The Austrian manufacturer KTM signed Johann Zarco after his impressive form during his Rookie season and the 2018 season aboard the Tech 3 satellite Yamaha. However, during his 11 races with KTM he has been unable to repeat his successes from Yamaha, scoring just 22 points this season. KTM CEO Stefan Pierer announced that the Frenchman would be parting ways with the KTM team for the 2020 season, cutting their contract short.
KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa has one the most impressive Grand Prix career records. The 2-time 250cc World Champion spent 13 season with the HRC outfit in the MotoGP class, achieving 31 Grand Prix victories, 112 podium finishes and winning at least 1 race for 12 consecutive seasons. As news of Zarco’s termination spread, all eyes turned to Pedrosa, who announced his retirement from Grand Prix racing at the end of the 2018 season. However speaking to Servus TV, Pedrosa was eager to reiterate his contentment with only having a testing role, as he did not have to deal with the pressures of a race weekend.
“In this situation it is first of all just sad for Johann. He has come this far, but if you are now at this point and so desperate there is probably nothing left to do but to get out. I have great respect for him, he is a great rider. At the moment I don’t know how to react. I still have the order to test for KTM and that will also be my position in the future, I think. I’m so much more relaxed now than before, I don’t have all this pressure. I can now concentrate on tests, and don’t have to look so much at the races anymore so that’s not my plan now.”
KTM Motorsports Director, Pit Beirer described the notion of Pedrosa returning to MotoGP with KTM as a “fantasy”, but was quick to underline the talents they have within the KTM camp, who could replace Zarco.
“First of all, we are extremely happy about what kind of work Pedrosa does in the test team and how he integrates himself into the team. That’s a lot more than we expected. What he had prepared for Miguel (Oliveira) as a package for Spielberg (Red Bull Ring) was first class. So we are already benefiting enormously from Dani. That’s why he is enormously important to us in the role he’s in right now. We can let the other fantasy fly a little, but he has a very clear mission with us. He has fully accept it and we are working on it. I would also like to remind you that we have three top riders under contract, we have Miguel, Pol and Brad next year. We also have another great test rider sitting at home with Mika. He keeps fit all the time. So we have a very good situation with the riders anyway.”
With both KTM and Pedrosa keen to dismiss the possibility of a Grand Prix return, it looks likely that Oliveira will be the favourite to make the step into the factory team to partner Pol Espargaro. Oliveira finished 8th at Red Bull Ring, his best result so far and his smallest deficit to the winner.
“I think I have the capacity to fight for top positions, but right now we are in a development project, so we don’t want to get too over-excited about today’s result, we know we have a long way to fight for the top positions. The gap is shrinking; we now have a good direction with the bike and we just have to keep working.” said Oliveira on Sunday.
Interestingly Oliveira is the first KTM rider who hasn’t come from Yamaha’s YZR-M1, as P. Espargaro, Smith, Zarco and Syahrin have. “For this reason I think KTM takes notice of what I say. My comments are real, because they’re not based on my experiences with another MotoGP bike. I tell them that the bike needs to be more versatile for everyone and it needs to be easier in many aspects.”
We look forward to seeing KTM’s progress for the remainder of the season and finding out who will partner P. Espargaro in the factory team.