KTM in MotoGP – a Possible Success Story

As you probably know by now Red Bull KTM rider Brad Binder made history in the Czech Republic at the Brno track two weekends ago when the South African rider won his first MotoGP race and also KTM‘s first MotoGP victory. It all seemed good for KTM last weekend at the latest MotoGP race held in Austria on the Red Bull Ring track until things turned out bad as Pol Espargaro was leading the race at some point, but he, unfortunately, crashed out.

 

Brad Binder only competed in three premier class races and he took the KTM RC16 to a clear victory which was the first for the company in MotoGP as they have been on the grid for only three-and-a-half years.

Looking back at the Brno MotoGP race, the riders and teams spent two days refining set-ups in the search for traction and to preserve tire life across the bumpy tarmac. It all played out well in the qualifying sessions for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders with Pol Espargaro qualifying sixth and Brad Binder right behind him on the seventh spot. In the race, Brad Binder worked his way up to the front and secured his first win in the premier class while Espargaro was fighting for third place until he collided with Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) and crashed out on lap 10. Looking at the competition, Brad Binder and KTM won the Brno race held in the Czech Republic with all the factory teams on the grid minus the eight-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) who could not race due to an injury after a high-side crash at Jerez.

“Honestly, right now, I’m lost for words. I’ve dreamt of this since I was a little boy and today it came true. It is amazing to win my first GP [in MotoGP]. Thank you to everybody who supported me, and the whole team: they put an insane motorcycle beneath me today! I didn’t know if we could win but I knew we would have a go. It was the craziest ten laps of my life at the end. I was being as soft as I could. It was incredible. Unbelievable,” said Brad Binder after the Brno race.

Pol Espargaro, on the other hand, was not so happy about the events at the Brno race.

“It’s unfair but it is racing, and we have to deal with these things. I was behind Brad and watching the others and playing with the maps to be strong at the end. I felt I could make ‘58s in the last laps, so I was trying to be relaxed when the contact happened. I could not show my potential and win the first race for KTM but I’m happy for Brad because he’s a good guy and works hard. We had a real chance today and we’ll hope for another one very soon,” said Pol Espargaro after the Brno race.

Moving things forward, last weekend at the Red Bull Ring race held in Austria, Pol Espargaro was also looking strong. The Spanish rider was fighting with Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and managed to lead the race until a high-speed crash between Zarco and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) into the 200mph Turn 3 braking zone enforced the race directors to bring out the red flags and stop the race to allow the marshals to clean the track. Before the crash, Espargaro was leading the race with half a second in front of Dovizioso.

It all looked as if KTM could win again in MotoGP as the restart of the race saw Espargaro up in front trying to keep the lead from Dovizioso, Miller, the two Suzuki GSX-RRs of Mir and Alex Rins and Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider Oliveira. Unfortunately, Miller passed Espargaro and took the lead, leaving the Spanish on lap 4 with over a second behind the Australian rider while Dovizioso set the fastest lap of the race. The KTM rider was forced to keep the two Suzuki riders at bay but not for long as he was eventually passed by Rins and Mir. Twelve laps remaining and the KTM rider, Pol Espargaro was getting impatient as a potential race win was slowly slipping from his grasp. A couple of mistakes crept in and on Lap 9,  Oliveira saw the Spanish rider running wide at turn 4, and decided to sweep under him and overtake the rider, but their two bikes collided and they were both down. All that moment in the Red Bull Ring race, Brad Binder was fighting for seventh place with Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). The South African rider managed to finish the race in fourth place with five and a half seconds behind the race winner, Andrea Dovizioso.

Looking at the last two MotoGP races Brad Binder and KTM look to be a strong mixture and possibly Binder could become a title contender next year on the Orange machine if things play out well. Overall in the MotoGP standings, Brad Binder is fourth with 41 points while Pol Espargaro is 13th with a total of 19 points. In other words, Binder is 26 points behind the championship leader, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT). But let us take a closer look on this matter.

Brad Binder

Perhaps, before winning at Brno, most of us never heard of Brad Binder. So, who is this rider? Well, let us start from the beginning. The MotoGP began way back in 1949. Looking overall at the World Champions, there are three countries who have the most titles, Italy, UK and Spain. Here are some of the most successful riders referring to all MotoGP classes:

Italy:
  • Giacomo Agostini – 15 MotoGP Titles
  • Valentino Rossi – 9 MotoGP Titles
  • Carlo Ubbiali – 9 MotoGP Titles
United Kingdom:
  • Mike Hailwood – 9 MotoGP Titles
  • John Surtees – 7 MotoGP Titles
  • Phil Read – 7 MotoGP Titles
  • Geoff Duke – 6 MotoGP Titles
Spain:
  • Angel Nieto – 13 MotoGP Titles
  • Marc Marquez – 8 MotoGP Titles

Of course, there are other riders who were successful like in the ’80s and early ’90s where United States riders like Eddie Lawson, Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Freddie Spencer and Kevin Schwantz were winning championship after championship. Even Australia had a thing to say with Mick Doohan and Casey Stoner being the country’s most successful riders. The list can go on. When we look at South Africa we could say that Brad Binder is a promising star. But, that’s not all. South Africa had a MotoGP World Champion back in ’78 and ’79. Kork Ballington won four World Titles in the 350cc and 250cc classes. Moreover, in 1980, Jon Ekerold won the World Title in the 350cc class. So,  South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is not a newbie when it comes to MotoGP titles.

Brad Binder is also a MotoGP World Champion as the South African rider won the Moto3 title back in 2016. The rider competed last year in the Moto2 class on the satellite KTM Tech3 Team and finished overall on second place. Prior to moving up to Grand Prix level, Binder competed three seasons in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup.

Brad Binder’s Motorcycle Career In Short

Binder began his motorsport career in karts and was a national champion at age eight. When he was ten years old, the South African moved to two wheels and continued to ride. In 2009 he started to compete in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. One year later the rider took three Rookies podiums and finished fifth overall. The first win came in 2011 at the Estoril track, in Portugal, where Binder won the Red Bull Rookies race from pole to flag by a margin of 15 seconds. Also, in 2011, the rider had a chance to compete in the 125cc class of MotoGP to replace Luis Salom in the RW Racing GP team as the rider was injured. Binder’s skills impressed the team, and he earned a full-time contract for the 2012 Moto3 season. He finished 21st overall that year. He continued to ride in Moto3 managing to gain two podium finishes in 2014. That performance earned him a place in the Red Bull KTM Ajo team for the 2015 season. Brad Binder finished that season sixth with four podiums under his belt.

The Moto3 World Title came in 2016, Binder where he made a great race at Jerez. The rider was placed at the back of the grid due to some technical issues on his bike. He pushed through the field, took the lead and disappeared into the distance winning the race. The win made Binder become the first South African to win a motorcycle Grand Prix since Jon Ekerold won the 1981 Italian motorcycle Grand Prix. Brad Binder won four more races that season helping him to become the 2016 Moto3 World Champion. He is the third motorcycle grand prix world champion from South Africa. For 2018 and 2019 he raced in Moto2 for the KTM Tech3 Team.

Back in November last year, Brad Binder was confirmed as a factory KTM rider in the MotoGP premier class for the 2020 season, replacing Johann Zarco who had abandoned his factory ride earlier in the year. Thus, the 25-year-old rider, with no skills for riding a MotoGP bike had to tackle the circumstances of riding a motorcycle that didn’t have a good resume. No wins in MotoGP, no pole positions and a lot of mechanical tweaks that needed a lot of development and setup to even have a chance on fighting for podiums in the premier class. So, how could Brand Binder manage to win a MotoGP race on a factory KTM with just three races in the premier class?

KTM RC16 MotoGP Bike

This year is KTM’s fourth season in the MotoGP category. Starting out as a bike which managed to barely score points, the KTM RC16 went through some serious development for the 2020 MotoGP season. The test team consists of rider Mika Kallio, who has been involved with the project from the beginning. Of course, developing a MotoGP winning bike is not an easy task and it takes some time to even make it fight for a win, the development process was accelerated when KTM added former MotoGP rider, Dani Pedrosa to their test team. Together with the race team and engineers from KTM’s base in Munderfing and Mattighofen, the company achieved to design a MotoGP bike making more than 265 hp while keeping the weight down at 157 kg.

The main focus for the 2020 KTM MotoGP bike was put on a new aerodynamic package as well as a new chassis to enhance the handling through corners. Behind the fairings, the bike features a V4 engine which delivers more than 265 hp at 18,500 rpm. Top speed exceeds 340 kph. But power isn’t everything in racing. so, it has to be kept on the ground and here, traction makes the difference.

The 2020 KTM MotoGP bike is fitted with an electronics package provided by Magneti Marelli. In other words, we’re looking at a Drive-by-Wire system, Engine Braking, Quickshifter, Traction Control, Wheelie Control, Pit Lane Limiter and Launch Control. The engine is mounted on a new steel frame while the swingarm is made of carbon fiber.

Suspension wise, the KTM RC16 is fitted with WP suspension (front and rear) while the fork is used as part of the chassis working together to increase the stiffness of the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike. The damping system of the WP fork is very similar to the one on the rear shock. It has a piston, oil that is sealed just like the rear shock, and a top out spring that allows the rider to put out extra preload on. This allows the front tire to have more contact with the tarmac and prevents any big wobbles under hard acceleration.

The damping system is mounted inside the fork’s inner and outer tube. Another aspect is that the engineers paid a lot of attention to the friction involved to make it run very smoothly and allow the suspension to work well and absorb any tarmac bumps. Also, the sealed oil in the outer tube helps with keeping the friction very low.  When the rider leans over, the bumps are going upwards together with the lateral forces in the inner and outer tube. The suspension set up helps the rider have a better feeling of what is going on with the bike’s front tire traction while going over bumps. It’s important to have a good setting on how hard the inner tube, outer tube and triple clamps are. Also important is the development of the fork bottoms which now the engineers have worked out on where to remove aluminium components in order to make the fork bottoms stronger and allow the radial calipers to brake better. All in all, it helps the rider to have a better feel on what is going on under braking, how the suspension works and how the chassis is behaving. When the suspension is manufactured, a compression adjuster is fitted on to make the suspension and brake calipers just one piece. In other words, the WP fork is connected to the compression damping adjuster.

The next step is to adjust the oil level in the WP fork. The higher the oil level is the less air gap the rider has in the fork and under hard braking when it gets to the bottom, the fork gets stiffer sooner and it feels more linear. Thus, the air gap in the fork needs to be adjusted with the correct amount of oil level. The final touches on the suspension set up are adding the spring and fork cap on and tighten them all together to create just one piece of component from the fork, compression damping adjuster and radial callipers.

The engine is connected to a seamless shift gearbox while the package is completed with an Akrapovic racing exhaust system and forged magnesium wheels. The RC16 has a 22 litres fuel tank and a dry weight of 157 kg. Of course, all that power needs some stopping force, thus the Austrian engineers fitted the KTM RC16 with Brembo brakes which come in two options – two 320 mm or 340 mm carbon brake discs for the front fitted with Brembo aluminium callipers.

Everything is measured to the latest detail and the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team, together with Brad Binder and Pol Espargaro will race again between August 21st and 23rd at KTM’s home race held at the Red Bull Ring track in Austria.

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