After a stunning first year in MotoGP, KTM was forced into a reality check in 2018, as it didn’t quite match the lofty expectations it set itself back in March. Injuries had a good deal to with it, and with this in mind, one of the year’s more intriguing signings took place.

Factory bosses managed to tempt Dani Pedrosa, a rider who spent an 18-year grand prix career with Honda, into a testing role for 2019, where his experience and prowess should accelerated the development of the RC16 for lead riders Pol Espargaro and Johann Zarco.

Before the 2018 season drew to a close, Crash.net spoke to Mike Lietner, KTM’s MotoGP team boss, to assess the year as a whole, and to understand the reasoning behind moving to sign a rider of Pedrosa’s calibre.

Crash.net:
Why did you approach Dani for the position of your second test rider?

Mike Leitner:
Of course Mika did a great job with us until now with his testing. You have to understand when you start a project from completely zero you cannot take from the first moment a very high value person to bring up. Mika was coming out of Moto2 and we went together. He did one or two years in MotoGP but that was a long time ago with a different tyre brand. So he did the perfect job with the base setting and putting everything in the correct place. So we see he did a great job because we’re getting closer and closer.

But also on the test side it’s necessary to make a step in terms of experience. Dani, of course, will bring a lot of experience. He’s an experienced MotoGP rider and he can focus on aspects that Mika cannot because he’s just missing these years in MotoGP. From the level we have now, I think Dani can help us a lot to make that next step.

Crash.net:
He’s also a rider that has won 54 grand prix…

Mike Leitner:
When you look at the success list of course he’s also a completely different level. But without this we know how hard Mika is pushing, and how well he was performing when we brought him to wildcard. So it’s not just this aspect.

Dani can bring something different. I think together, with these two riders, we can make a good job on the testing side and this will help us a lot on the racing side a lot.

Crash.net:
A common question I see regards Dani’s weight. Can someone who weighs around 10kg less than the average MotoGP rider offer relevant feedback for guys like Pol and Johann? He’s not an average rider…

Mike Leitner:
People can think what they want. It’s open for every single person to think what they want. But one thing is absolutely clear. Especially with his size and especially with his weight he had to work very precisely to be competitive against others. This is actually, for me, a very positive sign for a test rider. When I worked with him history showed me many times that, let’s say, those stronger, or taller or heavier riders took over bikes from him, and were always immediately fast. So it was never necessary to build a new bike when Casey jumped in, or when Marc jumped in. Actually they started with this bike that was developed from Dani’s side. This gives me very good confidence that he will do a good job.

Crash.net:
So he can be extremely sensitive when evaluating parts?

Mike Leitner:
I mean, the test rider is so sensitive so it will help everybody.

Crash.net:
And he knows how a front-running bike should behave…

Mike Leitner:
Of course. I mean, he more or less understands how a wining bike or a podium bike should feel. Now let’s start working. He will tell us what he thinks about our bike and we will work with him. But to be fair we will have Zarco in the race team and he will also have his own idea. As a company you have to have to find the correct mix of different riders.

Next year we will have four highly talented riders on our bike. This will give our project a big boost. We’ve even got Dani in this test place, along with Mika, and this will lift completely the KTM project in MotoGP.

Crash.net:
We’ve heard Dani will not do wildcards in 2019. Was this your decision?

Mike Leitner:
No, actually it is his decision. For us this was never a priority, that he would do a wildcard or whatever. We have to respect that he’s stopping his career as a race rider. What is the meaning to stop my career as a race rider and then do wildcards? Either you want to race or you don’t want to race. This was very clear that [he didn’t want to race].

Follow Page 2 for the rest of the interview...

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