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KTM and Zarco Will End Relationship One Year Early

After two Moto2 championships, and two years in MotoGP aboard a satellite Yamaha that saw him earn four pole positions and six podiums, Johann Zarco earned a full factory ride with KTM beginning this year in a two-year deal. In the press release below, KTM has announced that it and Zarco have decided to end their relationship at the end of this year, rather than complete the remainder of the contract through the 2020 season.

Zarco has been incapable of finding even a glimmer of the brilliance he showed aboard his Yamaha … with a single 10th place finish his best in the first 11 races this year. There is already speculation that Zarco will leave the team before the end of this year, to be replaced by KTM test rider Mika Kallio in some of the remaining races.

Here is the brief statement from KTM:

The 29-year-old joined KTM towards the end of 2018 after his second term in MotoGP and for his first with full-factory support. Zarco tried to adapt his riding style to the KTM RC16 and the team tried relentlessly to mould the #5 machine to the Frenchman’s wishes and requirements while teammate Pol Espargaro made regular Q2 qualification appearances and persistently vied for top ten positions.

Ultimately both Johann and the team decided not to proceed with their joint project for 2020 and will now focus on giving the maximum for the final eight rounds and remaining months of MotoGP 2019.

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  1. bmbktmracer says:

    Zarco reportedly earns about $3.3M a year. How can you complain about anything when making that much money? I think he should be tooling around in 15th with a big smile on his face, get off the bike at the end of the race, and profusely thank every suit at KTM. It takes the average Joe 40 years to make as much as Zarco makes in one season, and none of them get to have pretty girls hold umbrellas over their heads.

    • Kent says:

      My guess is that anybody at that level would never be content with just droning around for money. I don’t think you can get anywhere near MotoGP without more drive than “regular” people can understand.

      • mickey says:

        Reportedly when Lorenzo called Ducati recently, he offered to ride for free.

        • fred says:

          You need to understand what “free” means at that level. It would still include travel, medical, gear, etc. What it would not include would be a base salary. They would set up a commission/bonus pay scale based off of results. Little risk to the company, but the rider still makes good money if he can get results.

          • mickey says:

            uh yea Fred, all that goes without saying. What it does say is he’d forgo his $11 million dollar a year guaranteed salary they were paying him, if they’d let him come back and ride the Duc.

            That’s pretty demeaning for Lorenzo, a multi time champion IMO. To me it speaks volumes as to what he thinks his future prospects might be.

    • HS1... says:

      Even better, he could have tried to be worth his $3.3M per year. Instead he stunk and sulked for 1/2 of a season and quit. Helping to develop a bike against top-level competition on developed bikes is inherently going to be really, dog (poodle in this case) hard. KTM has fared about as good as any other modern era attempt. A competitive ride seems lke a tall wish, now.

      • bmbktmracer says:

        The sulking thing is my point. He knew when he signed the contract that KTM didn’t have a competitive bike and there’d be at least 2 years of development ahead of him. If winning was the big deal, then he should have stayed put until something better came along.

        When you make that much money, you keep a smile on your face, work as hard and smart as you can, and be grateful every day for your blessings.

        Pol Espargaro has been competitive recently and rookie Oliveira just scored an 8th. They’re not all that far away. They’re also benefitting from a couple months of Pedrosa’s test riding, which will only improve things going forward. Further, dropping the Moto 2 effort will allow more resources for MotoGP.

        I truly hope it works out for him as he’s definitely a very special racer.

    • Dave says:

      What he’s thinking about is how long he can continue to roll around in 15th place and expect to find another team who will offer him a 7-figure paycheck after he’s done with this.

  2. Tom R says:

    KTM is in MotoGP? I hadn’t really noticed…

    • tpayne says:

      i remember when KTM was a joke in Supercross. now look. just give these guys a couple seasons, they’ll be super competitive.

  3. mickey says:

    I do feel for the guy, but thought going to KTM was a bone head move in the first place.

    Once all the press release photos were taken, the smiles stopped for Zarco. He’s had a really rough time and I imagine he has been dreading Sundays for quite a while.In all recent photos of the guy he looks like his dog died. Don’t think mentally he could take another year of it. On the other hand as I have said before,(like I said re: Lorenzo) these guys are supposed to be professionals, he should suck it up and do his job. He inked the contract and he should honor the contract. Quitting is not a very good character trait to try and sell to another team.

    • VLJ says:

      You can rest assured that this was a mutual parting of ways. Zarco was under contract. He couldn’t just quit, and expect to grab another ride elsewhere. The only reason this was allowed to happen is that KTM understood that they were never going to go anywhere with this guy, so they decided to accede to his wishes, cut their losses, and move on.

      • mickey says:

        Yes I’m well aware that there is a contract and both parties must agree for the split to happen, but someone has to initiate the discussion. Someone has to be the first to say “this isn’t working out”. If it was Zarco (and by everything I have read it was) then he is in effect quitting. If it was KTM that initiated the conversation then he is in effect getting fired. Either way that is not something one would want on their resume (at least I wouldn’t). At this point I wouldn’t want to take a chance with Lorenzo either. Quit Yamaha, got fired from Ducati, rumored to shopping rides elsewhere and wanting to quit Honda.

        Maybe MotoGP is like pro football, in that a player can beat his wife, take illegal drugs, resist arrest, asssault a cop, or kill somebody and his current team will let them go, but there’s always another team that’s willing to hire the bum (like the Bengals).

    • fred says:

      Contracts are not the equivalent of slavery. Both sides signed because they each saw a benefit. When it becomes clear to both sides that the benefit is gone, or significantly less than expected, it is not unreasonable to renegotiate or even cancel the contract.

      It does no good for KTM to have an unhappy rider who cannot ride their bike, and it does Zarco no good to have an unhappy manufacturer whose bike he cannot get to perform.

      Sometimes, only one side is unhappy, but in cases like this, and Lorenzo, the major question is how unhappy each side is. At Ducati, Gigi was okay, Lorenzo was okay, but Dovi and the Ducati honchos were unhappy. Jorge had to go.

      This year with Lorenzo and Honda, it’s hard to say, because we have rumors rather than facts. Honda had to be disappointed with the results. Jorge had to be wondering if the bike was going to kill or cripple him. It would make sense that he would explore options. It’s stupid to “suck it up” just so you can be dead or crippled. At the end, it appears that Honda still believes that Jorge will be able to come to grips with the bike, and Jorge appears to believe that Honda will make the changes necessary to make the bike rideable.

      Since both sides are professionals, they will take a “win-win or no deal” approach. There is no shame or cowardice in recognizing an unsuccessful contract, especially if both sides can come to an understanding.

      • mickey says:

        I realize contracts are not slavery lol. But what is the value of a contract? KTM hired Zarco to ride for them for 2 years and he agreed (whether his manager did it or he did it is irrelevant since he showed up and got fitted for the KTM leathers and had the number 5 painted on a couple of bikes. Yes, KTM acquiesced to Zarco quitting the team, I’m sure reluctantly. Now they only have one rider. There is no one capable to hire. They could promote test rider Kalio I suppose..or ask test rider Pedrosa if he’d like to come back (which he doesn’t), or they could pull a guy from the satellite team, leaving the satellite team with only one rider with no one to hire.

        It also leaves Zarco with no where to go. All the teams are filled until the end of 2020 (unless Lorenzo jumps the Honda ship which now he says he won’t).

        Team managers are going to be hesitant to hire a guy that has been known to quit just because things aren’t going his way. I’ll bet Lorenzo is making himself un-hirable at this point too.

        Will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

        • fred says:

          You might take a look at gpone – the summer of our discontent – article’s take on contracts. Almost all contracts have termination clauses, delineation of damages, etc. This is nothing new.

          Arguably the only 2020 MotoGP seats currently up for grab are Zarco’s and Nakagami’s. So Zarco has at least one option. Test rider, Moto2 for a year, BSB, WSB, run a racing school, etc. Lots of options.

          As far as being un-hirable, that’s a laugh. All the top riders have their quirks and eccentricities. Zarco and Lorenzo are as good or better than most of the riders on the grid, and are as easy or easier to deal with.

          Perhaps Pramac leadership wasn’t excited about Jorge, but Gigi wanted him back on a Ducati, and Pramac was willing to seriously consider it. Honda wanted and wants to keep him. Unknown if there really were talks with Petronas, but apparently there was interest there.

          As to Zarco, both KTM and Zarco were professional about the split, and I missed the rancor if there was any. Both sides seemed to be complimentary – “We both tried, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”

          I don’t see any burnt bridges or hard feelings anywhere. Except Jack. He got bent out of shape.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nakagami isn’t going anywhere and in fact may be in line for a 2020 spec Honda from what I read.

            Zarco in interviews said he wants to race MotoGP, and says he wants to do it on a competitve bike. He doesn’t want to race WSBK,SBK, run a school or be a test rider.

            Chances are at this point if Rossi retired in 2021 (which I don’t expect) then Quartararo would get that ride. If Lorenzo quits at the end of 2020 Crutchlow would get that seat. Dovi & Petruci and Miller will stay with Ducati. Rins and Mir I expect will stay with Suzuki. I figure Iannone won’t get resigned by Aprilia but that’s another uncompetitve bike so Zarco won’t want that. Plus there will be a graduating class of young talented and eager Moto2 & 3 riders coming up. Zarco will be what? 31 by 2021, having been out of MotoGP for a year and a half? tough ask imo.

            Like I said it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

          • mickey says:

            Ducati is so desperate to beat Marc Marquez and win another World Championship they would hire the devil himself if he knew how to ride.

          • mickey says:

            The above anonymous post was by mickey btw. Dont know why it says anonymous

          • Anonymous says:

            They just posted a piece over on motomatters called “Doing the right thing.. different trajectories of Lorenzo and Zarco” that explains exactly what I was talking about. Good read. Check it out.

            posted by mickey (not anonymous..sorry)

  4. Wendy says:

    As long as KTM uses a trellis frame, a totally different philosophy from everyone else and whatever intangibles it has in MotoGP, it will be a never ran. Zarco is a proven winner, and for him to leave the KTM team is a vote of no confidence.

    • HS1... says:

      Zarco has never won a single MotoGP race. Everyone who has ever raced in MotoGP, or likely has even been considered for a MotoGP contract, has also won races at lower levels of competition. Zarco place second twice in the first four races of 2018, and then his best race for the rest of 2018 was, uh, Silverstone. He was a late bloomer that quickly withered.

      We won’t likely know his MotoGP demand for another year, but I’ll be surprised if he garners much more interest than with a couple of the tail-end privateer teams. Far less competitive bikes than the KTM’s have had riders last out a season while making some progress. This guy never produced a moment where it looked like he was threatening to make headway. Pol, Mika, and Miguel have all looked better on the bike.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yeup, pretty much expected this..but wish things would have worked out for KTM..would have been a true underdog story if it would have worked. Oh well moving on, now what will Honda do with #99

  6. Provologna says:

    Several years ago I visited the since-closed BMW-Triumph dealer about 15 minute drive N of Salt Lake City, to test ride BMW’s 450cc dual sport. A sales person shared his view about the BMW-KTM relationship.

    There was an unwritten understanding that Austria’s KTM would generally stick to off-road and dirt-oriented dual sport, while Germany’s BMW would stick to pavement and road oriented dual sports (both brands sold adventure bikes).

    When KTM started releasing more and more serious pavement burners, BMW responded in kind with their serious 450cc off-road single.

    Followed by the Austrian-Germany “peeing” contest in earnest: KTM decided it was a good idea to spend God only knows how much in Austrian currency (several tens of million USD equivalent) by entering the MotoGP fray.

    Some here said watch out/look at their experience/they’re a real threat, while I yawned and said the CEO has more cash than brains. It’s one thing to win dozens of international single-cylinder off-road championships, it’s something completely different to beat MM or a well tuned Yamaha or Suzuki on a MotoGP course.

    How much cash do you think KTM spent to date on their MotoGP fetish? Estimated latest date they stop the cash bleed?

    • fred says:

      Both KTM and RedBull seem to have a lot of money to spend on racing, a strong will to win, and a history of competing at the top.

      I don’t drink Red Bull, and I don’t ride a KTM, but I expect them to do what it takes to win in MotoGP. Time will tell which of us will be correct.

      Miguel Olivera impressed me in Moto2, and it looks like he may be starting to get the hang of MotoGP.

      • Guttersloth says:

        That Red Bull relationship is hanging on a thread right now, thanks to the RedBull-Honda relationship in F1.

        If that proves successful (and signs are very positive – they’ve already won races), then I guarantee Honda will push for a worldwide RB-Honda partnership across all classes of motorsport the two are involved in, and I suspect Dietrich Mateschitz would be keen on that as well, considering how he’s moved forward plans for expanding Red Bull’s Milton Keynes technical center to bring more of the Honda guys (who also have a F1 engine facility in the area) in-house. When that happens, KTM will be the biggest casualty.

        Right now, the only thing keeping KTM and Red Bull together is nationality, which doesn’t account for much in the money-making/marketing world these days. Everything will probably hinge on the 2021 F1 engine rules and whether the (inevitable) upcoming global economic recession is as bad as the economists predict.

    • Mick says:

      People used to say that KTM would never beat the Japanese in motocross. It did take them quite a while. But nobody says that now. And look. They are the only bikes out there with steel frames.

      And now they are in DieselGP with frames that are a lot like the frame that Ducati used to win more often on than they have since.

      I bought a 2004 steel framed YZ250 and found it to be a better woods and ice racing frame than the aluminum one on my 2007.

      Underestimate both KTM and steel frames at your peril.

      And oh yeah. BMWs dirt bike? Are you serious? That thing was garbage. They had exactly zero people at KTM shaking in their boots.

      • Provologna says:

        I qualified BMW’s 450 as more “serious,” not scaring anyone including KTM. It was a BMW gesture to KTM for building ever more serious pavement bikes.

        IMO if BMW wanted to, they could build a dirt race bike w/more success than KTM has achieved in pavement racing. If you include F1 motors and cars, KTM’s pavement racing success is non-existent vs. BMW.

        Some may have wrongly predicted KTM’s failure to win dirt race championships. To date, those who predicted KTM’s MotoGP failure are correct.

        Put any purpose built dirt bike next to a MotoGP bike. Except for both having 2 wheels, how similar do they appear?

        • guu says:

          BMW hired two of the best and most expensive riders of the time (David Knight and Juha Salminen) to ride the bike to championships. That outlay of resources should tell you something about how serious they were. And beyond that they acquired and heavily invested in Husqvarna.

          And I don’t agree with your KTM vs. BMW argument. At the time BMW also came out with their first true superbike. I see that period as BMW being relative to people outside their core market of middle-aged-and-up, upper-middle class German men.

          Also was that superbike a success? Race wins, shoot-out wins, good sales, national level success aplenty, but no world championships despite tens of millions spent.

    • Jeremy says:

      What KTM-BMW relationship are you referring to? They’ve never been affiliated as far as far as I know.

    • guu says:

      If KTM’s CEO has “more cash than brains” (ever think how he got the cash? Hint: He owns big part of KTM) than what do you think of the company and persons that first went ahead with the GS450 (yeah, really easy “thing to win dozens of international single-cylinder off-road championships”) and then went on and brought the Italian Husqvarna?

  7. VLJ says:

    They say hindsight is 20/20, but in this instance it didn’t require any hindsight for many of us to predict this result…

  8. Jeremy says:

    I can understand why he wants out… He was contending for podiums the prior two years, and now he is fighting for 15th on a good day. It must be totally demoralizing, but I don’t know what else he could have expected when he went with KTM.

    Yet I can’t help but wonder if this move to pull out might be as foolish as the move to go to KTM in the first place.

    Besides Miller on his one year contract, which I imagine will get sealed up soon for next year now that Lorenzo is staying with Honda for sure, I don’t know of any other opportunities on the GP grid. Unless maybe he has some inside info that Suzuki will start up its satellite team next year and is already in talks, where can he go?

    • mickey says:

      He would probably do well on a Suzuki. I don’t think he would do well on a Ducati. Not sure about the Honda, Crutchlow says it’s a handful and Zarco (like Lorenzo) needs a smooth bike that carries a lot of corner speed.

    • HS1... says:

      Foolishness is often fueled by pride and overconfidence. Riding for a factory with a couple of years of experience in MotoGP, and no podium finishes, is something that a prudent person would only do if they were fully committed to the very realistic difficulties inherent to developing a bike while competing against the best. Zarco showed that he either hadn’t considered or committed himself to overcoming these difficulties.

  9. John A. Kuzmenko says:

    Not surprised and glad to read it.

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