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How will Dani Pedrosa fare on his big KTM MotoGP comeback?

Why the signing of Dani Pedrosa to KTM is arguably the most significant of recent years... and why he could win on his MotoGP comeback in Austria

Dani Pedrosa - KTM Factory [1200]


Dani Pedrosa will make his long-awaited return to the MotoGP grid next month when he lines up on a third KTM RC16 at the team’s Styrian MotoGP.

It will mark his first race outing since the 2018 Valencia MotoGP and comes after almost three years of lobbying by KTM itself for the Spaniard to go up against old adversaries, including Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Maverick Vinales.

As many as 42 races have taken place since Pedrosa took his spot on the grid but such has been the behind-the-scenes impact of the diminutive Spaniard in his time working with KTM, there are many who believe he could make a huge impact when competes at the Red Bull Ring.

The most significant MotoGP signing of recent times?

It isn’t an overstatement to suggest KTM’s signing of Dani Pedrosa at the conclusion of the 2018 MotoGP season has been one of the most significant moves in recent times.

One of MotoGP’s most experienced figures and regarded as one of the greatest riders not to win the top prize, while Pedrosa’s pedigree can be measured statistically in his 31 race wins, unusually his stock and reputation has ascended since his racing career came to an end.

Spending his entire 13-year MotoGP career at Repsol Honda, with Pedrosa destined to be replaced by Jorge Lorenzo for 2019 - a decision HRC would go on to regret - he chose to swap his shade of orange for a move to KTM.

This wasn’t through a lack of options on the grid with the incoming Petronas SRT Yamaha team pushing hard for his signature. His rejection subsequently opened the door for Fabio Quartararo and the rest, as they say, is history… well, history in real-time anyway.

However, a development role was always likely to be better suited for Pedrosa, the Spaniard’s combination of shyness and disdain for all things media-related, plus a career littered with painful injuries and surgeries, meaning he’d had his fill of performing in an international circus.

KTM presented a worthwhile opportunity for Pedrosa for several reasons. A brand-new effort built from the ground up, KTM made its debut in 2017 and had made solid mid-field progress but lacked direction on development. While Pedrosa would have made a sound race signing, he was arguably more valuable to KTM pounding the laps on the RC16 in the background.

And it is something he has done diligently and meticulously, Pedrosa making the most of KTM’s testing concessions to rack up dozens of intense days testing, while engineers have lapped up his feedback readily. 

It is also something Honda has arguably missed greatly in his absence, an effect that can be seen today and only serves to bolster Pedrosa’s legacy further in the years after he stopped racing.

Such was his dedication to the cause that he repeatedly turned down opportunities from KTM to compete as a wildcard, while he respectfully chose not to fill the shoes left by Johann Zarco when he ducked out of the team midway through 2019 even though he was best placed to do so.

The Dani Pedrosa-effect

While KTM certainly wouldn’t have paused to think about entering a third bike, if this has allowed Pedrosa to get more out of testing instead then it has certainly reaped the benefits.

The 2020 RC16 was the first bike to be formed in the vision of Pedrosa’s input and the results spoke for themselves, KTM ascending from occasional Q2 entrant to score race wins (three in total), its first pole position, eight podiums and fifth overall for Pol Espargaro.

Indeed, the 2020 MotoGP season might have had five fewer races than in 2019 but KTM scored 200 manufacturers’ points last year, compared with a mere 111 the previous campaign.

Riders have been quick to praise the effect Pedrosa has had on bringing KTM galloping up the order.

“The change was felt most obviously from the development team,” said Oliveira, who has scored three of KTM’s four wins both with the Factory squad and Tech 3. “We have a rider like Pedrosa in excellent shape who is doing an exemplary job.”

Could Dani Pedrosa win the Styrian MotoGP?

It would be a big ask for Pedrosa to come from three years out of action to win straight away… but there are some good ingredients for success here.

Having shied away from competing, with the current generation RC16 reaching the end of its development cycle before a new generation comes online in 2022 and KTM’s removed concessions limiting out-of-competition track time, Pedrosa has decided it would be more beneficial for him to race than to pore over Oliveira and Binder’s data.

This would suggest Pedrosa is going into the weekend with a keen eye on development in order to help the regular race riders, meaning his focus could be more on telemetry than timesheets.

That said, it is notable that he has chosen this race in order to enter. Granted this is KTM’s home circuit and the publicity it drives will no doubt have been mentioned to Pedrosa’s more than a few times.

However, surely no other rider will have completed more laps of the Red Bull Ring than Pedrosa over the past two years, giving him a definite ‘adopted home’ advantage over his rivals.

Moreover, Pedrosa’s input has curated a bike that works very well around the compact, high-speed venue as demonstrated by Espargaro’s pole position and Oliveira’s win there a year ago. In theory, this should mean he has the perfect bike and the right experience to hook it up when it matters.

KTM seems keen to give Pedrosa a chance to let his hair down and push for a good result as a ‘danke’ for his efforts, so long as it doesn’t take points away from Oliveira especially, who remains in with a shout of a title push. 

It will thus come down to whether the ever diligent Pedrosa is willing to disengage his developmental brain and tap back into the raw racer within him...

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