The Gran Premio Red Bull de España signaled a significant weekend for the future of KTM in the MotoGP™ paddock, with new signings, new contracts and a first premier class top ten of the year all coming in the space of four days. A very busy Spanish GP then for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, who now have three of their four MotoGP™ seats filled for 2019.
The first piece of the jigsaw puzzle to be put in place was the announcement that current MotoGP™ rider Pol Espargaro had put pen to paper on a new two-year deal, keeping him on the factory bike for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Then, on Thursday morning, the strong rumors that had surrounded the paddock for a while, were confirmed. Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was announced to have signed a two-year contract with KTM, meaning the Frenchman would leave Tech 3 to join Espargaro in the factory garage for - at least - the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. Speaking in Thursday’s pre-event Press Conference, Zarco explained that one of his reasons for making the switch was that he “he wanted the challenge” – undoubtedly a great move for KTM, with the excitement of what the double Moto2™ World Champion can do on the bike palpable amongst the MotoGP™ community.
Friday’s proceedings began – as usual – with FP1. However, it wasn’t just any other Free Practice session for KTM, as Espargaro ended the first free practice in a phenomenal P3, eventually ending the day tenth fastest. Sure signs the Austrian factory are making positive strides as they start the European leg of the season.
More news for KTM then followed. Speaking to motogp.com on Thursday, Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal hinted that an announcement could be imminent regarding their Moto2™ chassis future. Sure enough, the news that his Moto2™ Tech 3 Racing team would run KTM machines from 2019 onwards was made public on Saturday morning – with Tech 3 already confirmed as KTM’s official MotoGP™ Independent Team earlier this year.
Another rider confirmation was then released on Saturday, and with Poncharal confirming his MotoGP™ team would be a stepping stone to the factory team, the announcement that Miguel Oliveira would move up from the Red Bull KTM Ajo Moto2™ squad to the KTM Tech 3 team in 2019. His teammate is yet to be decided – one of the few missing jigsaw pieces left.
What about the bike KTM bike we’ll see on the MotoGP™ grid in 2019? KTM’s Official Test Rider Mika Kallio was a wildcard at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto, testing an early version of next year’s RC16. The Finn qualified a respectable 19th on Saturday, after showing promising pace throughout the weekend. Then, on Sunday, Kallio managed to earn KTM their first top ten finish of the season, battling with both Espargaro and Bradley Smith to claim P10 at the checkered flag. Hugely promising for KTM, who had a tougher start to 2018, before the Spanish GP.