you lose everything you've worked for. The temperatures fluctuate between hot and cold, so if you overdo it and get sick, it has a direct impact on your work, and that affects the outcome of the rally. You fall into a vicious cycle: you get tired, you make a repair error, the bike malfunctions....

That is why you have to monitor your own condition and make sure you get enough rest. Once the whole team understands what the goal is, it is like soccer. It is crucial that every member thinks about what he or she needs to do at any given moment and then takes action. To an outsider, it may look like everyone is doing their own thing, but I think this is team unity.

My goal is for us to become the world's number one off-road team. Being "number one" doesn't just mean we have all the experts on our team, it means we are open with each other. This means we share information with everybody on the team. If someone is in trouble, we help them. We don't hide within our shells and keep secrets.

Why? Because if we did not do this, we would not be able to complete the Dakar Rally. This kind of open team is the ideal off-road team. From the outside, it may look like confusion, but actually there is order in the chaos, not to mention a great atmosphere. I think that is what makes a team number one. I think this idea of a number one team is the same for MotoGP or F1 racing, but since the threshold is lower for off-road racing, your team has to be stronger and more open with each other.

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