Since 2016 and their arrival in the MotoGP class, KTM have made large and consistent steps towards the front of the field.
In 2015, when Alex Hofmann showed off the KTM RC16 for the first time at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, it had all of the traditional KTM values. WP suspension and a steel frame, which is the Mattighofen concern’s trademark throughout their model line ups showed they were not going to deviate from what brought them so much success off-road. A V4 engine would be deployed for a large amount of power, an essential in the MotoGP class if you want to win.
Tests continued through to 2016, and they announced they had snapped up both of the 2016 Yamaha Tech 3 riders in Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, latter adding Mika Kallio to the test team. It showed they were serious about coming to win, with Espargaro still coveted by many factories and Smith known for his excellent development skills, the balance seemed perfect to give the squad a base from which to work.
Hopes were high when the team arrived in Valencia in 2016 with Kallio aboard for a wildcard, but they did not even make the finish line after qualifying 20th. Reality had hit home quickly.
2017 was a good learning year for the team, with a best result of 7th place coming at Germany of that year. the bike was constantly improving from race to race, setting the team up for a good 2018. However, 2018 was not to be the best year, with both Espargaro and Kallio injuring themselves on the bike at different races, and Smith rarely troubling the top 10.
They saw fit to replace Smith with Johann Zarco for 2019 but ended the season on a major high by taking the team’s first podium with Espargaro at the Valencia finale, and Smith taking his best finish on the bike in 8th. The other big step they took was to expand their stable, securing a real coup in getting Tech 3’s services away from Yamaha as their official junior factory team.
2019 rolls around, and it is clear Zarco and KTM were like oil and water, with Zarco failing to understand the steel frame and crashing the bike almost every session, something had to change. The signing had failed, Zarco left the squad early to be replaced by Kallio and KTM appeared to have learned lessons, bringing in their Moto2 rider Brad Binder to replace him in 2020, after he had originally signed up to race alongside Miguel Oliviera at Tech 3.
This opened up a spot for Iker Lecuona to slot into the MotoGP class after impressing on the flawed 2019 Moto2 machine. Hafizh Syahrin also struggled to adapt from the Yamaha under the Tech 3 awning, and he would be replaced quickly in 2019 for 2020, dropping back to Moto2 with Aspar. KTM now had four riders who knew the traits of steel frames and WP suspension who were shaping up to compete.
The biggest change they made for 2019 and beyond, however, was securing the services of Dani Pedrosa as an official test rider after he left Honda, and he immediately got to work improving the KTM’s rideability and speed, culminating in what you see in 2020.
So what DO you see in 2020? Well, you still see steel frames and WP suspension, but with a twist. The frame, dubbed the ‘twin spartrellis’ combines the best traits of an aluminium perimeter frame, with the feel and adjustability of steel. It starts off as steel tubes around the headstock, before tapering into an almost flat perimeter by the time it reaches the footpegs.
It has been praised as a huge step forward in frame development; this could be the key to the team being at the front consistently. This, combined with the fact that WP suspension is now on a par with the ubiquitous Öhlins and them keeping pace with the other manufacturers on the aero side and use of carbon means they are closer than ever to being a top team in MotoGP.
2021 will be a big year for the squad, as they will lose Espargaro to Repsol Honda, but they have acquired the services of Danilo Petrucci from Ducati. Oliviera will join Binder at the Factory squad, and Petrucci will slot into Tech 3 alongside Lecuona. The Oliviera/Binder combination has worked well in the past in Moto2, and both are highly skilled at developing a machine to be competitive, so KTM are hedging their bets that Espargaro will not be missed. You can bet KTM have lots of riders to replace anyone who is not performing, so the pressure is on all four riders to continue the upward trajectory.
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