KTM have decided to replace Johann Zarco effective immediately. From Aragon until the end of 2019, current KTM test rider Mika Kallio will take the place of the Frenchman in the factory Red Bull KTM team.
Though the decision comes as a surprise to the outside world, it makes sense from the perspective of KTM. Zarco has announced his intention to leave at the end of the season, and given his options are limited for 2020, is looking at becoming a test rider, and has been linked to a possible vacancy at Yamaha. With so much work happening on the KTM RC16, and a constant flow of new parts in the garage, KTM have decided it is better to have test rider Mika Kallio on the bike than keeping Johann Zarco.
Zarco hinted at these motives on Sunday night at Misano. He told reporters he did not expect to receive new parts for the rest of 2019, and said he would not be taking part at a two-day test planned for Aragon after the race. "There will be a test at Aragon and I won't do it because it will be with a totally new bike and I am not any more in the confidence of KTM to be able to do this," Zarco said.
It is also a good move for Kallio and KTM. Kallio has made no secret of his desire to return to racing, and focused very hard on preparing the wildcard appearances he made last year. That was the reason KTM decided to scale those wildcards back, as they felt they were losing too much pure testing time to Kallio's desire to get ready for a race. This move allows Kallio to race, while also sharpening his speed to help improve his pace in testing.
Though Zarco will no longer be racing for KTM in 2019, the Austrian factory did say in the press release that they would 'honor his contract', code for paying out his salary for the rest of the year.
Kallio replacing Zarco in 2019 does not necessarily mean he will replace the Frenchman in 2020 as well. KTM have not made a decision on who will team with Pol Espargaro for next season. At Misano, Pit Beirer told me that he did not expect to make an announcement until much later in the year. In the meantime, the rumor mill will continue to grind.
The press release from KTM appears below:
Mika Kallio replaces Johann Zarco for the rest of 2019 MotoGP
Red Bull KTM will field current test rider Mika Kallio alongside Pol Espargaro for the remainder of the 2019 MotoGP campaign and starting from this weekend’s Gran Premio Michelin de Aragon and post-race test.
Kallio assumes Johann Zarco’s factory spot. Johann and KTM decided to mutually end their association at the end of 2019 but developments and on-going work mean that priorities have been realigned. The Frenchman will be exempt from his MotoGP duties but stays contracted to KTM until the end of the season.
KTM are in a crucial phase of the MotoGP project with an intense focus on the next generation of the RC16. Thanks to Kallio’s long-term testing role and experience the Finn will play a major part in gaining valuable data in racing conditions alongside Espargaro, who has posted seven top ten results in 2019 and qualified second on the grid at the last Grand Prix in San Marino.
Kallio - who rode the KTM on its debut in the MotoGP division in Valencia 2016 and has contributed strongly since the early testing phases of the RC16 - has already participated in seven wild card races from 2016 until 2018. With two top ten classifications on the MotoGP bikes and a career total of 16 GP victories and 49 podiums in the lower championship divisions, Kallio is eager to deliver new drive and momentum to KTM’s efforts in the premier class both for the rest of 2019 and with a view to the 2020 RC16.
Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director: "We have to make decisions to ensure that we use our resources in the best possible way and we are currently in a positive direction with our MotoGP structure. We firmly believe that Mika can help us in this stage thanks to his knowledge and background. It is paramount that we verify our testing results in real race conditions to start our 2020 season in the best position. Mika has proved his ability on the RC16 and we are happy that he joins the line-up as a racer again. There is no doubt that we will focus on a new configuration with the #82 bike while fighting for points in the last races of the championship. At the same time we want to express gratitude to Johann for his effort since he joined our ambitious project in November last year. We now have to think of the future and are making this step accordingly. KTM will continue supporting him until the expiry of our contract at the end of the 2019 and we truly wish him all the best for his future."