KTM has claimed another category in which its “Ready To Race” tagline has proven true. The Austrian moto company has had wins and championships in many racing categories. Most of those wins came in off-road racing as well as some of the lower level road racing categories. But KTM didn’t have a win in motorcycle road racing’s premier class, MotoGP. Until recently.
KTM entered MotoGP in 2017. In three short years, the company rose from backmarkers to winning. And they did it differently from most of the other factories’ setups.
KTM chose to build a tubular chassis bike. That’s because that’s where their expertise lay, and they would start from there. Many questioned whether, in the age of carbon fiber chassis, a tubular steel chassis could win. But KTM persisted.
According to KTM Motorsports Racing Director Pit Beirer, KTM wanted to go its own way:
“We wanted to build a competitive MotoGP machine in our own way. The project had to commit to KTM’s fundamental guidelines, which were tubular chassis and WP suspension. This was clear from the beginning. Then we had a lot of freedom in the engine concept, if we wanted to go for a V or inline.” – Pit Beirer to Cycle World
KTM also stuck with its own WP suspension in a category where Ohlins suspensions are a must for winning. They also hired ex-MotoGP rider and world champion, Dani Pedrosa, to help them develop the bike.
First MotoGP win for KTM
And at the recent Czech Grand Prix, a series rookie in only his third race, Brad Binder, rode KTM’s RC16 to victory. It wasn’t a wet race, nor was it different than any “normal” MotoGP race. KTM won straight up.
The win may have surprised some people, but KTM Motorsports Racing Director Pit Beirer thought differently. Speaking to Cycle World Beirer said:
“We knew that the jump into MotoGP was huge, and that there were no shortcuts. We started from scratch, and we build almost everything in-house: the chassis, the engine, the suspension, the electronics… We studied the others, but doing everything in-house and different from the others prevented us from copying them. In a way, you can “buy” the technology. For example, to develop our electronics, we hired an engineer from McLaren F1, because he believed in us and in F1, electronics is ahead. Then, of course, we surrounded him with motorcycle guys.” – Pit Beirer to Cycle World
Finding MotoGP talent
KTM also addressed finding and grooming highly skilled riders to pilot their machines. It started with the Red Bull Rookies Cup and KTM used it to discover new talent for its Moto3 program. But at the beginning, without a Moto2 or MotoGP program, KTM lost its riders to other teams competing in the two higher-level classes.
Bierer said that KTM took a family approach to find talent, and it finally paid off.
“In 2017, we entered MotoGP and in Moto2 for one reason: KTM is a family. In off-road we have always supported the growth of our talents, remaining together in all the categories. This is one of our strengths. Till 2017 this was not possible in roadracing; we discovered new talents with the Red Bull Rookies Cup, we supported them in Moto3, and then we had to lose them. It was painful. This is one of the main reasons for our commitment in the three classes and the Rookies Cup. The result? In 2017, Moto3 reigning champion Brad Binder could debut in Moto2 with us and this year in MotoGP. Now we can proudly say that our model paid off. The satisfaction of seeing Brad on the first spot of the podium on Sunday was huge.” – Pit Beirer to Cycle World
Now that KTM has won in MotoGP, it faces the prospect of losing the concessions of a new manufacturer entering the series. If KTM wins just two more concessions points, it will lose its MotoGP concessions.
MotoGP concessions grant a manufacturer more testing with race riders and allows more engines during a season. KTM is currently allowed seven motors versus five for the non-concession factory teams. However, KTM will still have the capability to unseal and develop its engines for the remainder of the year.
But starting with the 2021 season, KTM will have to homologate its powerplants, and the design will be frozen, similar to the other non-concession factory teams.
When asked about losing its concessions, Beirer was unphased.
“Having the extra number of engines and extra numbers of test days, also with factory riders, has been useful. We used to test once a month, and the test we did at Brno before the race week helped a lot. But we are prepared also to do without. Losing the concession benefits would mean that we have reached another level.” – Pit Beirer to Cycle World
To me, KTM’s win is a case of being a leader and not a follower. They could have easily copied other factory’s designs and just tweaked them. Instead, they decided to start with what they know best and make it better. That takes guts. Congrats KTM.
All photo credit: Red Bull