KTM’s plan to convince wary MotoGP riders to stay put

KTM “can’t write how people should feel,” says its motorsport manager Pit Beirer, but something will have to be done to ensure its rising stars feel good as MotoGP heads into a season potentially difficult with rivals likely to try to poach KTM riders.

Chief among the targets will be 2022 rookie Raul Fernandez, who was already the subject of frenzied political games between KTM and Yamaha in 2021 when it looked like Yamaha might have a chance to steal the Moto2 runner-up.

Still, despite Yamaha’s overtures potentially already being extended into next season, Beirer says KTM will fight hard to keep Fernandez in their ranks – although he’s not entirely certain that will work out.

“It’s something we can’t write,” explained the Motocross World Championship winner, “how people should feel or how long they should stay with us.

“We just work really hard. We want to put our heart on the table for our riders and do everything to make them happy.

“Last year was the most successful season in motorsport ever for our group, with 21 world titles, so we delighted a lot of drivers around the world, in the USA and in Europe. , in motocross and in rally.

“At Christmas, I was sitting at home looking at the newspaper and remembering that each of these titles is difficult. You don’t win a motocross title any easier than another title; it’s a lot of effort and manpower behind them.

“Sometimes if a rider wants to leave, it’s better to let him go even if he has a contract, because it’s not healthy to stay.

“With all this passion, we want riders who are on our side, but we can’t hold them forever, but I would like to keep them for as long as possible.

“Last night I had dinner with Marvin Musquin, and he’s 11 with us. It’s nice to have these guys with long-term relationships with us winning races for us.

“With Raul we talked a lot, but he’s a very young man. He grew up so fast on the track, but they don’t have the chance to have a normal development like normal youngsters. Every time they take off their headphones, there is a camera or a microphone, and a lot of people ask them questions.

“Coming out of a relaxed situation, with their heart rate at 180 bpm, they get a camera and they say something and boom, that’s a headline.

“Raul is such a nice guy, but he’s very emotional, very sexy. It’s our job to convince him that the right thing is to stay with us, that we’re the best place to be.

It comes after a tense end to last season in particular, as Fernandez and Remy Gardner, with whom he shares the Tech3 MotoGP box again in 2022, battled it out for the Moto2 title.

Fernandez hit out the day after Gardner’s win to accuse KTM of favoring the Australian – a situation Beirer was quick to defuse when KTM unveiled its 2022 lineup and livery this week.

“When you have two fantastic runners for the same goal, there will be friction,” he insisted.

“It’s something that we had to learn as a group in many disciplines. If you have champions and they want to win, they try to bring the team to their side, but we as a team or manufacturer are just trying to help all those boys; they are like our children, and in the end they just need to fight on the right track.

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“I think the best thing to do at the time was not to comment and just let things calm down because the boys had stressed themselves out so much.

“Of course when you can win a championship, one guy is super happy and another isn’t, and then of course he’s not happy.

“It’s clear, but I can confirm now that everything is fine. We were in Austria this week and everyone was seated at a table, the four riders and the team leaders. It will not be a subject of discussion. But of course they are going to have the same problem again, because each of them wants to be the best.

And in the spirit of both solving this problem and working to retain these riders beyond their current contract expiration dates at the end of this year, Beirer says there is only ‘one surefire way: to create a completely level playing field not just across the satellite. The Tech3 team but among KTM’s four premier class pits.

“We have four riders under contract,” said Beirer of Fernandez, Gardner, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, “and we have a long-term vision starting with the MotoGP Academy and the Red Bull Rookies. You know that history and you you don’t need to repeat it.

“We’ve taken another step in the project now, with these young guys coming out of Moto2 and MotoGP, and we see them as four riders. In the end it’s not as easy as it looks because you need a enormous amount of material and in the end it is a huge project to bring our 40 people plus all the engineers from the factory together with the Tech3 team.

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“They are used to working quite independently, but from day one we told Hervé [Poncharal, Tech3 team boss] that we would like to make it a strong association, and open our businesses to each other. We looked at his budget, what was missing to address it, and with an open book philosophy, he told us that he trusted us and wanted to be part of our team.

“We tried to make a platform for four riders, and my perfect scenario one day would be that the riders don’t care if they’re sitting on this side or the other side of the garage. I don’t know if it is possible to achieve this, but we are working very hard on it.

“There is no technical limit for one of the four drivers, and even in the future there may be one day a part of which we only have one, and the best of the four will have it first. We are closer than ever.

This is something KTM must be acutely aware of given that the next top talent due to arrive in MotoGP is currently under contract with the team, in the form of rookie Moto3 champion Pedro Acosta.

Dominating the class in his rookie year in 2021 and set to join Moto2 in 2022, he too will soon be coming in search of a MotoGP seat – with the pressure on Beirer’s team that he plans to stay with KTM.

“That’s the problem with the luxury we have,” Beirer laughed at the excess talent. “We’ve done so much junior work that we’re growing young riders, and we’re getting a big compliment that other factories want them too. Every time you sign a new contract, it’s a test.

“The first reward for us is confidence when a rider signs another contract, and most of these guys around us, the four MotoGP riders on our bikes, have all signed a second or third contract with us already. we didn’t force them to do it, they did it. With Pedro it’s the same.

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“He’s so young and he’s a super talent – of course the others want him. I don’t want to lie to you and I don’t know exactly how long his contract is, but that’s not why I want him to stay.

“I want him to think we are a good partner for him, and I hope he feels the same this season when the attack comes from other constructors.

“But we can’t force him, we can just try to do our best to make him feel comfortable. He’s also a special guy and a nice guy – to have a smile from him in the pits is refreshing, and even through the tough times and the ups and downs of the last year, he’s never lost his smile .

About Frances R. Smith

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