From a blank piece of paper to victory - KTM's road to MotoGP success

KTM becomes the first new manufacturer to score a MotoGP victory since Ducati in 2003... and it's achieved it purely on its own terms.

Brad Binder - KTM Factory Racing

KTM’s road to maiden MotoGP glory in the 2020 Czech Republic MotoGP may not have been rampant but it’s fair to say it came substantially sooner than many expected based on its steady but always ascending trajectory.

In fact, as recently as Round 2 the prospect of a KTM victory seemed wide of the mark, even if its flashes of performance at Jerez revealed a team that had made a bigger year-on-year step than every before.

However, Brad Binder’s brilliant Brno success was a new, lofty peak that appeared to catch everyone – rider, team, media and fans – completely unawares.

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While Binder’s personal story as the first South African race winner in only his third MotoGP event stands alone, KTM’s first victory is still the culmination of a tremendous effort by the Austrian manufacturer. 

While Suzuki and Aprilia are both relatively new entities in their current guise, they at least had seasons of MotoGP heritage and nostalgia to rely on. KTM’s first full season in 2017, however, was completely and utterly new from the ground up…

While it had carved a niche for itself in Moto3/125 and Moto2/250, KTM’s graduation to MotoGP represented a huge step for a brand with no top line experience but knowing it had a timescale to turn it into a race winning outfit. 

Moreover, it’s gone its own way on several fronts, persevering with a steel frame rather than follow suit with aluminium, while it sticks with WP rather than Ohlins for its suspension.

Even its decision to put faith in a young rider line-up – though originally the result of a forced hand after Johann Zarco left – has reaped dividends with Binder’s victory being backed up by Miguel Oliveira taking a huge step forward on the sister Tech 3 entry – the stars that were expected tomorrow, coming good today.

“It's very emotional at the moment because it was a long fight and at the beginning of the project, we started with nothing,” said KTM Motorsport chief Pit Beirer. “A blank piece of paper. When you decide to go to MotoGP you want to see a bike, but at first, there is nothing.

"Then when you have a bike you go riding for the first time, racing for the first time, you get punched badly on the race track by the competitors and then to be now in a position to say we have won our first MotoGP race is definitely an outstanding moment."

KTM becomes the first new manufacturer to win a MotoGP race since Ducati way back in 2003, though the result is still only its second podium since 2016 when it made a one-off debut ahead of a full 2017 campaign. 

Since then improvements have been incremental rather than spectacular, though with Pol Espargaro at the helm to tame an RC16 that is known for needing a physical style to get the best from it, it has steadily notched up the landmarks.

"I have two hearts in my chest,” Beirer continued. “From the pure work and risk, Pol would be the guy to deserve the first win for the project because he was the backbone of the project.

"In bad and good days, he was fighting like a lion. One of the biggest complaints towards us until last year was that we could build only a machine that only Pol Espargaro is able to ride, because he is risking his life for us. And partly this was true, and that's why I have such huge respect for Pol."

KTM comes of age in MotoGP 2020

However, KTM has shown the biggest step forward of any team in 2020 and while victory in Round 3 from Binder wasn’t probably predicted by anyone anywhere – least of all the man himself – it was becoming increasingly less unfeasible to imagine a KTM topping the podium this season.

With his time at KTM nearing an end as he prepares to leave for Honda next season, Espargaro will get more chances to break his victory duck and Beirer is confident he will.

"Pol has a lot of temperament so he's getting super excited and taking unbelievable energy out of that. That's why he could do sometimes miracles on our bike, that not even we expected. He's goings sometimes even further than he should!

"So it was always our work in the last years or months when we knew him much better, just to calm him down, not to go over the limit and I think we did quite well to help him also with that to become a better rider.

KTM will take its newfound ‘winning’ status back to its home Austrian MotoGP this weekend as the series heads back to the hills of the Spielberg region for Round 4 of the season, followed by the Styrian MotoGP at the same circuit the following week.