WSB: Exclusive Q&A with Crescent Yamaha boss Paul Denning

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Crescent Yamaha made history last year by becoming the first British team to win the Riders’, Teams’, and Manufacturers’ Championships. They did that by ending Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki’s stranglehold in WSB with star rider Toprak Razgatlıoğlu.

MCN sat down with Paul Denning, who leads the team and the Crescent Motorcycles business – following in the footsteps of grandfather, Edward and father, John, who sadly died aged 81 last month. The race team was founded in 1996, enjoying success in BSB, WSB and MotoGP.

What did it mean to win those three titles?

I think the overwhelming emotion was relief because from around mid-season onwards it felt like we had the bike, the rider, and the team, so were in a position to win, but then something would throw up a new challenge. Those challenges were what they were, but it’s also a credit to Jonathan [Rea] and his team that they took it to the last round, because with the relentless consistency of Toprak’s results, it shouldn’t have ended up as a two-rider fight. They’re incredible competitors so getting it over the line was a sense of relief more than anything else. From a professional point of view it did, and it does, mean everything, but it didn’t take long for us to reset ready for 2022.

Paul Denning and his team celebrate becoming champions

How hard is it to beat Rea and Kawasaki?

He’s ridiculously relentless. He’s painful to race against because when you have your best weekend, he’s right there and only loses a few points. It’s like: ‘How did we just dominate everything and only leave here 10 points better off than when we turned up?’. You can never doubt him. KRT have a lot of experience, they do things very differently to us commercially and operationally; I think they do some things better than us, but I think we do some things that give the breadth of our team, across both sides of the garage, a far better sense of teamwork and team effort, and on a number of occasions, that’s paid dividends.

How special is Toprak?

He’s more talented than any rider I’ve worked with, and as talented as any rider I’ve ever seen. Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez are on an elevated level, and I’d put Toprak very much with them. The things he can do on a bike, we’ve never seen anything like it; incredible front brake pressures, so much front locking, so much lean angle with the rear wheel in the air, and just the feel and understanding he has is ridiculous. That translates to him being a natural athlete. The things he can do from a balance, mobility and core strength point of view, most athletes can’t do, never mind normal riders.

Paul Denning celebrates with his star rider - Toprak Razgatlioglu

He trains hard then…

What makes him special is the training he does with Kenan [Sofuoğlu]. It’s so gladiatorial, they basically ride for 50 minutes straight and try to kill each other! It’s so brutal, the riding that they do, with so much contact. That why when he’s racing with Jonathan or Scott, or any of the top guys, and it’s as close as it is, he’s just having fun. For him, its normal and natural, so he doesn’t feel any stress. But I do think it’s something that Toprak needs to be aware of, that sometimes those guys might be at their limit, and maybe he’s not quite there yet, but he needs to be aware of that because there’s a point at which you can’t take liberties too far.

What’s he like to work with?

An absolute dream. One of the most pleasurable things over the last two years has been understanding him. Understanding that he absolutely doesn’t want to be told what to do, he wants to be respected enough that you can make suggestions and let him make his own decisions about how he can improve. What we see now in 2022, compared to 2020, is night and day. He’s a different athlete, from physical fitness, mental preparation, everything from diet to hydration. He’s on a different level. His testing, the accuracy of feedback, the work rate. I’m not just blowing sunshine where it needs to be blown, he’s on a different level to two years ago. And considering that he still has more potential for growth, it’s quite scary really, the prospect of how good he could be.

Can you defend the title?

We genuinely only go into the season to do our best again. That’s how we kept it all last year and is how we’ll keep it again. It sounds really cliché, but it’s so true, we just went session by session, race by race, did our best and literally the last couple of laps in the race where we won the championship was when that moment came, when we knew there was an end game, and were just a couple of laps away. Toprak was ace at that, keeping himself in the moment and recovering from challenges really well. That’s the ethos again and we’ll see where it takes us.

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Josh Close

By Josh Close

Sports Reporter and fan of all things motorsport.