Courtesy of Sharon Cox
Italian Michele Rinaldi needs no introduction. With established stellar career within World Motocross industry, Rinaldi commands status, respect and admiration for success- from winning FIM World MX Championship 125cc Title in 1984, to Team Owner/Manager for Suzuki and Yamaha, to Rinaldi Research and Development company (YRRD) to working within Yamaha Motor Europe on specialized technical development of YZ Factory race bikes.
From 13 years of age, Rinaldi pursued relentless passion to race. To develop natural talent and affiliation for motorbikes starting with Italian manufactures, then moving to Suzuki and finally long-time collaborative partnership with Yamaha.
Now 27 years on working within Yamaha Motor Europe, Michele hails golden supreme in the GP paddock, for not only has the World MX Champion won name in the sport’s history books, Rinaldi has transferred knowledge gained racing to elevate riders to Championship status.
As Michele explains: ‘I won 125cc title in 1984 on Suzuki. At the time Suzuki Japan decided to stop world racing activity in August 1983. In fact due to 2 years agreement (1983-1984) I had the chance to continue for a second year with 1983 material. But I had to run and organize the season fully by myself. This was the main reason to start my own team on 1984’.
Rarely are transitions made from racer to Team Manager with ease. It is one thing to be on the bike racing, self-assured that all Team in paddock has rider’s back, has bike ready to race, and another to lead a Team, to manage, operate and make decisions to sustain optimum performance.
Yet, Michele never baulked at the unknown, not only continuing to race under his own Team until retiring in 1987, but also signing American rider Rodney Smith in 1988. And, then the 29 year old Italian pushed traditional boundaries out even further, taking up opportunity to change to Yamaha, taking newly signed, fellow-country man Alesandro Puzar and American Donnie Schmit with him.
Michele: ‘I stopped racing in ’87 and I took an American rider to replace myself in the Team. I was not physically 100% healthy and already 29 years old, so I wanted to make some changes in the Team’.
‘At that time I was supported by Suzuki but my main sponsor Philip Morris and Yamaha were both pushing to change Brand. In 1992 I signed with Yamaha and since then I have worked for the same manufacturer’.
‘From being a rider then to Team Manager and Team Owner- the step is huge. But it was my choice and I wanted to do well. I had to learn many, many things and the fact I was racing myself helped me a lot’.
And success was assured. Rinaldi claimed second World MX Championship Title 250cc with Donnie Schmit in 1992, having tasted Team Owner/Manager success with Puzar winning 250cc Title in 1990 under Suzuki. Yamaha’s development of 4-stroke machines then, captivated Rinaldi’s relentless push for excellence, marking pivotal point in his career which achieved record number of World MX Championship Titles ever.
In 1999, Rinaldi gained World MX Championship 500cc Title with Andrea Bartolini paving the way for exceptional partnership-Team Owner/Manager relationship with rider: Stefan Everts. Deemed the period 2001-2006 Rinaldi-Everts era, the quietly spoken Michele acknowledges “‘he and younger brother Carlo delicately sorted every blip in the Belgian’s psyche”‘ to support winning 6 World MX Championship Titles.
Michele: ‘I felt very responsible towards my manufacturer and Team staff. To win or lose it is consequences of many factors where the rider is playing the main role’.
‘My goal was to win MX titles and provide the best support for my riders. My crew and myself we always put the rider in the centre of the project and provide the best advice and support for them. Of course more lows than highs in my career but still we won 13 GP titles’.
Rinaldi’s measurement of bike performance was integral to his Team-rider’s success and no more so than the development of Yamaha Rinaldi Research and Development (YRRD) company in 1994. Based in home-city of Parma, Italy, Michele took on challenging task to refine, specialize development of production machines to Factory race bike performance- not only building strong relations with Manufacturer’s in Japan, but also extending competitive market for bike sales around the world.
Michele: ‘The fact that our target was pretty high required big efforts in term of organization and bike’s performance. The development starting point was always the production machine but we were free to make, or propose, all changes we needed and this “freedom” allowed me to look for improvement and modification since ’94′.
‘We became quite expert and our internal R&D was growing every year. Production material was very good but we had to make that extra step to stay possibly ahead of other competitors. Both Yamaha Europe and Yamaha Japan were aware of our plan and this relation became stronger and stronger’.
Most notably, ‘the dark years’ as Michele states where winning podiums ran shy of expectation: ‘The work doesn’t stop when you’re not winning. If anything everyone works even harder to return to the top.’
And top step, World MX Championship Title with Roman Febvre in 2015 re-set dial, put paid to all hard work invested from Yamaha’s David Phillipaerts MX1 Title in 2008 through to the Febvre’s win in 2015. But there was more to the win than dialing in specs, bike changes, modifications to race Factory Pro season.
Michele and Team sought greater collaborative effort between gearing bike to rider’s needs and ability particularly as Romain contested debut MX1 class having claimed MX2 victory previous year. Yamaha Europe with Michele at the helm planned 3-stage motor improvement package at 3 key points of the season.
The changes were aimed at adjusting bike specs to Romain’s level of pace and speed as he improved through-out the MXGP season. In fact, this Factory bike was specifically molded to allow Romain to develop strength and confidence racing the premier class in debut year.
Michele: ‘Like I said the rider is the main actor for us but riders are not all the same. Especially in MXGP class- the Team can help the rider to speed up his adaptation to the big class and this was the case of Romain on 2015′.
‘He was coming from MX2 and also partly thanks to our experience and knowledge we could make a plan for him to develop safe but fast. He was very fast and this combination brought home W/C title. Still today case by case we try to support the rider and make developments a step at a time which is convenient’.
Finally, I ask Michele his thoughts on high end of technical advancement of race bikes- does fine line exist between developing bike which is all too powerful for rider- or does it remain rider in control of bike on track?
Michele: ‘In my opinion 2T bikes are at the bottom of this sport and later experienced riders need to go 4T. 4T development has reached such high performance and especially 450F engine is very powerful. GP riders can control the bike quite easily but regular customers are struggling more’.
‘Perhaps even a bit smaller engine displacement could be suitable for both amateur and rest. 250F machine MX2 class is not a problem as everybody can exploit full power’.
All of which amplifies what Michele Rinaldi is about: perfection, excellence and achievement to deliver best possible performance no matter if it is with rider, race bike, or the sport at large.