It’s been a very successful season for KTM. The Austrian vompany won the Dakar Rally in January with Toby Price, the AMA Supercross title with Ryan Dungey, another MXGP MX2 title for Jeffrey Herlings, brought back the Moto3 title wit South African rider Brad Binder and finally entered the MotoGP with a wildcard at the Valencia finale.
Now there is a general ban on testing for factory riders in December and January but the team continues to work intensively on the construction of the KTM RC16 and other infrastructure in the headquarter of Mattighofen.
We caught up with KTM Sports Director, Pit Beirer and asked him about the sensational 2016, and where the company is going in 2017:
KTM will officially enter the MotoGP next year, how did you approach such an important project?
“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 in-line.”
Is it an ambitious project choosing a different way to the other machines of the grid?
“I’m not scared and we have tackled many sports disciplines with our tubular chassis. Sometimes we have not been successful at the beginning but the results have come. Racing at the end is always similar. We also entered in 2012 in Moto3 with a tubular frame and we turned it into a success.”
Was it emotional on the starting grid of the Valencia finale when KTM finally debuted as a wildcard?
“Yes, it was a very emotional moment for me and an historical time for the company that came after many hours when you sit alone in the office and you wonder if this was the right thing to do. It was fantastic.”
Was it a relief to hear the first positive comments of the riders?
“The riders said that the bike felt good. I was so relieved when they said they had a good front feeling. They could turn and feel safe. Mika Kallio, our test rider, did a fantastic job bringing the project where the gap is of two seconds from the top guys. Then at Valencia test we had the clear comments of the riders. They were clear like water and it was refreshing. For the moment we don’t see limits.”
From next year KTM will become a proper player in the paddock, second only to Honda for the crucial presence in the three classes: Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP.
“We are a big family and we have created already a small platform in Moto3 and Moto2. Next year it will be even bigger. We want to become a nice group in the paddock and not just running one team and being isolated. The atmosphere is really good and this includes also the Red Bull Rookies Cup that we started ten years ago. This means that a rider can remain attached to KTM from the Rookies Cup to Moto3 and the path up to the premier class. In this way we make the KTM family even stronger and we can exchange information from the smallest to the biggest class. Everything makes sense in the perspective of this bigger project and especially from 2017 we will become a proper player in the MotoGP paddock.”
The commitment with the young talents will remain…
“Yes, this is part of KTM philosophy. A big part of our passion is to work with young riders and not to lose them. Imagine, it would be just like sticking a knife in our heart if Brad Binder had to leave us after such a fantastic 2016 Moto3 season. Maverick Vinales was one of our riders but we had to let him go. Jack Miller, the same, Oliviera, Cortese. It was so painful that we said, ‘Let’s join Moto2’ and now Binder can continue with us. We do the same in the off-road. We pick up young riders and we stick with them in the good and in the bad days to create possibly a world champion who started with us. Sometimes it is not possible and we need to take a ready-to-go rider.”
Which are the characteristics of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro that you particularly like?
“We chose both riders because they are young, fresh and want to reach something in this category as we want to. There was no point to hire a fast rider but close to retirement. There is a risk to develop a bike with young riders but both Bradley and Pol are experienced enough to make with us some more steps. We got the maximum level of riders that we need in this project to grow together up to the front.”
Which are your expectations for the next season?
“I don’t have expectation for 2017. We need to wait three years to make a balance. We are fighting against manufacturers that are in this class for more than 20 years, so we need to close also a big gap of experience. Three years are nothing in this world and we had cases of teams that retired after three years. My target is to make this project so successful that KTM and our sponsors and partners are really happy to continue.”
Finally a look at the 2017 Dakar Rally that takes the start on January 2 in Paraguay, where KTM has dominated since 2001. What kind of bike we will see?
“It’s an update of the bike, not a new generation machine.”
With a podium at the debut in 2015 and the victory in 2016, is this beginning of the Toby Price era?
“I think so, this could be the start of a new era and I want to thank my team manager Alex Doringer to pointing me this strong Australian rider. He has progressed quickly and I think he has all the potential to continue improving.”