Nikki Coates talks European Moto2 deal to Paddock Chatter

Opportunities like this don’t come around every day. Like several Irish Championship names Nikki Coates was labouring to find a competitive ride in the British Championship when an offer to compete in the European Moto2 series presented itself.

Nikki Coates returns to race for Team Stratos in 2015
Photo: Team Stratos
Coates recently signed to race with former Spanish national champions Team Stratos in the rebranded European championship for 2015. The deal is a reunion of sorts as the Belfast rider formerly competed with the outfit in the 2011 CEV series.

Competing alongside former national Moto3 hotshot Alejandro Medina, Coates will race the Spanish Ariane chassis which took current World Superbike rider Roman Ramos to the national title in 2013.

The winner of the inaugural Davy Wood Memorial Trophy recently spoke to Paddock Chatter about his thoughts ahead of the upcoming season, transitioning to a Moto2 machine and his offseason training to date.

Paddock Chatter:
Was deal been in the pipeline for long?

Nikki Coates:
I’ve known about it for a while but wasn’t able to say anything. I’m over the moon. I was struggling to get anything over in England. To be fair if I could have got on this bike it would have been my first choice anyway. I had been speaking to them [the team] from November but we were too far apart moneywise to agree a deal. They were able to come back to me and work with me. I’ve ridden for this team before in 2011. Since then they’ve developed different chassis. They were developing this one when I was riding for them and then in 2012 they got runner up in the championship and in 2013 they won the championship with this chassis. The bike will be a lot more competitive. I’m really looking forward to having a go. We really struggled last time with the chassis. We seem to be pushing in the same direction with the chassis manufacturer and the team. 

It changed to the European championship this year because they’ve added in the Portuguese round and Le Mans, which is only for the Moto3s. I’ve been to Portimao before and from my year out there in 2011 and through years in 125s I’ve done a lot of time on Spanish tracks. I’ve been to them all except Navarra, which is a new one they’ve added in. We’ll be at a test before that to get out on the track so it shouldn’t be a problem. There’s plenty of days preseason and through the season so I’ll be in a better position now than I was last time. I had never ridden a Moto2 at all. At least now I’ve ridden one and just need to get used to it. 

Paddock Chatter:
You showed some strong late-season form at the close of 2014. Has that put an extra spring in your step through the offseason?

Nikki Coates:
Well in 2012 I came back to ride for Colin Appleyard in British Supersport. That was my first year in the class. I did Superstock 600 the year before I went out to Spain. I had an alright year and finished eleventh in the championship. I broke my ankle at the last round, which didn’t help. I was unlucky with injuries the next two years after that as well. I’m feeling a lot better now and I got a bit of momentum together at the end of last season. At home in the Irish Championship I was winning races with fastest laps. At the Sunflower meeting I was racing against Glenn Irwin, [Alistair] Seeley, Ben Wilson and Luke Jones. I got two fourths and gave Seeley and Wilson a good run for their money. I was only on my own R6, which is just an ‘Evo’ spec bike while they were on the full Supersport machines. I thought I did quite well and I haven’t really had a bike that’s been competitive enough to run at the front of a class since I rode the ‘Stock 600 so this is a proven bike. You don’t get these opportunities that often.

Paddock Chatter:
You will be competing aboard the Spanish made Ariane chassis which won the rider’s championship in 2013. What are you expecting from the frame?

Nikki Coates:
The chassis I rode in 2011 was different. It was AJR but they had already decided that they weren’t going to run it. Another rider was developing the Ariane while I rode the AJR. It wasn’t getting developed. We seemed to be on the pace at the start of the year but we got further away as it went on. From looking at the results and speaking to the team they think I should be able to go a lot better. I’m confident that with a bit more experience it will benefit me, knowing the tracks and having a year on Moto2 already.

Paddock Chatter:
You have been paired with Alejandro Medina for 2015, a local rider with a great deal of promise. Will you be judging your progression against him?

Coates in action for Team Stratos (formerly Motorrad) in 2011
Photo: Team Stratos
I don’t know a whole load about him. I looked at his results last year. I saw that he came on at the last two or three rounds. He was strong. He got a fourth and a fifth at one of them. His lap times were good at the other ones. He’s had a year on the exact same bikes so I need to be pushing for top fives to help myself for the future. To stay with the team, stay there and get myself noticed as such. The team know me but [I need] to prove myself. I say he’ll be running around the same positions. I won’t be expecting to beat him in testing but once I get a few miles on the bike we’ll see how I get on.

Paddock Chatter:
How did you come to know the team before you rode for them in 2011?

Nikki Coates:
My brother Mark was managing me at the end of 2010. There was an option to go with Appleyard Racing that year in 2011. Mark rode out in Spain back in 2001 in Supersport and he was [Sébastian] Charpentier’s team-mate. He knew a few of the team [and] we spoke to some of them. They gave me a test on the bike in November in 2010. It was me and the French champion at the time [along with] a Swiss guy and a Spanish guy. They seemed to like me and they offered me the deal. They had a lot of LL2 sponsorship that year so they could make it affordable for me. I got on really well with them that year. I was learning my Spanish and am still am learning. I wish I didn’t slow it down in the last two years but I’m back on track. I kept in contact and saw them since. Unfortunately the next year they didn’t get as much sponsorship so it was a bit more expensive. I wasn’t able to get the money together. I decided to come back to do Supersport in England.

Paddock Chatter:
Looking at the BSB series, I’ve heard many racers say they’ve been priced out of rides. Was that the case for you? Was it simply too expensive to do a season in British Supersport or Superstock?

Nikki Coates:
It’s hard. In Supersport this year there are only eight to ten bikes capable of running at the front. It’s very hard to get a bike that’s capable of running at the front. I had a few offers to do the ‘Evo’ class. They were good deals and packages and I was close to agreeing something for it. The Spanish thing came along quite late and it was out of the blue in a way. I was speaking to them before November and it was left that we would keep in contact but I didn’t think anything would come of it because we were quite far apart still. But then it came out of the blue and I thought it was too good an opportunity to let go. Team Stratos are the factory Yamaha Europe team this year so in the Superbike and Formula Extreme they’re running the R1. That delayed things a little. Once they had that sorted they were able to help me to get on a Moto2. Then he said it’s always a possibility for me in the future on a Yamaha as well. But we’ll get concentrating on the Moto2 first.

Paddock Chatter:
How is your Spanish coming along?

Nikki Coates:
Well it was half and half really. There were a few in the team that spoke really good English, a few that spoke a little and a lot that didn’t speak at all. Some of my team-mates didn’t speak any English at all and I was always trying to have a bit of craic with them. So hopefully I’ll learn a wee bit more. My crew chief speaks good English. When it comes to the mid-session I’m hoping they’ll bear with me and speak English as they did before. It’s a wee bit disrespectful to expect them to speak English all the time so that’s why I’m learning. I’ll be out there a bit between racing and testing and it’s always good to know. I know quite a lot from being there before but I don’t speak it fluently. I can ask the questions but I don’t understand their answers! Trying to understand them is the harder bit.

Paddock Chatter:
Will you be exclusively riding in the European Championship or will you continue with a few rounds in the UK/Irish series?

Nikki Coates:
There’s a guy who has offered me a bike for the Irish Championship but I’d need to speak to the Spanish team because the contract says I can’t ride anywhere else. But because there are only seven rounds and a test before each there are times when you aren’t out on the bike for a month. There will be instructing days on my own R6 through the year. There are always times when I can fly around myself and get a few miles in. I haven’t really looked into England as much as it’s more than likely that I’d need to bring money.

I won the Davy Wood trophy last year which was quite a big deal over here. Davy did a lot for Supersport racing years ago and it was the main event. I wouldn’t mind trying to retain that. It was the first time they did it last year. I see it doesn’t clash on the calendar so we’ll see what we can do. I’m not 100 percent yet.

Coates cresting the back straight at Jerez in 2011
Photo: Team Stratos
Paddock Chatter:
Have you altered your preseason preparations ahead of the season opener?

Nikki Coates:
At the end of the season I wind down a wee bit. I always do bits and bobs a couple of times a week to keep myself ticking over. I’ve been into my football training, which not many racers are. I play for a local team. They were training twice a week and then [there is] a match on the Saturday. I was doing that for a bit of enjoyment and to keep me fit. Now the racing season is coming up I’m doing other days and probably not as much football. I need to do more things that will benefit the racing as that’s the priority. It’s something different that not many would be doing. I’m actually the top goal scorer for my team at the minute. It’s Grove Utd [who play] in an amateur league in Northern Ireland. They’re probably in the fourth or fifth tier in the whole of Ireland. A couple of close friends played for them in the past and they got me down there. They know once the season starts I’ll take a back step.

Otherwise it’s quite a lot of cycling, a bit of running and some light weights. I actually do a bit of instructing for the Woolsey Coulter Racing Academy too. Coincidentally they are out in Cartagena at the minute. The next one I’m doing instructing for them at the start of March. That will keep me out on the bike. In mid-March I’ll be back out in Moto2 at Albacete. I’ll need to get the holiday forms into work!

By Neil Morrison
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