Back in business: upgrades see KTM return to form in Italy

Hard work pays off for the Austrian manufacturer as a podium, double top five and three riders in the top 10 signal signs of progress

For the first time in 2021, we’ve seen a KTM finish on the podium. Two-time 2020 race winner Miguel Oliveira secured P2 at the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley to notch up his first rostrum in Red Bull KTM Factory Racing colours, as the Austrian factory’s chassis and fuel upgrades instantly bare fruit.

Before the Italian GP, KTM’s best result of the season was a pair of P5s – first by Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) in Portimao, then by Tech3 KTM Factory Racing’s Danilo Petrucci at Le Mans. It’s fair to say the beginning of the season has been challenging for MotoGP™’s most inexperienced manufacturer, but the hard work – both on track and at the factory – never stopped.

Miguel Oliveira, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley

Emerging out of pitlane for FP1 at Mugello was a “new generation” of KTM MotoGP™ bikes according to KTM Motorsports Director Pit Beirer, who pitlane reporter and tech guru Simon Crafar caught up with during FP2.

“Well I mean first of all, we haven’t been here last year, a big step in bike development from the year before to last year we could not see on this track so it was very interesting for our boys to be here this weekend with a new generation of bikes,” began Beirer. “In general, everybody has respect for this track, the riders love it, a super high-speed place here and all in all a difficult track, but so far so good, we have had a good practice, we had a good first practice this morning - we had a plan with the rear tyre, we used a fresh one, we have a good pace so far.

“This track this year is the corner speed and how you go into the straight and riders complained that we cannot pick up the bikes as early as the others and we lose ground the first meters. If you lose ground in the first meters, you lose ground on the straight.

“The Jerez test was a massive test for us, you talk about changes to the chassis and small parts and how you mount the engine and it looks like we made a step there. We have both versions in the garage this weekend, the riders still want to compare but I’m sure from what I see with the lap times is we have made a step. Let’s hope we can carry it to the next races.”



As we later found out, they definitely did make a step. We watched a rejuvenated Oliveira fend off Joan (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) for second place in what was a welcome return to the podium for the Portuguese star.

“We’re happy. We’re happy we could put this together, to be honest we’ve been close to a finish like this but on many occasions we aren’t able to finish the races,” said Oliveira, reacting to his race on After the Flag. “Yeah, a little bit of luck was needed and small details make the difference for us at the end of the day.

“The frame, the fuel, this is all small stuff that is helping the overall performance and now we’ve achieved this result I think it will give a real boost and some good motivation for the whole team because of the work they’ve been doing. I think that’s the most important thing, have this result as a base and keep scoring good points.”

Brad Binder, Miguel Oliveira, Franco Morbidelli, Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley

KTM’s updated chassis is what grabbed the main headlines, but a new fuel also saw Binder equal the all-time top speed record (362.4 km/h). A faster, more agile RC16 has been let loose and podium finisher Oliveira confirmed that race distance is something he and the team have been working on improving, and the new chassis brought to Mugello has made a difference in that department.

“At the end of the day we don’t have everything perfect but we are in a pretty good way. Long distance is something we focused on, this frame is a little bit gentler on the tyre, we’re able to a bit calmer and perform good over the laps, and we were able to do that. The target was achieved.”

Teammate Binder experienced a slightly trickier time on Sunday, especially in the opening exchanges. Even before the race had begun, the South African admitted he almost crashed and then contact with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) – which saw the eight-time World Champion slide out at Turn 5 – set his airbag off. The latter drama caused Binder to find it incredibly difficult to move around on the bike, and tuck in, so you can imagine the hindrance it caused until it deflated.

“Considering the chaos start to the race I had it was a really solid result to finish up with 5th place. On the lap heading to the grid I tucked the front on the third-to-last corner and almost crashed. I was really lucky when it hit the curb that it picked up and I was able to save it but, yeah, in general it was a bit more difficult than what I would have liked today,” commented Binder in his post-race debrief.

“I didn’t get the best of starts and then after that I was a little bit caution on the first couple of laps to make sure that the front tyre was OK and I had good heat into it. Obviously almost crashing on the out-lap is never fun! I didn’t do anything strange either and was going super slowly.

“So I wanted to make sure everything was good. Another thing: when Marc rode into the side of me my airbag went off and I rode with it on for a whole lap. As everyone knows with the airbag on you can barely breathe! You cannot move so much on the bike. It was really difficult and I lost a lot of time there as well. That made things tough but I got back into my own rhythm and pushed as hard as I could until the end and I was happy to bring it home in 5th.”

Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley

Binder also offered his thoughts on KTM’s upgrades, pointing out that they’ve found some much-needed “natural turning”, which helps preserve the tyre over race distance.

“One great thing with KTM is that they don’t like to come second, they want to win. All the guys back in the factory, the effort that goes into it behind the scenes is unbelievable. I’m super lucky to be in this situation where I have this amazing team behind me,” added Binder.

“It’s clear that they always try everything possible, and we make steps forward. This is not the end and they have a few things in their pocket, I’m sure. It’s a good place to be and lets keep this momentum going. Whenever we go in one direction we need to see how far we can push it. I’m sure they will be working flat-out to have some new things ready for us in the near future.

“The main point we improved with the new frame is that we found a little bit of natural turning. Obviously when the bike turns a little bit more natural and you don’t need to lie on the edge of the tyre as long it’s also better for the tyre over the race distance because you can get onto a bigger contact patch quicker and we can also get through the exit of the corners better. I’m happy with the step we have made and I think it is going to be good for us in the coming races.”

KTM have turned a corner in 2021, with Petrucci also earning his second top 10 in a row at Mugello. The Austrian factory are back in business as they now aim for more podium success for the rest of the season, starting in Barcelona this weekend.

Every practice session, qualifying battle and race, exclusive interviews, historic races and so much more fantastic content: this is VideoPass!