Brad Binder recently excelled in the Czech GP when he took his first win in MotoGP, and also brought the first victory to the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team in the premier class. Moreover, on this hot August Sunday, the Austrian manufacturer confirmed its right to play serious players on the field.
Binder’s success is no coincidence. If not for the collision with Joanne Zarco, Paul Espargaro could have taken the podium place. A conversation with KTM Motorsport Director Pete Bairer about how KTM turned their RC16 from middling into a winner, and where Brad Binder came from.
In 2017, KTM exhibited a completely new prototype for MotoGP. What is the RC16?
We wanted to make a MotoGP bike in our own way. The project was based on the fundamentals of KTM – the tubular chassis and WP suspension. It was clear from the very beginning, but in terms of the engine we had a wide field for creativity – we could use a V-shku or an in-line.
What was your motivation for making a motorcycle so different from others?
We were never afraid to go our own way. We have a wealth of experience on our side, and we have participated in many sports disciplines with our tubular chassis. Sometimes we weren’t successful from the beginning, but we always ended up getting what we wanted. After all, racing is racing, and with that in mind, we came to Moto3 with a tubular frame in 2012, and in the end we were successful.
Sounds like you knew from the beginning in MotoGP what you wanted to achieve?
We knew this was a huge step for us. We started from scratch and made almost everything ourselves: chassis, engine, suspension, electronics … We studied competitors’ cars, but the idea of a full cycle of development and manufacture and how our motorcycle differs from others did not allow us to copy other people’s solutions. In a sense, you can “buy” technology – for example, for the development of electronics, we offered a job to an engineer from McLaren who worked on F1 – and he believed in us and took it. We, of course, surrounded him with motorcycle specialists.
Experience does not accept compromises?
Exactly. Our set of experiences also went our own way – we studied the track, collected data on dry and wet surfaces. It’s funny that we immediately made a good base, and the main problem was the human factor – in the motivation of the riders.
Paul Espargaro described the KTM RC16 in words “wild bull”… What are the differences between the 2019 RC16 and 2020?
The KTM RC16-2020 is an evolution of the 19 version. We knew he was competitive, but we were getting ready to test it on the track. He was always good in terms of braking, including when entering a corner, but our riders did not keep the trajectory and opened too late. The breakthrough this year was improved steering. And finally, our guys can maintain the perfect trajectory. Brad came to MotoGP at just the right moment – the 2020 RC16 is very beginner-friendly.
How do you rate Dani Pedrosa’s contribution?
Mika Kallio’s experience in the first two seasons, combined with Dani’s experience in MotoGP, proved to be critical for the next step – to close the gap with the favorites and create a friendly bike. Paul (Espargaro) also made a huge contribution. In a way, he was the one who deserved KTM’s first win. He believed in our project from the very beginning, did all the dirty work at the beginning of development and fought like a lion with problems. He has a hot temperament and we sometimes had to cool him down. But winning with Binder is something special.
Binder – a creation of the KTM Riders program?
Exactly. In 2017, we came to MotoGP and Moto2 for one simple reason: KTM is a family. In the off-road disciplines, we have always supported the growth of our young talents and stayed together in all categories. This is one of our strengths. Until 2017, this was not possible in asphalt racing. We looked for talent through the Red Bull Rookies Cup, supported them in Moto3 – and had to say goodbye to them as they continued to develop. It was painful – and it was one of the main reasons for our participation in the three classes and the Rookies Cup. As a result, the Moto3 champion Brad Binder made his debut in 2017 in Moto2 with our help, and this year in MotoGP. And we can proudly say that our plan was a success – the pleasure of seeing Brad in the first place was incredible.
What’s so special about Brad?
First, he is a member of the KTM family. And his parents – too, it was a long journey together. Brad has two roles: off-track he is a polite, simple and friendly guy. But when he lowers the visor, he is a racing monster that lives only here and now. If you are not a fighter, you have nothing to do in the Premier League.
How is he different from Paul?
Paul is a lion on the track. He always pushed his boundaries, risked his life every time he went to the track. Riding fast requires a brave rider, and his input was essential. Brad is different. He showed up at the right time and got a friendly, well-trained and well-trained bike.
Binder learned MotoGP incredibly quickly. What was his first impression?
I was impressed by his feedback – he liked our bike literally from the first test. I must admit that after the Jerez race, Brad told me “We have the best bike of all”… He’s a newbie, I thought, and didn’t say anything to anyone. But his attitude, his trust in the bike and his way of thinking helped both him and the whole team.
On Sunday you compete in the home GP of KTM and Red Bull. Is it realistic to count on a pedestal?
The win in Brno showed the level of the bike, but it was dry there and there were no serious accidents in front of us. Let’s stay realistic.
Are you ready to chase some serious guys? Afraid of losing your concessions?
We tested several engines over the course of a few days and it was good. Some tests lasted a whole month, and the tests in Brno before the race week helped us a lot. But we are ready to ride without any preliminary tests. And the loss of the concession means that we have reached a new level.
Next year you will have two riders from the KTM program, Binder and Miguel Oliveira. This is a unique situation. Aren’t you afraid that someone will repeat it?
This is a unique situation that is not easy to repeat. For example, racing Moto2 is not an easy task. We built the chassis – but we wanted to, so as not to say goodbye to the rider who won with us in Moto3. Moto2 is an intermediate stage for MotoGP. I don’t think anyone will be able to repeat this easily. Plus, we do everything ourselves, even the suspensions – this speeds up the development process. The level of heat in MotoGP is incredible – one second kicks you out of the top 20.
What’s your goal?
It has not changed: we want several of our riders to finish in the top ten on a regular basis, and at least one in the top five.
In the wake of this victory, are you planning a MotoGP replica or a supersport on your V4?
This is not on our agenda at the moment. We continue to explore MotoGP and bring technology to our production models. We have more important tasks than making a replica of a MotoGP bike.