If you type the word IRTA into the World Wide Web you are most likely going to get a hit for the International Reciprocal Trade Association or perhaps the Institute for Research and Technical Assistance, neither of which has anything to do with motorcycle racing or in particular MotoGP. Take a deeper look however and you may find a site named irta.org.uk. This is the home for the International Road Racing Teams Association (or IRTA as they are known).
If you’re a regular viewer of MotoGP you may have heard of IRTA, and if you haven’t I would put money on it that you’ve seen them in action on race days. Perhaps you’ve even thought to yourself ‘how do I get to be one of the boys in blue’? So what is IRTA, what is it they do and who are the men and women behind the scenes that make MotoGP in conjunction with Dorna and the FIM, run like clockwork every other weekend? As I discovered it was going to take a little more effort than just a simple visit to their website to answer these questions.
According to the Official IRTA homepage the Association comprises all teams, major technical suppliers and sponsors participating in MotoGP. Not overly helpful but if your looking for more information than that, then forget it, as the website is limited to IRTA members only. To fully comprehend the role that IRTA plays in MotoGP requires a basic understanding of how MotoGP is organized and the main Governing Bodies involved who are collectively responsible for the MotoGP World Championship.
To figure things out lets start with another acronym…FIM.
The FIM or Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme is the sanctioning body of the MotoGP World Championship and is the overall governing body of Motorcycle sport, which includes Road Racing, Motorcross, Trial, Enduro, Rallies and Track Racing at World Level. It groups together 112 National Motorcycle Federations (FMN), divided into 6 Continental Unions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, Oceania). Originally founded in 1904 under the title of the Federation Internationale des Clubs Motocyclistes (FICM) it is currently headed by Vito Ippolito, President. The FIM appoints one representative to the MotoGP Grand Prix Commission.
Easily the most recognizable name in MotoGP is Dorna Sports or simply Dorna as most people refer to them. Since 1992 Dorna has been the exclusive commercial and television rights holder of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP) and since 2013, the FIM Superbike World Championship (SBK). Founded in 1988 Dorna is responsible for all the commercial aspects of each event, including marketing, media services, security, sponsorship co-ordination, TV production and promotion. Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO, heads Dorna, which as a member of the MotoGP Grand Prix Commission also appoints one representative.
Moving onto IRTA, the association was officially formed in 1986 when the major teams got together to form the International Road Racing Teams Association, however its beginnings can be traced back to 1982 when a gentleman by the name of Mike Trimby was approached by the then 500cc World Championship riders to help them negotiate with the sports governing body, FIM and the Grand Prix organisers regarding safety, prize money, circuit facilities and various other concerns. Trimby was subsequently appointed as the Secretary General for IRTA, a role that combined looking after the interests of the riders and the teams. Trimby remains in the position to this day and is one of the most senior and respected figures in world motorcycle racing. He heads up the day-to-day operations of the association, including all practice and race weekend events and logistics.
Today IRTA continues to act on behalf of all the Grand Prix teams, representing their collective voice in the decision-making process. IRTA is also responsible for Paddock Logistics, Technical Standards, Scruteneering, Track Safety and ensuring Grid Procedures as outlined in the FIM rulebook are adhered to. The band of merry men employed by IRTA is collectively charged with the responsibility of making MotoGP ‘work’ and are affectionately referred to as ‘the boys’.
Ably led by Trimby, IRTA’s presence on race day can’t be understated and whilst Dorna control TV timing, IRTA and subsequently Race Direction make things happen for the viewing public when it matters most. Herve Poncharal, President and Tech 3 Team Boss currently heads up the Association, which works closely with the FIM and Dorna to maintain the highest standards at MotoGP. As one of the governing bodies it also provides a representative to the MotoGP Grand Prix Commission.
Lastly we have the MSMA or Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers’ Association, which was formed in 2001 from the now defunct Grand Prix Manufacturers Association (GPMA). The MSMA represent the interests of all the constructors involved in motorcycle racing. Whilst you may not have heard of the MSMA they have a significant influence in proceedings, so such much so that what you see on television today in terms of racing categories and technical standards can be directly linked back to the MSMA. Along with the FIM, Dorna and IRTA the MSMA also provides a representative to the MotoGP Grand Prix Commission.
Along with the actual governing bodies, representatives from three of the associations, namely the FIM, Dorna and IRTA form a Race Direction team at each Grand Prix. This group has responsibility for such decisions such as declaring wet or dry race conditions, start procedures and the deployment of safety and medical vehicles. Currently Race Direction is made up by Mike Webb (Race Director), 1982 500cc World Champion Franco Uncini (FIM Safety Officer), and Javier Alonso (Dorna MD). Loris Capirossi is the riders representative in his capacity as MotoGP Safety advisor and makes up the remaining member of the team.
All of this finally leads us to the Grand Prix Commission which is composed of Camelo Ezpeleta (Dorna – Chairman), Ignacio Verneda (FIM) Herve Poncharal (IRTA) and Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA). The Grand Prix Commission has the authority to make changes to the Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Regulations or as it is commonly referred, the MotoGP rules. Dorna retains a tie-breaking vote on rule changes, if required. In cases of technical modifications, the MSMA can unilaterally enact or veto changes by a unanimous vote among its members.
So now that we understand the major players in MotoGP its time to discover who holds the senior positions at IRTA. Some of them I’ve already mentioned however we’ll start from the top.
Firstly we have the IRTA President, Herve Poncharal. Poncharal was elected to the post in 2005 and succeeded Sito Pons who held the position for 10 years. Poncharal is better known as the Tech 3 Team Boss, establishing the French based unit in 1989. Since then Poncharal and his Yamaha outfit have solidified themselves as the most successful of the satellite teams however it hasn’t always been that way. Tech 3’s first season was in 1990, which saw them race in Rothman Honda colors before briefly switching to the Suzuki livery. It wasn’t until 1999 that Yamaha was onboard, a relationship that has proved mutually beneficial and endured until this day.
Next we have Mike Trimby, the 65 year old Englishman and Secretary General of IRTA. Trimby was once described as the pied piper of motorcycle racing due to his legendary leadership and vision which has helped create not only what you see in MotoGP today but safe, spectacular racing events on circuits located around the world.
For 34 years Trimby was responsible for organizing the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix before stepping down in 2011. In his tenure he attracted such riders as Kevin Schwantz, Joey and Robert Dunlop, Ron Haslam, Mike Edwards, Steve Hislop, Carl Fogarty and Jamie Whitlam. For the workaholic Trimby the job is a labor of love, he doesn’t suffer fools lightly and believes in hard work. He keeps a very low profile but if you look carefully enough you will always see him on the grid, controlling proceedings for every race start of the MotoGP calendar.
Moving on to Race Direction we have Mike Webb. The lovable Kiwi (yes, he’s from New Zealand) took over the role from Paul Butler in 2012. Webb was previously the MotoGP Technical Director for 10 years prior to taking on the Race Director position. Webb is no stranger to the hustle and bustle of MotoGP racing having been involved for more than 20 years. Webb worked as the crew chief for the factory Yamaha team when it was run by Wayne Rainey and then when Yamaha Japan regained control.
Danny Aldridge who was appointed MotoGP Technical Director in 2012 to replace Mike Webb now handles all technical aspects at IRTA. Aldridge worked for IRTA from 1997 to 2001 before leaving to pursue private interests. He rejoined IRTA in 2010 as the Deputy Technical Director under Webb with the specific responsibility for the Moto 2 class but now heads the Technical team.
Well that’s about it, a glimpse at the major players in MotoGP, and a small look at one of the Governing Bodies, IRTA.