until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


KTM veteran has come too far to be its solution to 2024 headache

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

“It’s their problem, not mine!”

It was a hearty laugh, for a rider in a remarkably good mood given what he’d been through since the MotoGP season has started – started for everyone else but essentially not for him.

But that’s Pol Espargaro, and it is part of the reason KTM wanted him back into the fold. The situation has changed, though, since his horror Portimao crash sent him to the sidelines long-term – Augusto Fernandez has proven a perhaps stronger-than-expected MotoGP rookie, while Pedro Acosta made up his mind about a 2024 MotoGP graduation.

KTM’s works line-up of Brad Binder and Jack Miller is set in stone, both contractually and in pure performance logic. So, for 2024, Espargaro/Fernandez/Acosta became ‘three into two won’t go’ for the KTM RC16-running Tech3 Gas Gas team.

But for Espargaro it’s two into one, not three into two. His seat isn’t up for discussion.

Asked whether “not my problem” might become his problem after all, he said: “No. Not at the moment! I have a two-year contract.

“I’ve been injured, I’ve been not even thinking about this. My contract is fixed for two years.”

At his KTM peak, Espargaro is a faster proposition than a sophomore Fernandez or a rookie Acosta is likely to be. But nobody knows if that peak will be consistently accessible – there were flashes in the pre-season, but he was slightly behind the curve during the Portimao opener when he crashed and his first half of the season was crossed out.


It is a hideously small sample size, but Espargaro’s future was subject to much in the way of rumour and speculation following his injury – and, as ludicrous as that sounds, he is of a ‘chopping block’ age the way modern MotoGP is going, having turned 32 last month.

Austrian publication Speedweek, well-connected at KTM, floated the idea of Espargaro being offered a test rider gig with wildcards for 2024. KTM sporting boss Pit Beirer himself acknowledged Espargaro being test and reserve as a possibility – albeit down the line.

For 2024, there is no question – understandably so for Espargaro, who will rightly feel that, independent of how he hits the ground running once he returns, he will have earned the time to reach his potential on the RC16.

“KTM and Gas Gas for me, they are not like a team, they are a family,” he continued.

“I talk with Pit, with Hubert [Trunkenpolz, KTM director] like they are my friends. Honestly. We chat super open.

“We’ve been chatting, how the riders are doing, they were telling me what they think about new riders coming. I’ve talked with them quite honestly and nice.

“At the moment I’m just focused on recovering and coming back. But my contract, it’s still one year and a half [left], just I want to go back, do the results, and show them that I need to stay.

“If I don’t do better results or enough results to deserve to be here, I will be glad to move to the side and let a younger guy come in my place. But at the moment – I will prove that I still have some speed.”


Espargaro is convinced KTM (or Gas Gas, or the parent company Pierer Mobility Group – cross out as appropriate) has his back. That confidence seems well-founded – also because of how his recovery went.

“I have to admit that during that process I could never believe that KTM or Gas Gas or the Pierer Mobility Group would be behind me as much as they were.

“They did a lot of things that you guys don’t know. But they are unbelievable.

“If you asked me before that crash how they would react in the case of this kind of injury, I would never think that they would be so proactive with me as they have been in these three months. For that I am super glad and thankful.”

The Spaniard is also keen to talk up both Fernandez – the rider who may ultimately be left on the sidelines by the current movements – as “doing great” and “bringing so much good energies”, and stand-in Jonas Folger for holding the fort and cancelling plans with his girlfriend for Sachsenring once it became clear Espargaro wouldn’t be fit in time.

That kind of attitude from Espargaro is a big part of the reason he’s come back in, and a big part of the reason why it seems logical that his MotoGP career – already largely synonymous with his role as KTM ‘captain’ in the pre-Brad Binder years – will continue within the Pierer family, whether as full-timer, test rider, team boss, or whatever.


For now, though, his position as a talismanic figure for KTM can take a back seat to his personal ambitions as a MotoGP rider – because he’s coming back to an RC16 that’s better than any RC16 he’s ever ridden.

“I have to admit that at the beginning of the year in Argentina or America, I was not, I mean, worried to be out of racing because they were not doing so good results, so I said, ‘Ah, I’m not too bad here at home’. Then Jerez arrived, and that was painful!” said Espargaro, again laughing.

“I tell you, I was struggling to watch the races on TV.

“Jack started to be very quick where on the pre-season I have been on the level of Jack. And I started to see these guys doing what they were doing. And that was hard.”

There will be no painless solutions for KTM in its rider logjam. Getting Fernandez in at somewhere like Gresini feels a long shot, and asking him to accept what will hopefully be only a premier-class sabbatical would hurt a rider it clearly likes.

But Espargaro’s come too far, done too much for KTM and waited for too long not to get a proper crack with this version of the bike.

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