KTM launched their 2019 MotoGP campaign at their factory in Mattighofen, Austria today. They introduced the Red Bull Factory MotoGP team, and the Red Bull Tech3 satellite squad. They issued the following press release after the launch:
2019 MotoGP is Go! Red Bull KTM race teams show new colours in Austrian unveiling
Press releases from the factories and teams after the first MotoGP test of 2019 at Sepang:
KTM has 40 years less experience than Honda in premier-class Grand Prix racing, so what does the Austrian factory need to do to get closer to the front?
KTM had an impressive rookie season in 2017, but last year the Austrian factory stalled. And when prize signing Johann Zarco first tested the RC16 in November he was shell-shocked.
The arrival of Zarco at KTM is supposed to be the factory’s next big step because he is the strongest rider to sit on the RC16. But the Frenchman’s first outings on the bike suggest the gap between KTM and the front of the pack is still huge, so what did KTM learn from 2018 – and what does it need to do in 2019?
With two WorldSBK tests under our belts, we are now just days away from the 2019 MotoGP preseason starting. The entire MotoGP field, minus the injured Jorge Lorenzo, will take to the Sepang circuit on 6th February for three days of testing.
But before that, from 1st to 3rd of February – that's Friday through Sunday – the MotoGP factories will be present at Sepang for the first shakedown test of the year. Test riders from all six factories will take to the track, and will be joined by the riders for the factories with concessions, who are allowed unlimited testing.
The original point of the shakedown test was to allow factories to ensure that all of the parts they have brought for their contracted riders (e.g. full-time entries in MotoGP) to test are actually working, and do some preliminary preparation ahead of the official test. After all, the full-time riders cannot afford to waste a day while engineers and mechanics try to figure out why something which worked at the factory has ceased to work at the race track, for example.
The start of the year is traditionally a chance to look ahead, and make predictions for what is to come. But as an old Danish proverb, sometimes ascribed to the brilliant Danish physicist Niels Bohr, says, it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. To demonstrate just how hard, we will kick off the year taking a look back at predictions I made last year, and what I got wrong.
I started last year with an article in which I made three predictions for the 2018 season:
1. Marc Márquez wins more on his way to title number seven
He's going to win a lot of races in 2018 – my best guess would be eight or nine of the nineteen – and the way you win championships is by winning races.
This one, I got right. Marc Márquez did indeed go on to win the 2018 MotoGP championship by a comfortable margin, wrapping up the title at Motegi, in front of Honda's biggest bosses. And – more by luck than judgment – my guess for how many races Márquez would win was right on the money, the Repsol Honda rider racking up a total of 9 victories last year.
And the winner is... Takaaki Nakagami! Or at least the LCR Honda rider's name sit atop the timesheets at the end of the final day of the final MotoGP test of 2018. Which both counts for a lot, and counts for very little at the same time. The fact that Nakagami was able to do the time is proof that the 2018 Honda RC213V is a much better bike than the 2017 version which the Japanese rider spent last season on – see also the immediate speed of Franco Morbidelli, now he is on the Petronas Yamaha rather than the Marc VDS Honda. It was also proof that Nakagami – riding Cal Crutchlow's bike at Jerez – is a much better rider than his results on the 2017 bike suggest. And puts into perspective that this was the bike which Marc Márquez won the 2017 MotoGP title on.
But it also doesn't really mean very much. Testing is just testing, and the riders don't necessarily have either the inclination or the tire allocation to go chasing a quick lap time the way they do on a race weekend. Nobody wants to risk it all just to prove a point and get injured just before they go into the winter break. And with the top 15 within a second of one another, and the top 7 within a quarter of a second, the differences are pretty meaningless anyway.
It's been a difficult test at Valencia. The weather simply hasn't played ball. Tuesday started wet, took a few hours to dry out, then rain started falling around 3pm, meaning the riders effectively had around two and a half usable hours on track. Rain on Tuesday evening meant the track was wet on Wednesday morning, and in the chill of a November morning, it took a couple of hours before the track dried out enough for the riders to hit the track.
At least it stayed dry and sunny throughout the day, and the last couple of hours saw the best conditions of the test, times dropping until falling temperatures put paid to any thought of improvement. The teams may have lost time, but at least they had a solid four and a half hours of track time to work.
For half the factories, what they were focusing on was engines. Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki all brought new engines to test, and in the case of Yamaha and Honda, two different specs. Ducati was mainly working with a new chassis, aimed at making the bike turn better. Aprilia had a new engine and a new frame to try. And as usual, KTM had a mountain of parts and ideas to test.
With the announcement that Takaaki Nakagami has signed for an extra year with the Idemitsu LCR Honda squad, the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost finalized. Nakagami's signing brings the total of confirmed riders up to 21 of the total of 22 entries.
The only rider left to be confirmed officially is Tito Rabat. The Spaniard's serious leg injury, sustained at Silverstone, has caused a delay, with his contract extension expected to have already come earlier. There is no doubt that Rabat will get the final seat, though it will probably have to wait until he is fit enough to return again.
Below is the official line up for 2019:
It has been a big weekend of news for KTM at Jerez. First, there was Pol Espargaro extending his contract. Then the factory KTM team announced they had signed Johann Zarco. And now, the first seat at the KTM Tech3 team has been filled, with Miguel Oliveira moving up to MotoGP for 2019.
The Portuguese rider had been widely expected to make the move. Oliveira has progressed all the way through the KTM Red Bull project, from Moto3 to Moto2 and now up to MotoGP. He has been a consistent challenger in both Moto3 and Moto2, and has led KTM's charge in the Moto2 class, winning three races on the bike last year and finishing on the podium for the past two races.
Who the second rider at Tech3 will be is yet to be determined. Bradley Smith is determined to earn a seat back at Tech3, but will need to have a very strong season if he is to earn a place in the team. Oliveira's Moto2 teammate Brad Binder is another option, but he is yet to make a decision on his future, and he has been outperformed by Oliveira so far. But current Tech3 rider Hafizh Syahrin is probably the favorite to keep the ride, the Malaysian rider enjoying strong support from the Sepang International Circuit.
The press release from KTM appears below:
Miguel Oliveira signs for 2019 MotoGP chance with KTM Tech3