until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Blocked MotoGP expansion damaged KTM's motivation

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Though its 2024 MotoGP contract debacle is long resolved, the refusal of KTM's preferred way out by series organisers still clearly stings for the organisation - and its ambitions to expand remain.

Having had five riders with MotoGP deals agreed for 2024 but just four seats - two at the factory KTM outfit, two at the Gas Gas-badged satellite Tech3 team - to slot them into, KTM spent much of the year scrambling for a solution.

Brad Binder (moving whom aside would've been an obvious non-starter anyway), Jack Miller and Pol Espargaro were all on multi-year deals to begin with, and rookie Augusto Fernandez had performed above expectation. KTM was reluctant to 'bench' him, also given its two previous MotoGP call-ups had been let go after a year - but nor could it convince rising star Pedro Acosta to defer his MotoGP graduation by another season.

And while KTM felt it had a tidy solution in the prospect of bringing in a new satellite team to the grid - Aki Ajo's ultra-successful (in Moto3 and Moto2) operation being the prime candidate - series promoter Dorna never suggested publicly it would even entertain the possibility.

Though the grid had shrunk by two entries compared to 2022 after Suzuki's withdrawal, it was maintained the grid spots were reserved for another manufacturer entrant (even though there has been precious little indication one is particularly likely).

Turned down despite repeated pushes, KTM ultimately settled on Espargaro as the odd man out - and though the eventual mutuality of this decision has been publicly stressed by both parties (albeit much more ardently by KTM higher-ups than by Espargaro), it has long been clear this was not the outcome KTM had wanted for the rider who spearheaded the programme in its early years.


"This even made a big damage to the motivation in our group," KTM motorsport boss Pit Beirer told The Race regarding the refusal of a third KTM team.

"Because we put so much effort in.

"And we give, in all the three [grand prix] classes, plus the [all-KTM single-spec MotoGP-supporting junior series] Red Bull Rookies Cup, there is huge investment behind.

"And then after Rookies' Cup, there are 28 riders on our bikes in the whole paddock."

The citing of the 28 entries - 18 in Moto3 (variously-badged KTM RC250GPs), six in Moto2 (all Kalex bikes but run by teams representing KTM, Gas Gas and another sister brand in Husqvarna) and four in MotoGP - re-emphasises KTM's argument that its continued investment and sizeable presence at all levels of grand prix racing warranted some extra leeway in this particular situation.

"And then still, the whole world was watching us - we needed that one [grid] spot to make just everything smooth. And we didn't get any support for that.

"This was really hard to swallow.

"And, okay, later on we had to take this decision and then Pol helped us to basically fix our huge problem. But that was not our wish.

"So, that was not a comfortable situation, and it cost us a lot of energy and effort, that at the end didn't change a lot. But it's over. Let's look forward."


KTM (along with Gas Gas) was made a Tier C manufacturer under the new concession system introduced for 2024, meaning it got certain breaks relative to Tier A Ducati - including six wildcards for the season. Most of those will presumably go to Espargaro next year, albeit KTM will surely also have an interest in fielding Dani Pedrosa given the roaring success of his two outings in 2023.

However, the rule breaks afforded to Tier D manufacturers (Yamaha and Honda, as it stands) are considerably bigger. Beirer and Aprilia CEO Massimo Rivola were both vocal in their opposition to concession status for the two Japanese brands, with the multi-tiered system likely introduced to mitigate their reservations.

But as for how that particular political strand, given Dorna's publicly-acknowledged interest in aiding Yamaha's and Honda's recovery - interconnected with KTM's push for an extra team... well, Beirer insisted it did not.

"Honestly, we never linked that. So, we said 'we don't want to have this spot because [of the trade-off that] we could give somebody else [Yamaha and Honda] concessions'.

"We really said 'we want that spot because we think we deserve it for the effort we are doing in this paddock'.

"So, this was not- I saw that also somewhere in the media, but it was never a discussion between us and Dorna, saying 'if you want concessions, we need this spot'."


In the wake of Ducati's incredibly dominant year - it went 1-2-3 in the riders' and teams' standings and scored more constructors' points than its two nearest pursuers combined - much has been made by rival manufacturers of the advantage afforded to it by an eight-bike line-up.

In addition to providing, obviously, more opportunities to score points, podiums and wins, the expanded roster has combined nicely with Ducati's full data-sharing policy to further reinforce the weekend-to-weekend potency of what is already the best bike on the MotoGP grid.

And, though the rider contract situation seemed to be the primary driver behind KTM's push for a third team, the Ducati-like benefits are far from lost on Beirer.

"Looking now how difficult the situation was, the junior programme we are running, I think it would make a lot of sense for us to have six bikes.

"It would make us stronger, because you have more data. You just learn more. Track time is value in this sport.

"So, if you have six bikes out there, it would be very helpful."

Beyond that, KTM is likely only too well-aware that contractual headaches could rear their head again in the near future.

"And then of course there's always that one moment that you could get a rider [to MotoGP] and then it's good to have at least some open spots to work with," Beirer acknowledged.

Binder is already tied down beyond 2024, Acosta's continuation is surely non-negotiable - and you could make strong arguments that it would want to keep both Miller and Fernandez in the family as well.

But it would also be surely in play for various MotoGP free agents and Moto2 hopefuls, and could well see enough in the 32-year-old Espargaro next year in his limited appearances to want to bring him back full-time.

Pierer Mobility Group representatives in Moto2 2024

KTM Ajo - Celestino Vietti, Deniz Oncu
Gas Gas Aspar - Jake Dixon, Izan Guevara
Husqvarna Intact - Darryn Binder, Senna Agius


Could KTM fully maximise a bigger roster in its current situation, though? In Valencia, it was Miller who offered a surprising theory in that regard - suggesting that the Austrian firm should have reasons to doubt a Ducati-like effect.

"The guys in the factory would be a lot more busy - because we're not at the point at the moment where we can accommodate six bikes on the grid, or eight bikes on the grid," said Miller.

"Ducati are at that point because they've got a bike that hasn't changed all that much in the past three years, let's say. And they give the old stock to the up-and-coming riders or, let's say, the third-tier team and fourth-tier team. But, you know, they're working with four factory bikes essentially, like what we are, in terms of current model, and they have a long history of doing that. Whereas we're still at the point where we test something and we need it next week.

"And you can't do that with six factory bikes or five factory bikes. You can do that with two, maybe four at a push. But it takes a massive amount of cost, and it takes a massive amount of manpower.

"And then there's always going to be somebody who is not happy because they're not getting new stuff, and that's the way it goes."

The Ducati GP23 being a relatively small step compared to the Ducati GP22 was clearly an added advantage across the board for the Italian brand's riders this year - but one it could crucially afford to maintain.

In the meantime, the KTM RC16 evolved hugely through the year, including with the introduction of all-new carbon chassis for the works team, while Tech3 remained without them until the end of the campaign.

It has been reported by Speedweek.com that Tech3 team will be moved across to carbon chassis in 2024 - but there's every reason to think KTM's development curve will again be steeper than Ducati's, and that it will make in-weekend data sharing less valuable.


KTM doesn't sound deterred by the argument laid out by Miller - but, regardless of how much a third team would help it, the question remains of how it would get one.

Whether there's any real reason to expect Dorna may budge on its stance over an extra entry is likely something only KTM and Dorna higher-ups really know.

Bierer's acknowledgement that KTM also "needs to deserve" an added entry by building a bike as attractive as the Desmosedici indicates it is shopping in the existing pool of satellite teams. "We need to do a good job and make a good bike, and then you get another team," he said.

What team this could be, though, seems like an open question.

Excluding newcomer Trackhouse, long-standing Ducati partner Pramac and current Ducati partner/known Yamaha target VR46 only leaves Gresini and LCR.

The former has a Ducati deal running through 2025. The latter is committed to Honda until the end of 2024 and is known to have been sounded out by KTM this year.

But luring Cecchinello's team away from Honda is presumably much easier said than done - and the prospect of Honda losing its satellite outfit just as Yamaha looks set to finally secure a new partner team is one that feels like it'd play particularly badly with Dorna.

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