Who will join KTM in MotoGP 2020? Dani Pedrosa rules out race return

As Dani Pedrosa rules out the prospect of a 2020 MotoGP return with KTM, we consider who instead could fill the vacant factory slot next year

Dani Pedrosa - KTM MotoGP

With Ducati finally – belatedly – confirming its riders for the 2020 MotoGP season, attention thus turns to KTM following the confirmation Johann Zarco is about to leave the building.

Whilst the Frenchman ponders his future, arguably the more interesting development from this will be identifying whom will jump on the KTM RC16 in 2020, a bike that – Zarco’s issues notwithstanding – has shown evident steps forward in the last 12 months alone.

A factory bike, huge budget and a dedicated team of engineers and testers makes KTM a fairly safe investment for the future for any rider at the crossroads of their career.

Could Dani Pedrosa return to MotoGP racing?

First things first, Dani Pedrosa won’t return… without a good reason. The perennial ‘number two’ rider at Repsol Honda during an incredible 13 years there, Pedrosa’s decision to retire from MotoGP and take up a KTM testing and development role was remarkably the first time he’d ever ridden anything other than a Honda.

Both Pol Espargaro and Zarco have praised Pedrosa’s input and have credited him with many steps forward this year, already giving rise to speculation he could be in line for a racing return. 

However, having already flatly turned down even wild-cards outings, Pedrosa – who suffered myriad of injuries during his time in MotoGP – says he is enjoying his ‘behind the scenes’ role and is quite happy to keep it that way.

"At this moment I don't know how to react,” he told Austria’s Servus TV. “I am a KTM tester. and I think that will be my position also in the future. I’m much more relaxed now than in the past and I don’t have to endure the pressure of the races. I focus on testing and I don’t look too much at the big prizes.”

Who is in the running for the KTM 2020 MotoGP ride?

Mika Kallio

Another of KTM’s development riders, the experienced Kallio raced full-time in MotoGP back in 2009 and 2010 with modest success, but a return to Moto2 yielded good success before he was tapped by KTM to work on development of the RC16. 

Though at 36 he, like Pedrosa, isn’t the first flush of youth he has performed well on wild-card outings, notably a top ten finish Austria 2017 and Catalunya 2018. In short, no-one knows the KTM better than he does, while the addition of a Finnish MotoGP (probably) would make him a popular choice with Dorna. Could get a return to the satellite Tech 3 outfit, not least because Pedrosa can fill his testing duties.

Miguel Oliveira

Timing can sometimes be everything in MotoGP and Miguel Oliveira may have just nailed it. An eighth place finish on the satellite Tech 3 bike is not only the team’s best result of the year but Espargaro has only finished higher than that once this year. Moreover, it was achierved as the highest-placed KTM rider in front of ALL the bosses in Austria on the weekend Zarco finished 12th then quit.

Oliveira is already held in high regard in KTM, having developed his Moto3 and Moto2 craft with them and was re-signed to Tech 3 for 2020 after just three 2019 MotoGP races. Probably the favourite for the works ride, even if that doesn’t solve who will come in to ride the spare KTM.

Jorge Lorenzo

Unlikely given the likelihood of Honda tightening that contract in the wake of recent revelations. Then again, no-one expected Jorge Lorenzo to be considering a return to Ducati much less get in contact, so anything is possible. Even so, Lorenzo isn’t a development rider and will be keen to compete somewhere he can win – a KTM ride isn’t likely to be his ‘legacy’.

Bradley Smith

Zarco’s issues have arguably helped frame Bradley Smith’s abilities on the KTM alongside Espargaro. Even though the Briton didn’t exactly sparkle on the machine and wasn’t as close to the Spaniard as he was when they raced together at Tech 3 Yamaha, he was closer than Zarco and steady hand on bringing it to the chequered flag. However, with Kallio on its books – who was quicker on his choice wild-cards – it seems unlikely Smith would get a surprise return over the Finn.