KTM: Pol coming back ‘really interesting’, Binder ‘special’ - Exclusive

KTM is not only changing three of its four riders for next season but importing a pair of competitors, Pol Espargaro and Jack Miller, with experience of multiple MotoGP machines.
Pol Espargaro, Brad Binder, Qatar MotoGP race, 6 March
Pol Espargaro, Brad Binder, Qatar MotoGP race, 6 March

That’s in stark contrast to the factory’s 2022 line-up, when Brad Binder, Miguel Oliveira plus Tech3 rookies Remy Gardner and Augusto Fernandez had only ever ridden the RC16.

Of that quartet, only Binder remains for next season, when he will be joined at the official Red Bull team by Miller, a MotoGP winner for both Honda and Ducati.

But the return of Pol Espargaro will provide a ‘more interesting’ technical comparison for the RC16 project, which has won races for the past three seasons but is yet to fight for the title.

Espargaro began his MotoGP career with Tech3 Yamaha in 2014. He then spent four years leading KTM’s new premier-class project, culminating in five podiums and fifth in the 2020 standings, before an ill-fated switch to Repsol Honda.

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“This year’s line-up with four riders that only have MotoGP experience with KTM is a sort of strange thing you know,” KTM team manager Francesco Guidotti told Crash.net.

“In a process of development, which we are in, to have four riders who only have experience of this bike… We know we are going to lose good riders [next year], but sometimes you have to make a choice and risk, be a little bit brave.”

Among those KTM is bidding a reluctant farewell to is Oliveira. The Portuguese has won five races in orange, including the factory’s only victories this season, in wet conditions at Mandalika and Buriram.

In Oliveira’s place comes Miller, who celebrated one win and seven podiums on his way to fifth in the world championship for Ducati, just ahead of top KTM rider Binder.

Meanwhile, Espargaro, who started the season by leading much of the Qatar race on his way to a podium, only featured in the top ten once thereafter, sending him back to 16th overall.

The Spaniard now returns to Tech3, in new GASGAS colours, alongside rookie and newly crowned Moto2 champion Augusto Fernandez.

“Jack will bring us experience and then really more interesting [for the technical comparison] will be Pol, because he is coming back to us,” Guidotti said.

“He can compare [how the bike has changed] and he's really motivated because he wants to perform. He wants to win.”

Despite claiming KTM’s best yet fifth in the 2020 season, Espargaro is still seeking a debut premier-class victory.

Red Bull KTM Team, Brad
Red Bull KTM Team, Brad

‘Brad is a really special rider, he pushes like hell’

Guidotti joined KTM this season after previously working with the likes of Miller, Danilo Petrucci and future MotoGP champion Francesco Bagnaia at the satellite Pramac Ducati team.

It didn’t take Guidotti long to realise why KTM signed the South African, who has raced for the factory since 2016 in Moto3, on a multi-year deal running until the end of 2024.

“Brad is really special, as a rider and a person,” Guidotti said. “He gives 100% all the time.

“He's also really respectful for everyone and everything around him. He’s really an old-style rider for these aspects.

“And he pushes like hell during the races. He always finds a way to improve a lot compared to qualifying, which is where we are little bit weak at the moment.”

Binder won the 2016 Moto3 title for KTM, finished runner-up in the 2019 Moto2 contest, then made history with the RC16’s first MotoGP victory in his rookie 2020 season.

After a further win, on slicks in the rain at the Red Bull Ring, the 27-year-old suffered his first winless season in the premier-class this year - but was just 0.3s from victory at both Qatar and Valencia.

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