It had been widely trailed, and long expected, but KTM have finally confirmed that Dani Pedrosa has agreed to be a test rider for the Austrian factory for the next two seasons. Pedrosa will take on the role alongside current test rider Mika Kallio.
Rumors that Pedrosa would take on a testing role with KTM have been circulating for some time, ever since it became clear that Pedrosa would not be part of the Repsol Honda team. The Spaniard had been linked to the Petronas Yamaha seat as well, but in the end, he felt that some of the joy had gone out of racing, and he didn't feel he had the intensity to keep racing beyond the end of this year.
That KTM should sign Pedrosa as a test rider is not that surprising. Mike Leitner, KTM's MotoGP team manager, was Pedrosa's crew chief with Repsol Honda up until 2014, after which Leitner left to work on KTM's MotoGP project. Leitner knows Pedrosa extremely well, and has spoken highly of his sensitivity to the bike.
This familiarity with Pedrosa was one reason Leitner signed Mika Kallio as a test rider. In an interview with MotoMatters earlier this year, Leitner explained that smaller riders, like Pedrosa and Kallio, have to have a better feeling for the bike, as they cannot compensate with their body weight for what the bike is doing. Kallio "was already riding the bikes with a lot of technique," Leitner told me. "So most of these [smaller] riders have a very good feeling for a bike, a good understanding." Leitner and KTM will hope that Pedrosa's sensitivity to changes will help them push the project forward.
Of course, that is also a risk. Pedrosa has struggled this year to get heat into the Michelin tires, which has prevented him from being competitive at most tracks. KTM may have a little more say in which tires they request from Michelin, but it makes most sense that Pedrosa should try to develop the bike for the tires Michelin will be bringing to the race.
The role as test rider will almost certainly not include any wildcard appearances. At the Red Bull Ring this year, KTM's head of motorsports Pit Beirer told reporters that having Mika Kallio do so many wildcards had not had the positive effect they had hoped. "This was also not very positive for the project, because when the test team starts to think too much like a race team and they want to race, you find out at the test they just want to get ready for next weekend," Beirer said. "Like, the most stupid parts, that also need to be tested, they don’t do them because they focus on the race and then you start to drift away from the job of the test team. All these things we have to learn, being new in this class, so we will not see - maybe only one or no wild-cards from our test team in the future. That's already clear."
The move marks a remarkable departure for Dani Pedrosa, however. The Spaniard has been with Honda for his entire career, even before he entered Grand Prix racing. Moving to KTM means he will lose a role as brand ambassador for Honda, but by going to KTM, he will remain with Red Bull, who have also backed him throughout his career.
Below is the press release from KTM on Pedrosa's contract:
Red Bull KTM further enhance MotoGP future with two-year Dani Pedrosa contract
Red Bull KTM are thrilled to announce that Dani Pedrosa has agreed to fulfil an important role as test rider for the MotoGP line-up for 2019-2020. The three times champion and thirteen-season premier class veteran will work alongside Mika Kallio developing the KTM RC16 for what will be the motorcycle’s third year of Grand Prix competition.
Dani Pedrosa, who recently turned 33 and announced his retirement from MotoGP at the Grand Prix of Germany in July, will take his first steps as a test and development rider to support the Red Bull KTM project for the next two years.
Pit Beirer (Motorsports Director KTM Group): “To have a rider of Dani’s skill and experience as part of our MotoGP project is another strong sign that we are moving in the right direction and we are still pushing as hard as we can. We have seen how competitive MotoGP is this year and how fractions of a second can sometimes hide real progress and valuable lessons. We hope – and we are very excited – that Dani’s input alongside Mika Kallio and feeding into the two teams we’ll have on the grid next year will really help to close the gap even further. I think we can feel very optimistic about our possibilities for the upcoming seasons. I’d like to thank the whole crew at the factory, all the strong effort at the races and for all those testing miles as we come close to the end of our second year. Also to Dani: it is great that he believes and trusts in us and what we are doing.”
Mike Leitner (Team Manager MotoGP): “I’m super-happy that we could reach this agreement with Dani. Thanks to all his years and success in MotoGP I believe he will help our project in a big way and in developing the bike. Dani is a three time world champion and three time runner-up in this category and I know him well from the time working together. He is still very competitive and this can only benefit our MotoGP effort.”
The Spaniard boasts over 30 MotoGP wins (more than 50 in all classes), 3 world titles and has more than 110 MotoGP podium appearances. His presence and insight will bring an essential added benefit to the work done by Mika Kallio, who has been part of the MotoGP programme since the very beginning.
Pedrosa’s influence will be keenly felt as the factory will have four KTM RC16s on the grid for 2019 in the hands of Pol Espargaro and Johann Zarco in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team and then Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin for the Tech 3 squad.