Johann Zarco Signs Two-Year Deal With KTM

One of the biggest dominoes of the 2018 MotoGP Silly Season has just fallen into place. Today, KTM announced that they have signed Johann Zarco to a two-year contract for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

That Zarco would leave the Tech3 Yamaha squad had been widely anticipated, the only question being which factory team he would end up in. The Frenchman was an extremely hot property, after displaying blistering speed on the satellite Yamaha M1 in 2017. Zarco had offers from Suzuki, Repsol Honda, and KTM, though only Honda and KTM were in the frame for the Frenchman. Zarco and his management were still unhappy with the way Suzuki had treated the Frenchman after the Japanese factory failed to honor a pre-contract Zarco had signed ahead of the 2017 season, choosing Alex Rins instead.

That left Repsol Honda or KTM, and the choice between trying to beat Marc Marquez on a bike designed for Marc Marquez, or an opportunity to help develop the KTM into a weapon capable of beating the reigning champion. Zarco came down on the side of the challenge. This choice is a risk, of course. After making astonishing progress in its first year, the KTM RC16 has gotten stuck just outside the top ten. For Zarco to challenge, the bike will have  to make a further step before the end of the year.

Zarco will line up alongside Pol Espargaro, whose contract extension was announced on Wednesday. This leaves Bradley Smith out of a ride for the moment, and could have a negative effect on development. The incentive for Smith is now to go for results above everything, in an all out attempt to beat his teammate, as that is the way he will secure a ride for 2019. Previously, Smith has focused very keenly - too much, as far as management is concerned sometimes - on development, and improving the bike. Development will now switch to Mika Kallio and Pol Espargaro, while Smith will want to get on with racing.

The official press release appears below:

Johann Zarco joins Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 2019 with two year MotoGP agreement

MotoGP Announcement

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will welcome the very first Red Bull Rookies Cup winner and current MotoGP star, Johann Zarco, onto the works KTM RC16 for the 2019 and 2020 FIM World Championship seasons.

KTM’s READY TO RACE philosophy often means the creation of some special stories from the field of competition. The signature of 27 year old MotoGP sensation and double Moto2 World Champion (the most successful French rider in the history of Grand Prix racing) Johann Zarco for the next two years fills a standout narrative.

The Cannes-born athlete will return to KTM and the brand with which he made his first impression in the world of motorcycle racing when he claimed the 2007 Red Bull Rookies Cup; the KTM-supported series designed to filter the best young talent through to the world stage.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing is thrilled to be able to bring Johann back to Orange. He will partner Pol Espargaro on the KTM RC16 for the next two years.

Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsports Director): “There has always been a good contact with Johann and since the Red Bull Rookies Cup. We supported the Moto2 project through WP and our Moto3 Team Manager Aki Ajo is a good friend of him. We also have a nice connection with his manager Laurent Fellon. It was a group effort to get this done. We had to trust in our capability to build a winning bike and Johann would not come over if he did not see and feel that trust. We feel very responsible now to get that package strong enough so that he can continue on the level where he is. It is our big target."

“It is clear that we want to take another step in MotoGP. The first two years were about building up the project and to get everything running. You always want to get the best possible riders on board and it’s obvious with Johann beating the factory guys on satellite machinery and consistently qualifying on the front row means he is a strong fighter with a strong sprit. I’m convinced we can reach the next level with a rider like Johann with us.”

Zarco went on to win and grasp podium success in 125cc (now Moto3) Grands Prix and 15 victories in the Moto2 class where he enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Red Bull KTM Ajo Team Manager Aki Ajo and WP Suspension technology on the way to his two world championships. Since coming into the MotoGP category in 2017 – where he gained the accolade of Best Rookie – Zarco has thrilled audiences with his speed, racecraft and attacking prowess. With 4 trophies and 3 Pole Positions his he has regularly upstaged rivals on factory machinery. His ability and potential marked his name as one of the most sought after for the coming seasons in MotoGP.

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I've serious doubt the only thing that made Zarco choose KTM is he fears to fight Marquez on a bike designed for the spaniard. I would very much like to know exactly what precise offer Zarco refused from Honda. 

By the way, I told for month that KTM was the way to go for Zarco. it's 100% the kind of environment he loves with people who trust him around. Zarco had always been a Darkhorse very few people really trust. it's the history of his life in racing and I'm almost 100% sure most of the paddock still don't trust him much. Yamaha behavior proves it. Suzuki proved it 2 years ago and I'm convinced Honda proposal was for example only one year or something like that. Like they would like to use as a second rider while they're waiting for Mir or another Spanish rising star. Honestly I was surprised the HRC could get rid of Dani and sign Zarco but who knows. 

So Zarco joined the only team who is ready to welcome him and trust him. that's it.  I don't doubt KTM and Zarco will want to demonstrate their potential to win together. 

Quite a big challence ahead of KTM and Zarco but their motivation to beat big names and their commitment in the projetct will be astonishing. I wish them the best . Exciting adventure to follow ! 


I think the Honda requires a different riding style then the smooth style of Zarco to be faster then average. It will be a match similar to Lorenzo and Ducati and in this case (with so much new and cheap talents knocking at the motogp door) possible career ending.

Also the Repsol Honda garage could be a hostil environment for non spanish people, especially when ' underperforming compared to the extraordinary Marc Marquez'. I think the repsol Honda team doesn't have the idealism to have 2 topriders rubbing the team succces at the track. They want a combination of a toprider and a supporting donkey that also can win some races. The combination with Dani has worked out this way.

I wonder where Dani Pedrosa wil end up, since no other bike seems suitable for his size

Pedrosa going anywhere else.  He's in a position to still win races and take podiums with Honda - and importantly take points away from other competitors.  In my view, that's what Marc Marquez's teammate is supposed to do: help MM win more championships.  Pedrosa, ever the bridesmaid, is perfect for that role if he choses to continue with Repsol. 

I think money also got involved. Honda already have the highest paid rider on the grid. They wouldn't have been able to match KTM's offer. 

"I'm almost 100% sure most of the paddock still don't trust him much." Why would that be? He seems beyond any doubt a top MotoGP rider even if his Moto2 days were hit and miss on occasion. 

I like him, he's different. And so are KTM. Let's hope the rough edges of both don't become too polished.

KTM regularly on the podium in 2020, methinks.

What's Motomatter's thoughts on what the future holds for Bradley? Unfortunately, it doesn't look like he gets on with the Michelins the way he did with Bridgestones.

... I'm very curious to see how Zarco starts the 2019 season. He will undoubtedly finish this season with plenty of strong performances, which he'll certainly want to replicate in 2019. Yet, the KTM will most likely still be inferior to his M1 by that point. I think that will be his next major challange: managing his expectations and eagerness to win on a bike still very much playing catchup.

.....that Herve will also be running KTMs next year. The two deals connected do you think?

I hope this works out for J Zarco, but I doubt it. He would have been better off to suck it up and take a seat on the Factory Suzuki. Ego has been known to derail careers of all types. KTM is just too much of a long shot in MotoGP. Meanwhile, I am still a Ianonne fan and am glad he beat Zarco pretty well last round. Hopefully he keeps his seat on the Suzuki (or maybe returns to Ducati). 

It's easy to dismiss the factory based on their size and somewhat recent foray into motorsports, but their results speak otherwise. They've won championships in motocross, supermoto, Dakar and Moto3 so they know how to put together a winning program.  Zarco has clearly shown the speed required to win a dry race.  I think they will be a dangerous pairing.

to have success in SX/MX. Years and years... Supermoto and Dakar has never offered them much competition... True, they had quick success in Moto3 and even Moto2 but those are practically spec classes. MotoGP not so much. Anyway, I hope Zarco has a competitive bike soon enough to give him a shot at the title. But that will be very hard.

Ohlins suspension, MM electronics, 81x48mm bore/stroke, big bang firing order, telescoping forks/single pivot swingarm w/linkage shock etc. Makes for brilliant racing but is very monkey see monkey do. Way more spec than prototype which is partially Dorna's fault, partially the manufacturer's fault, and partially necessary to manage cost. But I think manufacturers can be more experimental in ways that don't cost trillions....

But if you narrow that lens to view them after they "got serious", that is got a dedicated & flush sponsor in Red Bull, hired the best riders in Cairoli & Dungy (not to mention "The Man" himself), success didn't take too long at all.

I still think this Austrian/French graft will bear ripe fruit in 2020. 

It probably stung when Suzuki failed to honor their pre-contract, but more importantly Suzuki management showed itself

  • to be unstrustworthy
  • to have questionable judgement
  • to view riders as pawns rather than people

I don't blame Zarco for declining to enter a close relationship with them. It may be that the pre-contract was never intended to be reliable (in which case Suzuki showed poor judgement in announcing it to the world), but still, not the best people depend on.

I just hope this annoucement doesn't screw Tech 3 out of receiving proper support from Yamaha. Zarco is only 3 points behind Vinales and has been the fastest rider so far. He could be leading the season if not for a (possibly) deffective tyre in Qatar.

The 16' M1 seems to be part of  Zarco's success , I'm wondering what will happen when he left the Yamaha garage to go to the KTM, I expect he will drop a few places because of hardware, and I hope I'm wrong!

Zarco made the best decison based on his available options.  The KTM might not be tip top at the moment, but the factory has shown they are committed to making this project sucessful.  With the addition of a junior factory team I think that will help drive progress significantly faster.  Zarco will enter a team expecting him to be the #1 rider for sure.  Giving him the ability to influence development, not something he would get at Honda.  Although I think the Suzuki would be a better immediate fit for his style, reports are they have already agreed to terms with JL.  Even if this is not true, would you expect Zarco to wait around for Suzuki to pick between himself and JL, especially after Suzuki overlooked him once already?  Then there's the money,  I'd be willing to bet the KTM deal offered a significantly higher salary than any of his other offers.  If you think professional athletes don't expect to be paid a king's ranson for their services then you are not living in reality.  Money matters, and the more the merrier.  Zarco got started late, so his long term earning potential isn't that of a young rider entering Motogp.  I'm sure anyone closing in on thirty, or already into their thirties can agree that financial stability is important.  I'm sure Zarco sacrificed more than most to get to the pinancle of 2 wheeled racing and know's nothing is promised. It could be all over in an instant!  Ask Ben spies...  What KTM is offering is heads and shoulders above any other offer out there for him.  Financial security (maybe for life).  I don't know about some of you, but I sleep much better a night knowing my bank account is flush with cash. A chance to drive development direction.  Lead rider status and a Factory that's serious about winning.  Oh and most importantly an employer that really wants you!  I suspect the Honda contract was more of a ploy to prevent their rivals from having Zarco.  


Bradley back to Tech3, I guess. Along with Miguel Oliveira maybe?


Rossi said that Honda had never offered Zarco any deal. Check out GPOne site.

“I've not heard about that. I ask you a question - if you could choose, would you get on a KTM or a Honda?


Never ever ever turn down a Repsol ride. 

How often does that seat become available!? He’ll never get another chance to ride for the greatest race department on their flagship steed. 

I like how KTM has updated their road bikes the past couple of years (to be more appealing to sport bike riders), and I expect Zarco competing in and winning races on a KTM can only help their overall sales and promotions around the world.  I see a two Super Dukes in my neighborhood, and they never fail to get a head turn from me (and we have everything from a BMW HP4 to H-D Baggers in a 1-block radius here.)