Rookie Brad Binder made history for KTM with a stunning debut victory, from seventh on the grid, in last Sunday's Czech Republic MotoGP.

It also meant that, for the first time since Loris Capirossi won for Ducati at Catalunya 2003, a new manufacturer has joined the list of premier-class race winners.

While Ducati claimed its debut wins with a steel frame the Italian factory has long since switched to aluminium, as used by rivals Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Aprilia.

KTM, which entered MotoGP full-time in 2017, not only has faith in steel frame technology but also its own in-house WP suspension, while all of its opposition uses Ohlins.

Many said KTM couldn't win without using the same main chassis components as its rivals, especially given the 'majority-in-favour' nature of MotoGP's control tyre era, introduced long after Ducati's first victories. But that has been proven wrong.

Between the Brno and upcoming Austrian rounds, KTM Motorsports Director Pit Beirer reflected on Binder's historic victory and the path that the RC16 has taken to reach the top step of the podium.

'We started with nothing'

"It's very emotional at the moment because it was a long fight and at the beginning of the project, we started with nothing. A blank piece of paper. When you decide to go to MotoGP you want to see a bike, but at first, there is nothing.

"Then when you have a bike you go riding for the first time, racing for the first time, you get punched badly on the race track by the competitors and then to be now in a position to say we have won our first MotoGP race is definitely an outstanding moment."

Brad Binder 'very special'

"Brad has luckily two faces, because if you have him sitting here with you in private or at dinner he's the most gentle, friendly, nice, relaxed and easy guy you can have. He's a fantastic boy. But this is starting with his parents, that's how they are. It's just a nice family.

"But then when it comes to racing, he is a fighter like there is no tomorrow. He's ready to give everything. So that's a mixture which is not out there so often, that you have this super nice guy but still on the bike quite a tough one! He's very special.

"I'm really happy for the team who have worked so hard and also Brad that he could do this outstanding career so far with us, starting in the Rookies Cup, Moto3 and Moto2 together and now the first winner of the MotoGP project. So many special things happened this weekend."

'That damn Moto2 class'

"That damn Moto2 class was so difficult to step in as a team and build a chassis. You know what happened. But last Sunday we got the payback for going into Moto2, because imagine if we never had a Moto2 team?

"With Moto2 we closed the bridge [to MotoGP] and that's why Brad could stay with us and then this was so nice to see him win that race. Thanks also to Aki for his schooling in Moto3 and Moto2. It was a huge satisfaction to win with Brad."

Pol Espargaro a 'lion, backbone of the project'

"I have two hearts in my chest. From the pure work and risk, Pol would be the guy to deserve the first win for the project because he was the backbone of the project.

"In bad and good days, he was fighting like a lion.

"One of the biggest complaints towards us until last year was that we could build only a machine that only Pol Espargaro is able to ride, because he is risking his life for us. And partly this was true, and that's why I have such huge respect for Pol."

Two different styles, two outstanding fighters

"Pol has a lot of temperament so he's getting super excited and taking unbelievable energy out of that. That's why he could do sometimes miracles on our bike, that not even we expected. He's goings sometimes even further than he should!

"So it was always our work in the last years or months when we knew him much better, just to calm him down, not to go over the limit and I think we did quite well to help him also with that to become a better rider.

"With Brad it's a little bit opposite, he's working on his form more slowly, more steady, getting ready. But then once he's ready then also you cannot get rid of him anymore!

"Then we saw in some of his crazy Moto2 races, when the bike was also not the best out there on some days, he was fighting like crazy.

"I would say they are two outstanding fighters, but a little different style definitely."

'No doubts' about steel frame, WP suspension

"There were no absolutely no doubts from my side because leading a Race Department with more than 100 people in the MotoGP project, if I would doubt and open that door - to think maybe another material would be better - this would be of course crazy and we could not succeed.

"This [steel frame] is the philosophy of our company, but not because it's a marketing story. We learned how to build motorcycles with this material and we have the knowledge for the material and we invented together with Pankl the printing process to prints parts of the frame with the highest technology.

"Steel is three times [stronger] than aluminium, it allows us to build the chassis three times smaller in dimensions than in aluminium.

"So it's not about the material, it's more that you really have to understand what you have to do with it. And also, it's really important to give the rider the flex in the bike where he wants to have it. If I do it with aluminium or with steel, for the rider it doesn't matter. He wants it 'more in the front', or 'more in the back''. He wants the traction and you have to find out how to do it.

"The critics were there. But any sport we started - motocross, then in 2010 to see the first Supercross, then in the Dakar – always the top riders and very strong people in the sports told us, 'OK, you're nice guys, you're a great company, but with a steel frame and WP suspension, you will not succeed in this class. It will work in motocross, but it will not work here'.

"We had that same headwind in MotoGP. But of course, now we had to prove it in the highest category of motorcycle racing in the world, so the pressure was there.

"People said, 'we're still not there because we are still not using aluminium and Ohlins suspension', but I'm sure now we are only there already because of our tubular frame and WP suspension.

"Because we can do everything in-house. That's the harder way, because we cannot copy something [from the others]. But we build it together with our engineers, and if we think how the new chassis must be a little bit different, we have a drawing ready in the evening, we start to build that chassis the next morning, and at the end of the week, this chassis can be on the racetrack.

"We don't call a supplier and wait for somebody to make something or whatever, we do it here in-house.

"It was rough at the beginning, but now I feel very comfortable with that base that we know what we had to do to make the steps. It was not the easy way, and believe me, it's quite easy to talk today, but the win was not proven until Sunday. So of course, we had to prove that it works.

"But I think you don't win a MotoGP race for nothing; you never get a present in that class. Everything has to be great - the bike, the rider, the team, the complete package. If something is missing, and not correct, in MotoGP you go nowhere. So I think we have a platform now for the future."

'Nothing changes overnight'

"Nothing changes overnight in this class… You build a bike out of nothing, you realise you are 3.5 seconds back to the leading guys per lap, and then you close the first two seconds quite easily. But then it starts to become harder and harder to bite down the next tenth.

"The clear target from the beginning was to build a bike which is rideable not for one rider, but for more riders, because only that way can you succeed. That's easy to say, but it's not that easy to do.

"But if you look back now, it cannot have been done any faster… In the first two years, at every race we brought new parts, so the riders had a consistent testing process.

"We had a plan to do that for two years, and then after two years make kind of a cut, and say, 'OK we go into the third year on a better level than in the first two years, but it will not be the competitive level'.

"That was a painful decision, but we said that if the test team and the engineers don't start to focus on the bike for 2020 [during 2019], we will go again with the same stress into 2019 and 2020 and 2021.

"So there is a moment in bike development, which we learned in other disciplines, that you must develop your race bike for next year, during this year's season. And in November, when the riders are still fresh and fit and on good lap times, you need to bring them the new bike and confirm what the status is.

"We were a little bit unlucky with injuries of Miguel and Pol in the wrong moment last year. Because also the bike was better last year too, but still a critical bike, and needed a brave rider to go fast, I know that."

The winning step: 2019 to 2020

"We were strong on the brakes going into the corner from the beginning of the project, but our disadvantage was that we always went wide in the middle of the corner. The earlier you can turn, the earlier you go straight, which also means more traction and a cooler tyre - because the tyre gets hot from spinning on lean angle. It's a circle.

"With the video analysis and everything we could see our riders could not hold the line, they were more out there and then coming in later, picking the bike up later, being too slow going onto the straight then you lose top speed even with a strong engine.

"So that was our biggest focus from last year to this year. To be ready with the turn, when the top guys are ready. And we could see with the video analysis during the winter tests that our riders are now riding the same line as the other guys and that was the breakthrough to be closer and more competitive."

Other key figures: Leitner, Felber, Pedrosa, Kallio…

"We brought back a super cool engineer from KTM in Wolfgang Felber who was leading the R&D department, he became like a senior advisor on the chassis side to put the project in a little different direction.

"In the same moment we also got Dani [Pedrosa] on board [as a test rider, at the start of 2019]. Mika [Kallio] was a great guy in the whole process to bring the bike where we are today, but then Dani gave it a little different direction.

"But I have to give him my biggest thanks and credit to [team manager Mike Leitner] because he is the consistent line in the project. He didn't change his style of working. He is just pushing every single day.

"I have also other disciplines to manage here in KTM; motocross, rally, enduro, supercross, and then Mike is sitting here 'Pit we need to do this, we need to bring more people, we need to make a new chassis and the new chassis can be ready in four weeks, but maybe if we push harder it can be ready next week'.

"The guy was pushing every day. Sometimes I kicked him out of my office, 'I have a finance meeting, another discipline…'. But when you kick him out of the door and he comes back with a ladder and climbs though the window! So he was a consistent push in the project and a lot of thanks to him.

"So there were key persons, but for some things you also just need time and experience. There is no shortcuts in the highest class.

"The engineers learned a lot in the last years. I could get some staff from other manufacturers but at the end of the day we have our own chassis, we have our own suspension, we have our own engine. So we could never copy other pieces or pictures or something, so we had to learn it the hard way.

"You pack all that experience like packing a travel bag, and it's getting more and more complete, and that's why this year's bike is different than the first three years. But still it was not proven that it's better.

"Then the damned corona came in for all of us, because I was sure we could already prove in Qatar that we had made that step. We couldn't start racing, and I had to talk and motivate people again; our board of directors, the whole company, the partners, the riders: 'stay patient, the bike is better'.

"So finally, [we can show] the new bike is better. And I'm really really happy because even if it's a better lap time in testing, or in the data, or on the dyno, you only get the reality when you have a bike there in the top three on Sunday printed out on [official results] paper by Dorna. And in dry conditions!

"We had that third place in the wet [at Valencia 2018]. But now to get it in dry conditions, to pass other riders on the way to being on the top, not really any crashes in front of us, it was a clear status of where we are at the moment with the project."

What if KTM loses concessions?

"The concessions, extra testing days and engines, were helpful at the beginning of the project, but you always have the target that you could like without it. So we are prepared for that. I would be happy and sign immediately if you told me it was coming soon because it would mean more podiums!"

Target for 2020 season unchanged

"Our target for the season is still unchanged. Regularly in the top ten and then trying to be with one or two guys really fighting for top five positions. That was the target. Not just one weekend and not because 2-3 guys crashed. But because we have the speed. If we can secure that in the next weeks, then we have lifted the project onto a new level. That's the target at the moment, rather than further podiums.

"I have two figures which my whole team knows I want to know; the gap in qualifying to first and the gap to first guy at the finish in seconds. Those are the two factors I look at and not about the other manufacturers. Because in MotoGP there is not one bad bike or one bad rider. It's the highest level. Everyone is doing a huge effort."

Emotional phone call with Stefan Pierer

"We got some critics when Mr Pierer [KTM CEO] said from the beginning we are not there just with the Olympic spirit to participate, we want to win races one day. But he always said also that it took us 7 years in the Dakar, so it will take us a couple of years. That part was sometimes forgotten by the critics!

"Mr Pierer has the vision for our company. He picked it up with 200 employees out of bankruptcy and now it's more than 4000 people. So if that guy would not have every morning a new vision the company would not have the size and the strengths to be part of MotoGP today.

"It was a moment you never forget. I've been in the company more than 15 years now but one of the best moments was talking to Mr Pierer on Sunday night on the phone. Him alone at home, me alone in the car and we could just be satisfied and happy that we did it.

"It was emotional also for him. Because this is something you cannot buy or organise or do, you need to prepare over years with a consistent push and the stability he gave us and the backup he gave us was important to be where we are now."

 

Comments

Loading Comments...