Race day in Qatar saw Bradley Smith announced as KTM's first signing for its 2017 MotoGP debut.

The Englishman, who is starting his fourth season in the premier-class with Monster Yamaha Tech 3, has agreed a two-year deal to race the new RC16 machine.

Shortly after finishing eighth in the season-opening race, in which he lost out to team-mate Pol Espargaro by just 0.023s, Smith spoke about the factory KTM deal.

Q:
Some big news earlier today Bradley, when was the first contact with KTM?

Bradley Smith:
The first contact happened in December, actually while I was in Thailand. I saw an Austrian number as a missed call. I thought, 'OK, there are not many people I would call back from Thailand but I better see what this is...'

Basically I spoke with Mike [Leitner] briefly and they expressed their interested. I passed it on to Bob [manager] and it's been in the background ever since.

It's a project that I believe is built for me. The fact that It's taking a new project along and being part of development. That's something that caught my eye. I don't usually take the easy routes and I think everybody involved knows how hard it will be.

But I know that there are a lot of talented guys inside there and I believe they are all highly motivated and willing to do a great job. They got me on the development side and I'm keen to see what they've done so far.

As a manufacturer, everything they've turned their hand to they've been very successful. From motocross to off-road, to enduro to Moto3 now. So you have to believe they will do the same in MotoGP.

Q:
When will you visit the factory?

Bradley Smith:
I've been there. Had to see for my own eyes what's going on.

Q:
Have you seen the bike as well?

Bradley Smith:
No, it wasn't there. But to be honest there was no need to see the bike or do much with the bike. That's in 17 races time. As I've said to Pit [Beirer, KTM] I'm 100% with the Tech 3 team until the day after the last race, and then I'll switch to your team, but until then, I've got a job to do with Yamaha and with all of our sponsors. I won't be changing my hat until its time.

Q:
What is it that you are most excited about?

Bradley Smith:
It's taking a bike from scratch - obviously it's not really, because they're going to do a year of development - but just being part of a project where I can speak to the engineers and be part of the project, rather than just riding with what we have. We can actually develop and come up with new ideas. I believe that there's a lot of things that I think I can give from that point of view, so that's what I'm excited about.

Q:
When did you sign?

Bradley Smith:
Yesterday. But the great thing is, there's a great excitement and buzz there. Pit and Mike are two great guys, and the actual boss of KTM is the one who pushed it out today, he said, "I'm so pumped, we need to push it out." To have three guys at that level excited for me to be at that project, it's a nice position to be in.

Q:
What's it like having everything signed so early?

Bradley Smith:
A bit surreal. It's weird to be talking to you guys about next year when we've only just done the first race. But it was important for me, because especially after a situation like we had in Sachsenring a couple of years ago, where there was a lot going on inside my head about where my contract would be, what's going to happen, and so on and so forth, we had a bit of a meltdown there.

So I wanted to ensure that something like that wasn't going to happen in this last season. To get it sewn up before the first race, and have everything clear inside of my mind means I can focus on the Tech 3 project, and making sure that I'm top satellite this year.

It is a weird feeling, I have to admit, but it gives me great confidence that there's something there for the future. And also for the team as well, most of the guys have been here with me for the five years, and of course it's a sad situation to realize that this is going to be the last year, but I believe everybody wants to make sure we go out on a bang.

It's been an amazing project to take me from 125s through Moto2 on a Mistral, put me in MotoGP through the struggles and strains of the first couple of years to where we are at the moment, but we don't plan on stopping until we get the very best. So it's nice that the team is fully supportive in what's going to happen, and we're going to make sure we do a good job in these last 17 races.

Q:
What did Herv? say when you told him you were leaving?

Bradley Smith:
Of course it was difficult, but Herv?'s dream for me was always to take me on, show the world what we could actually do, and then pass me on. That's what he is as a team manager. It's what he did with the likes of Dovi, he did it with Ben [Spies], he did it with Cal.

He understands the situation, which is great of him to be able to do it, he's chuffed to bits for me that I've found myself a factory ride. It's going to be hard to say goodbye when it's over, but the thing is, we've got plenty of this season ready to go, and plenty of good memories to still add to the photo album. But when we finally say our goodbyes in Valencia, it's going to be hard.

By Peter McLaren
 

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