The Emergence of KTM in MotoGP and Binder’s Sideways Style

By Donovan Fourie

Pics By: KTM Images (Rob Gray Polarity Photo & Gold Goose)

In 2017, KTM head man Stefan Pierer was very clear about his intentions in MotoGP…. 

They are there to win! There were, no doubt, some chuckles. KTM was a new entrant to MotoGP at the time, attempting to catch up more than 40 years of experience from the likes of Honda. While the effort was spirited, the results were less encouraging. In year 1, Pol Espargaro finished the year in 17th place, 253 points adrift of Marc Marquez’s winning total, while teammate Bradley Smith fared even worse lingering down in 21st spot.

At that stage and for some time after that, there were doubts aplenty, especially regarding KTM’s unwavering insistence on using its traditional steel-trellis frame, something even steel-trellis stalwarts like Ducati had abandoned, and its own WP suspension brand when even Honda dropped its own Showa brand for the preferred Ohlins alternative. 

But KTM stood by, believing that what they give customers is what it would race with, even when people remained certain it would fail.

Bradley Smith, KTMRC16, Sepang MotoGP test, February 2017

How times have changed.

A few weekends back we saw two KTMs on the podium in both races at Jerez, and Binder now sitting third in the championship. A stark improvement from 2017.

Much of this improvement, which has seen KTM close 40 years of experience in just six years, is down to KTM’s ability to work quickly and make fast decisions. Having your own suspension company, tailor-making goods, and a steel-trellis frame that can be quickly redesigned and changed helps too, ironically for the detractors.

For 2023, bringing Jack Miller and some of his crew into the works has paid dividends. The bikes are now set up longer than before, replicating the Ducati Miller rode up until 2022, reducing the load on the tyres when the weight is transferred, especially during braking.

This has made the bike more forgiving and more predictable, helping riders like Binder drift spectacularly into corners like he’s riding a 300hp supermoto machine. While it might look hairy and out of control, that’s Binder’s preferred riding style. Much to the shock of us mere mortals, he feels more confident when the back wheel is hanging out like a water skier. This defies natural instincts but not physics.

Aerodynamics 2018
Aerodynamics 2023

When a motorcycle is braking in a straight line, the weight of that motorcycle is transferred to the front wheel. That’s a lot for a small rubber hoop to handle as it squishes and skids, battling to cope with the fierce carbon brakes.

However, when the rear steps out, a portion of that strain is taken by the rear tyre, giving the front some respite and meaning he can actually brake harder, something that was obvious during Sunday’s race when Binder was able to make up considerable bike-lengths on Pecco Bagnaia’s Ducati at the end of the back straight.

Sideways is good for Binder and good for us to watch. Everyone wins.

The big question now is whether KTM can keep it up. 

Binder and Miller look confident, but could Jerez be an outlier? A once-off?

After all, the team struggled all through pre-season testing, and the first three races were decent (especially the Sprint Race win for Binder in Argentina) but overall not quite dominating.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. KTM began this season with a completely new motorcycle, with a new motor that sounds more like a V-twin, a new chassis and new aerodynamics. Getting all those new tidbits up to speed takes work, especially when competing against the likes of Ducati who are riding bikes very similar to last year and have a litany of setup data.

However, once they get up to speed, it is a speed that people with last year’s tech will struggle to keep up with.

KTM participated in the test at Jerez where new parts and new aero were tested. 

Let’s see if it bears fruit.

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