Stung by failure of the Johann Zarco 'project', KTM has opted for youth over experience in MotoGP this season, signing rookies Brad Binder and Iker Lecuona to join last year's newcomer Miguel Oliveira.

But it is the factory's oldest and most experienced MotoGP rider, Pol Espargaro (28), that KTM credits for 'keeping the project alive' during the dark moments of 2019.

The Spaniard, with KTM since its debut 2017 MotoGP season, almost doubled his previous 'orange' points tally on the way to eleventh in the world championship, despite missing one race due to injury.

Along the way, Espargaro claimed the RC16's best dry result of sixth (Le Mans) and best-ever qualifying of second (Misano), further impressing KTM with his determination to be back on track in Buriram after a wrist fracture at Aragon.

"It's really exciting to be able to build up our own riders through the different disciplines and now we have Brad and Miguel, both strong boys, with us for the future," said KTM Motorsports Director Pit Beirer.

"But we have to thank Pol, because he is that strong warrior who kept the project alive in all the difficult up-and-down moments [in 2019]. Even fighting back and coming back in Thailand with his hand injury, I really have to thank him a lot for pushing so hard for us in all these days."

Espargaro's heroics and the promising form shown by Tech3's Oliveira prior to a Silverstone shoulder injury helped soothe the disappointment of Zarco's much-publicised struggles and mid-season departure.

"Going into the year everything was somehow okay but there was one, I want to call it a project, with Johann which we could just not get to work," Beirer said.

"So there was also like half of the team just not performing when we were expecting that Johann and Pol could push each other to a different level. So that was something difficult.

"On the other side, Pol was performing great and in the middle of the season there were some new parts for the bike that we could also test in the background with Dani Pedrosa.

"So all-in-all in the summer things looked really good for us, we could get the bike more under control and took the front row start in Misano where Pol was feeling really great on the bike. We had turning and grip, things looked better, but then [Pol] had an injury [at Aragon].

"So it was many up and downs and of course we are still trying to find a base for the bike. Looking back, I would say if we can set up the bike really good for a track and Pol is fit and strong we can perform in the top ten, not easily, but without big problems.

"But then there are other days when it’s difficult and we just miss also experience, such as in the overseas races where we struggled to find rear grip.

"So there are still many topics on our agenda to improve but the most important thing is for all of us to have healthy riders and that was also holding us back.

"Miguel just had his highlight in Austria, riding from twelfth position to eighth, as a rookie and without riders crashing in front of him. But at the next race he got injured and he carried a shoulder injury so it was time for us to take him out of racing and get the shoulder right.

"So for us the most important thing at the moment is to get all the riders back healthy, but of course there is not one segment of the bike package we can leave. We still need to improve everywhere and there is still a long road in front of us.

"Now we need to push a little reset button for the coming season and get four same bikes for the four riders, because it was quite a mission to build up the satellite team [with Tech3].

"To get it started was one thing and now to get it on the same technical level for all four riders is important so we can benefit from the results you can get from each garage."

Espargaro and Binder will race for the official KTM team this season, with Oliveira and Lecuona at Tech3.

 

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