"Our Most Hated Rival" - KTM's Long Feud With Honda

Team launches are always a little combative. They are, after all, the places where factory bosses, team managers, and riders stake out their intentions for the coming season. They loudly proclaim that they are in it to win it, that their goal is to be champions sooner rather than later, and that they are plainly superior to their competition, both in talent and in engineering prowess and ingenuity. Team launches are a place for hyperbole.

Even by normal standards, though, the words spoken at KTM's team launch were more than ordinarily abrasive. In an interview with Austrian broadcaster Servus TV, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer took plenty of potshots at his rivals. He boasted of KTM passing BMW in terms of sales, adding that beating them in racing would be hard, "because they don't race any more". He spoke of competing against the Japanese manufacturers. "We love racing, and we love beating the Japanese manufacturers."

But Pierer reserved his sharpest ire for Honda. Speaking of the surprise decision to compete in Moto2, he joked that the spec Moto2 engine was supplied by "our most hated rival Honda". He also noted that KTM's entry into MotoGP brought balance to the MSMA, the manufacturers' group which has a vote in the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule making body. With three European manufacturers against three Japanese manufacturers, they were in a position to prevent Honda from bulldozing through proposals.

"Honda tries everything," Pierer told Servus TV. On the one hand with money, they shower the promoter with cash, and if that doesn't help, they pull all sorts of tricks. Now there's a balance in the Grand Prix Commission. That's important."

Ancient history

Why the venom for Honda? The two manufacturers have a long history of conflict, in many of the series they have raced in. But the feud started in earnest with the birth of Moto2. After great success in 125s, KTM had entered the 250cc class with a two-stroke twin and met with immediate success. Hiroshi Aoyama and Mika Kallio had both won races on the innovative parallel twin, and KTM had been extremely innovative with the machine, also debuting fuel injection on the bike.

So when the FIM and Dorna came up with a plan to replace the 250cc class with 600cc four strokes, and the class that would eventually become Moto2, KTM were furious. The Austrian factory, like many others in the paddock, sensed the hand of Honda behind the decision, as Honda had a long and illustrious history of hating two strokes, and trying to kill them off.

In the late 1970s, Honda had tried but failed to compete with two strokes using the remarkable oval-pistoned NR500, but that bike was never fast enough or reliable enough to beat the two strokes. Honda had been forced to admit defeat and built the NS500, which would go on to become the world-beating NSR500. But their historic aversion to two-stroke engines remained, and so the move to reboot the intermediate class as a four-stroke class immediately raised suspicions of a Honda plot.

When the Moto2 class was announced, KTM immediately pulled out of Grand Prix racing, dropping their 250cc team for the 2009 season, then pulling out of 125s a year later. KTM vowed revenge on Honda, and withdrew to Austria to mull over their future.

Best served cold

When the Moto3 championship was announced, KTM seized the opportunity with both hands. While Honda had built a mildly-tuned engine down to a budget, to stay within the price cap imposed by Dorna, KTM built a thoroughbred racing bike using their 250cc four-stroke motocross engine as a starting point. They won the inaugural Moto3 championship in 2012 with Sandro Cortese, and would have had a clean sweep of the top three had it not been for the remarkable talent of Maverick Viñales, who got the horribly underpowered FTR Honda to do things which were entirely improbable.

Honda was furious, and accused KTM of being unfair. They were violating the spirit of the rules, said HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto, by building an expensive race bike rather than a cheap machine for nurturing talent. KTM were unimpressed by this, pointing out that the rulebook said nothing about the spirit of the rules.

In 2013, KTM supplied all of the top talent in Moto3, sweeping the championship once again. The rules were altered to force manufacturers to supply identical engines to any team which had signed a contract, in an attempt to prevent some teams having de facto factory status, and an unfair advantage.

Anything you can do, I can do better

It was Honda's turn to extract revenge. Throughout the 2013 season, Honda kept putting off an announcement of their plans for 2014, causing many Honda Moto3 teams to lose their nerve and switch to KTM for the 2014 season. This suited Honda, as they had a trick up their sleeves. For 2014, they would supply just six riders, but they supplied them with the all-new Honda NSF250RR, a full factory machine capable of stomping on the competition.

Honda had accused KTM in 2013 of circumventing the price cap rules, by supplying a cheap engine but charging €200,000 for a chassis and support. Their bikes in 2014 cost double that, and nearly half a million euros by 2015, despite both engine and chassis having a price cap. Alex Márquez took the title on a Honda, beating Jack Miller on a KTM.

For 2015, the rev limit was reduced from 14,000 RPM to 13,500, forcing KTM to build a new engine for the Moto3 class. At the end of the season, in which Danny Kent became Moto3 world champion on a Honda with the Kiefer team, KTM's racing director Pit Beirer accused Honda of cheating by exceeding the rev limit. That turned out to be an artifact of the Dell'Orto spec ECU, and the way the Honda engineers were managing the transition into the rev limit. KTM's accusations were rejected by Dorna after studying the data.

In 2016, it was KTM's turn to get their own back, Brad Binder winning the Moto3 championship with ease, and with four races to spare. Honda had no answer, and no riders capable of providing an answer to the domination of Binder and the Red Bull Ajo KTM team.

A feud for the ages

Stefan Pierer's remarks need to be seen in the context of this long and bitter history. The blood feud which exists between KTM and Honda is alive and well, and likely to continue into the future. An observer prone to conspiracy theories might even suggest that KTM's RC16 MotoGP bike bears so many similarities to the Honda RC213V for a very good reason. KTM will surely want to beat Honda in MotoGP, but to do it with a version of their bike which is like Honda's, but better, would be sweetest.

Rivalries are a key part of any sport, and alive and well in MotoGP. Pierer's attack on Honda at the launch of KTM's MotoGP project is a timely reminder that rivalries exist just as much between factories as they do between riders.


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Total votes: 43
Total votes: 47

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Comments

I like it. Moto3 has been amazing partly because of this.

Another stark reminder of what Moto2 could have been...

Total votes: 88

This type of article is one of the main reasons why I subscribe to David's site.

I've been a follower of 500/MotoGP racing for 40 years but it's rare to learn some of the inside information which many journalists seem to be afraid to tell their readers.

Thanks David and keep it up. Please keep us informed of what's happening behind the scenes in the MotoGp world which we all love.

Maxwell

 

Total votes: 40

If Aprilia had 50% of austrians PR success, they would rule the world. The only thing, beside Dakar,  KTM really excells is PR and marketing. 

Total votes: 35

It also seems like KTM exceeds in winning Championships in GP's lower classes. 

Total votes: 27

There really is no evidence to back your statement.

Take a look at the Motocross championships. 1st 2 titles came in 1977 and 78. There 3rd, 4th and 5th came in the 80s. By the 00s KTm were winning 33% of the championships, and since 2010, they've won 66%.
Maybe part of the rivalry goes back to the 70s/80s, when the Austrian factory was really starting to be competitive at world level. Guess which company was dominating during those decades?

Total votes: 24

KTM have ever entered, in whatever discipline, they've got to the top of it. Yes their iinitial four stroke MotoGP forey was badly miscalculated on a financial level but, like Ducati, they have a very deep racing DNA-a racing company who happen to make road bikes if you like.

it's so refreshing to see another European company stepping up to the ultimate challenge and whilst I greatly admire all that Honda has done (I ride one, along with a Guzzi, which I adore), I cannot disagree with anything they said about Honda, they have always had a bullying streak.

Gonna be a great season and THANK YOU David, that was a superb article..

Total votes: 33

Aprilia won 20+gp titles, and 3 WSBK titles I think. IMO Aprilia is most underrated bike producer in the world. KTM won a few. I can't imagine what a gigantic task this is, against Honda&Co. but they won a few against 20 of Aprilia. And we are reading whata a magnificent sport contender they are? The thing that buggs me most regarding KTM is, that they never had the balls to enter superbike and face the road going competition. They made an awsome bike, RC8, but it never went head to head against Ducatis Suzukis and Yamahas in the WSBK. Aprilia tried with RSVmille and failed. They came back with RSV4 and won. BMW tried and failed. KTM never even tried. And their fascinating sales numbers, beating the bmw...soo much of KTMs are small capacity dukes built&sold in Asia. Comparing  selling numbers of R1200G/S and KTM Adventures is silly. BMW wins 5:1. But boy can they spin the news like no other. 

 

I just might get me a used SM-T990 or mabye an 1190 adventure one day, couse they re verry good bikes. but still, KTM are best in bragging and looking awsome. 

Total votes: 19

This has me really excited. of corse there are plenty of issues that could come of this but overall I love the idea of a CEO more or less declaring all out war on a competteter. Especially when they have the means to do something amazing. I always worry about factories getting into the sport without the backing of the entire organization. No money for agressive development, no money for a good rider and poof a self fulfilling prophecy of poor results with no hope of having this be worth our wile.

KTM seems to be committed and i think that's awesome. Honda has money but KTM seems to be a company with allot of tallent and the management to guide that tallent. Honda is an amazing factory but like so many "large" organizations I wonder if they get bogged down with bureaucracy and stifling innovation.

In any case I really hope KTM becomes a serious contender for no other reason then raising the bar on the other factories. 

Thank you for all the amazing work David!

Total votes: 31

Another amazing article. So much context added here after reading very short articles on other sites speaking to what KTM's CEO said during their launch. MotoMatters gives you the full meal and desert while others just tease you with an appetizer and never bother to refill your drink :)

Ill be a site supporter once again by next week.

I also have to say that I'm of the opinion that these sort of rivalries are not only great entertainment but supply the very essence of what motorsport thrives on. I'm glad to see there are still people with big enough stones to speak their minds. I hope this is the begining of great new story in the top class. I just became an overnight fan of KTM. 

Total votes: 34

KTM owns Motocross and is outselling Honda and all the others here in the U.S.  They win every catagory in bike tests and make up most of the privateer gates at the races.  They also seem to own the enduro catagories as well. Pretty amazing when you think that ten years ago they didn't have the best bike in any catagory (with the exception of the 300xc which is a sort of niche bike).

Also a bit ironic that Pit Beirer was a factory Honda rider...

Total votes: 28

SuperBikePlanet is also reporting that KTM is also planning to supply bikes to a satellite team in 2018. Have to say im impressed with how quickly they are stepping up their game in Moto2 and GP. Showing Suzuki and Aprilia how its done. 

Total votes: 21

A few things excite me most:

1) the bigger structural/power shift changing rule making dynamics that were shite for our beloved sport.

2) KTM in Moto2 with...

3) ...Binder in the seat.

4) The coming Moto2 engine change to a narrower one w much more grunt, and

5) a secondary shake up in who is doing what and how in the middleweight class.

6) Rider pipeline KTM has set up

My expectations of the KTM MotoGP project are moderate for the first two seasons. It has started off fine as per P.Espargaro's pace and reliability. It ought to get mid pack before Binder gets on it.

I enjoy the "best of the rest" battle behind the top four. I am excited about a Vinales/Marquez - Yamaha/Honda war. And the rest chewing off tenths and crapping out bygone limitations for two years.

Ducati and Lorenzo is an odd mix. It does not have the right look. There is another young rider here that is more of a rear wheel blaster, bar banging, ride around the problems sort and he will get Ducati consistently up front.

Or, I am overjoyed to witness Jorge/Gabarrini/Gigi/Bologna prove me wrong.
Or, that new youngster goes (from Tech3?) to Suzuki instead and I am even MORE pleased.
Or, this KTM MotoGP works next year and Binder ends up being what Vinales was for Suzuki when he arrives.

Current trends are awesome. Up and comers are up and coming. Tighter field. More variation in strategy. Better and bigger battles. We could have Rossi - Honda follow in 2nd then take off to win everything followed by a gap in which we should just give the next guy 3rd place, then an occasional Illmore fart in the wind to ponder.

Letting go of "the ideal" allows for rich appreciation. Not trying to be right via reinforcing what has been can make way for possibility. I can even see a potential for #46 to shift into a very positive role that includes support for Vinales along with his Italian kids. Feel free to disagree, but please be watchful for how the old guy goes out - he us good at this sort of stuff and always surprises.

Oh, and f#ck you Honda for the rule dominance
Love it!

*****
You voted: 5 Total votes: 863

Total votes: 39

This is the tickling thing for me. You have Italy/Italy/Austria on one side of the table and Japan/Japan/Japan on the otherside with Spain as presiding judge. The play that KTM have brought to the sport is fantastic. The sooner Honda gets bunked out of the intermediate class as sole engine supplier, the better. It should be a free for all class like M3. M2 should be 500cc 2 cylinder class, 81mm bore. End of story. The logic is plain to see ...cost cutting and a greater spectacle, viewership and stepping stone for potential tallent. By all manner of means, Dorna must impliment this strategy and with a balanced GPC, Manufacturer weighted, this can be achieved. A Moto 2 class seeing L-2 Honda's,Desmo Ducati's and KTM's against parrallel twin Yamaha's and Suzuki's may even entice Kawasaki to engage.

As I restore my old 500 Pantah. Cheers! And kudos to David,the website and KTM.

Total votes: 30

As long as Dorna keeps dumbing down the tech regs, teams like KTM stand a chance, not much of one, but a chance. I look for them to plateau at half a second behind Honda and Yamaha in a couple of years , then slowly start falling further behind the big 2 only to pull out when legally capable of doing so. They talk a big game now, but unless they can convince Dorna to stagnate development that allows them to compete, they will never be a contender in GP.   I remember not to long ago, a team with all the backing they could ask for took a shot at F1. This team had dominated every series they ever entered and everyone assumed they would do the same on the largest stage. That team was Toyota and they never cracked the code, KTM will suffer the same fate. This aint dirt bikes.

Total votes: 29

has always done well.  In the 70s, they built for Penton in the US.  When the silver market went, KTM took over the bikes Mr Penton  developed.

I did NETRA Enduros in the 80s. Back then Husqvarna was the bike to have until Cagiva bought them and ruined parts distribution.   KTM had caught up and took over Enduros.  

Now, KTM is the enduro bike to have.   The Japanese no longer do them so people modify a motocross bike but the transmission isn't as well suited.

They've always had great motors. Back in the 80s, the KTM 495 (2 stroke) was a beast!

It's nice to see them doing well in other racing.

Total votes: 23

but KTM's sponsor seem to disagree with Pierrer though,.. they are sponsoring HOnda in wsbk

Total votes: 24

A warmed-over street-bike engine in a custom chassis - that's when I take a break from the broadcasts.

A 500cc twin cylinder prototype engine formula - the sound of a V and parallel twins from multiple mfgs - now THAT would be interesting.

Total votes: 27

Thanks for the great article!

Rivalries are indeed a key part of any sport, and alive and well in MotoGP. But most of the time MotoGP rivalrie between manufacturers is hard to spot in public. Besides on the level of technical development, thinks tends to be really dull. I think that is because:

- Japanese domination (cultural aspect of showing respect and not showing off too much)

- The small amount of manufacturers involved. Simply put, they are aware they need each other to put up a trustworthy all starts wrestling show every sunday. We all remember the ugly late 1990's where it was not possible to get enough bikes lined up

- The effectivity of backdoor politics in rulemaking

- The desired corporate branding. All manufacturers are their for one reason: branding. Dominant parties like Honda and Yamaha have a mass to serve, in different countries and with different cultures. The last thing they want is to hurt their corporate branding being involved with shouting, disrespect, fights and using big words.

KTM however, strong behaviour suits them perfectly. It is also part of the motocross scene where they come from. The fill in a nich with fressness, aggressivenes, almost obnoxious designs. Their bikes are not for everybody, but for the ones that like to stand out. And their businessmodel is lined up with that intention. That is their place and they are attracted by a sponsor (Red Bull) with is looking for a similar image. 

I like it! in my opinion they do this al lot better then Aprilia. Aprilia feels like a nice party, if Piaggio was in fact not one of the larges parties involved. In my opinion they fail to capatalize on their motogp effort in creating an unique position out of it. And I say this as a RSV4 owner!

 

 

 

 

 

Total votes: 24

I'll be interested to see how they go in Motogp. I wouldn't underestimate KTM's engineering smarts, determination or attitude - that part of the world has a quality engineering base...If they want to win, though, they'll need to pay for an alien rider - but not just quite yet. 

Total votes: 19

This year an innocuous single word was added to the rule book to welcome KTM it might seem and just to pour salt in an old wound.

The simple single word "only" was added in front of an existing phase.

For years the rules simply said that the championship is for motorcycles propelled by an internal combustion engine.  Now they have added the word only in front of propelled to somehow make it more clear that no altertaives would be permitted.

A few years back KTM introduced a KERS system on their 125 machines. It looked promising at a wild card appearance and young rider named Marquez was testing it out ahead of the next season. Then it was banned just before the first race after a meeting of the Grand Prix Comission.  

There had been no need to add any clarification to this rule since then but for some reason the powers at be decided it was necessary now for 2017...

 

https://motomatters.com/news/2009/02/03/ktm_testing_kers_on_125s.html

 

https://motomatters.com/news/2009/03/28/ktm_s_kers_system_banned_in_125s...

Total votes: 22

You'd think some of you didn't want a new brand in MotoGP! The point here is, a few years ago the rules were a mess and very gradually they have been brought to a level where more manufacturers have felt it is worth their while and can see a more level playing field than previous years. Ok Kawasaki bunked and saw the value in shifting most of their resources to WSBK with great success (other than Ducati, a proper factory effort though). The test times suggest there's a great season all the way down the field approaching with everybody having something to play for.

The point of whether KTM sell more bikes than BMW is completetely invalid-seen the size of BMW's total company? they could own MotoGP if they chose...let's wish KTM well, let's hope they have a Quixote punt at the established windmills and, to make the point again, when they've gotten serious in the classes they've decided to get serious in, they beat everyone. Red Bull aren't short of cash and their owner is a rabid enthusiast that WILL put an Austrian brand first if he decides to-and can afford it! That includes Honda who, if we are talking about the PR machine are as, ahem, as prolific as anyone....

Total votes: 20