Test riders are one of the most crucial elements of success for any modern MotoGP team. As testing has been restricted for the factory riders, to cut costs and make a more level playing field for the smaller manufacturers in MotoGP, the importance of having a genuinely fast test rider has grown. In the past, test riders would be 3 seconds off the pace of the factory riders. Now, test riders have to be capable of worrying the multi-million dollar faces of the factory, and making onlookers wonder why other teams or factories haven't signed them up to a permanent contract.
The reasons behind this shift are fascinating. Over the next couple of weeks, we will have a series of interviews with factory bosses on how important their test riders have been to the development programs of KTM, Suzuki, and Ducati. We will round off the series with an interview with Michele Pirro, the unsung hero of Ducati's test program, and the man who did most of the donkey work to get the Desmosedici GP18 where it is today.
We start off with KTM MotoGP team boss Mike Leitner, however. The Austrian was brought in to lead KTM's MotoGP project from the very beginning, after a brief period away from racing when he left the Repsol Honda team, where he had been crew chief for Dani Pedrosa. Leitner was instrumental in driving the direction of the KTM RC16, and was responsible for recruiting Mika Kallio as a test rider, after the Finnish rider was left without a Moto2 ride at the end of 2015.