Mika Kallio Replaces Johann Zarco In Factory KTM Team For Rest Of 2019 Season

KTM have decided to replace Johann Zarco effective immediately. From Aragon until the end of 2019, current KTM test rider Mika Kallio will take the place of the Frenchman in the factory Red Bull KTM team.

Though the decision comes as a surprise to the outside world, it makes sense from the perspective of KTM. Zarco has announced his intention to leave at the end of the season, and given his options are limited for 2020, is looking at becoming a test rider, and has been linked to a possible vacancy at Yamaha. With so much work happening on the KTM RC16, and a constant flow of new parts in the garage, KTM have decided it is better to have test rider Mika Kallio on the bike than keeping Johann Zarco.

Zarco hinted at these motives on Sunday night at Misano. He told reporters he did not expect to receive new parts for the rest of 2019, and said he would not be taking part at a two-day test planned for Aragon after the race. "There will be a test at Aragon and I won't do it because it will be with a totally new bike and I am not any more in the confidence of KTM to be able to do this," Zarco said.

It is also a good move for Kallio and KTM. Kallio has made no secret of his desire to return to racing, and focused very hard on preparing the wildcard appearances he made last year. That was the reason KTM decided to scale those wildcards back, as they felt they were losing too much pure testing time to Kallio's desire to get ready for a race. This move allows Kallio to race, while also sharpening his speed to help improve his pace in testing.

Though Zarco will no longer be racing for KTM in 2019, the Austrian factory did say in the press release that they would 'honor his contract', code for paying out his salary for the rest of the year. 

Kallio replacing Zarco in 2019 does not necessarily mean he will replace the Frenchman in 2020 as well. KTM have not made a decision on who will team with Pol Espargaro for next season. At Misano, Pit Beirer told me that he did not expect to make an announcement until much later in the year. In the meantime, the rumor mill will continue to grind.

The press release from KTM appears below:

Mika Kallio replaces Johann Zarco for the rest of 2019 MotoGP

MotoGP announcement

Red Bull KTM will field current test rider Mika Kallio alongside Pol Espargaro for the remainder of the 2019 MotoGP campaign and starting from this weekend’s Gran Premio Michelin de Aragon and post-race test.

Kallio assumes Johann Zarco’s factory spot. Johann and KTM decided to mutually end their association at the end of 2019 but developments and on-going work mean that priorities have been realigned. The Frenchman will be exempt from his MotoGP duties but stays contracted to KTM until the end of the season.

KTM are in a crucial phase of the MotoGP project with an intense focus on the next generation of the RC16. Thanks to Kallio’s long-term testing role and experience the Finn will play a major part in gaining valuable data in racing conditions alongside Espargaro, who has posted seven top ten results in 2019 and qualified second on the grid at the last Grand Prix in San Marino.

Kallio - who rode the KTM on its debut in the MotoGP division in Valencia 2016 and has contributed strongly since the early testing phases of the RC16 - has already participated in seven wild card races from 2016 until 2018. With two top ten classifications on the MotoGP bikes and a career total of 16 GP victories and 49 podiums in the lower championship divisions, Kallio is eager to deliver new drive and momentum to KTM’s efforts in the premier class both for the rest of 2019 and with a view to the 2020 RC16.

Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director: "We have to make decisions to ensure that we use our resources in the best possible way and we are currently in a positive direction with our MotoGP structure. We firmly believe that Mika can help us in this stage thanks to his knowledge and background. It is paramount that we verify our testing results in real race conditions to start our 2020 season in the best position. Mika has proved his ability on the RC16 and we are happy that he joins the line-up as a racer again. There is no doubt that we will focus on a new configuration with the #82 bike while fighting for points in the last races of the championship. At the same time we want to express gratitude to Johann for his effort since he joined our ambitious project in November last year. We now have to think of the future and are making this step accordingly. KTM will continue supporting him until the expiry of our contract at the end of the 2019 and we truly wish him all the best for his future."


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sad. but it makes sense. what a waste. Zarco is really the sacrificial lamb of both his mentor Fellon and boss Poncharal. I don't think he will ever ride another motogp. All odds are against him. And if there is one thing that he proved time and again he is not first choice as a tester. Besides this very sad experience with KTM, back in the yamaha days, Zarco was famous for NOT chipping in for testing. His words were always in the line of -I don't want to know what the bike does, I don't want to know which parts were added, I just ride and look for a good feeling. And more often than not his bike was already as fast and prepped as it could go, little tweaking needed.

So... Zarco testing for a big factory? don't think so. 

And this also proves that his mental strenght was not top level (I know, I wish I had just a fraction of the mental strenght of any of those guys!) He lasted what ? 5 months ??? just when Pedrosa was finally coming on board ? what a waste. what an error! 

one final thought about Dani : from what I gathered his input has already been crucial... big loss for Honda, obsessed with tailoring the perfect bike for their one perfect alien... and nobody else. in my book this is maybe a big advantage on the short term, but huge loss on the long game

I'm looking forward to Lorenzo and Zarco on the same team riding Yamahas or Suzukis... Hey! I can dream can't I?

Whilst much has been made of Zarco and his temperament, I can't help but feel this also reflects incredibly badly on KTM and will affect their ability to get top riders in the future. Whether by lack of ability or lack of interest they've made it incredibly clear that they can't alter the bike should a rider need it. If Zarco thought they had a plan no doubt his frustration would have been less evident, but it seems they couldn't even give him that. If Pol were to get a better offer (or get injured) KTM are going to be left looking very exposed.

I believe KTM is bringing an entirely new bike to the Aragon test.....how is that respresentitive of having no plan?

Ducati from 2010-2013 would be the best example, they rebuilt the bike from the axles up but stayed exactly where they were. Perhaps that's what undermined Zarco's confidence, a truck full of new parts is no good if they make no difference, then get replaced by another truck full of new parts before anyone's figured out how to use the old 'new' parts properly.

Said that he spent so much time in the testing mindset that he neglected or found it difficult to focus on his actual racing and on getting results. I hope that KTM have the skills to extract the best out of their riders, not that other manufacturers seem to be any better. 

I agree this reflects poorly on KTM and Pierer specifically. After being diminished by the boss in such a public way, no wonder Zarco wanted out. Since Kallio isn't competitive as a racer, I don't see any benefit at all over Zarco. It sounds to me that the boss was embarrassed by the whole thing and simply imposed his will. Pierer should stay out of the paddock. He's not helpful to their cause. He could learn something from studying Soichiro Honda.  

No plan?... KTM have gone above and beyond to bring new parts. But like any manufacturer have Yamaha changed their bikes DNA? No. have Yamaha changed their bike over the years into a stop and go?  No, corner speed is part of their DNA, it isn’t going to change.  Honda and Ducati are big power bikes and each execute slightly differently.  That’s their DNA.  Suzuki is handling. 

KTM can’t completely change the style of their bike, especially when they are only really just figuring out what their bikes DNA is.  If Zarco needs a smooth, good handling bike…. KTM is not the brand for him.  Neither is Honda or Ducati and they wouldn’t change their DNA for him either, I could guarantee you that!

As David was able to bring to life with his terrific KTM interviews last week, KTM’s dilema is how do you develop for both a ‘Pol’ and a ‘Zarco’? Also, with four currently similar spec bikes, how do you synthesize that much data? That is not a criticism but an honest question? How can you effectively sift that much data to get a direction and whose direction do you follow? As for 2020, how do they determine a path when Pol wants to ride the wheels off it all crossed up while Dani seems to be opposite?! Again, not a critiscism but rhetorical  

As for KTM’s commitment and earlier comment, Zarco was so overwhelmed with the new material this year he had to slow it down. 


Dani is developing a bike and Pol is able to put this bike on the first row so apparently the path is set and it works. If there was something like "dilemma situation" growing out of different riding styles of the testing rider and the racing rider, the development would have been working for Johan, not for Pol... 

Unless I've missed complaints from Pol indicating KTM isn't willing to work with him on setup, I don't feel this situation reflects incredibly badly on KTM at all.  Nor do I believe it will impact their ability to attract top talent in the future. 

The effort KTM puts into their program should be apparent to anyone who follows this sport with more than a passing interest.  Much is reported about the mountain of parts they routinely bring to tests and races in an effort to improve their package.  They have a test team that includes none other than Dani effing Pedrosa.  These are not the moves of a team unwilling to alter the bike should a rider need it.

In fact, Pol recently stated that Pedrosa's input is already paying off.  That, to me, says KTM is able to apply feedback in a manner that positively affects the bike's performance and the rider's ability to extract that performance.  If this situation happened when most other riders were out of contract I have little doubt managers would be lined up out the hospitality door trying to get a word in with Beirer.

Frankly, I think the only person this situation reflects poorly on is Zarco.  He threw a public tantrum about the bike and shortly thereafter broke his contract.  Zarco left his employer in a bad way and has done his career serious harm.  It's a shame for all parties involved, really.

Although i think Fabio has outdone Zarco in terms of rookie season performance (different team and circumstances ), there was once a time when Zarco was the guy making the factory Yamaha boys look slow and people were talking about Rossi retiring and Zarco moving up. What a difference a year makes.

The move to stick Kallio in immediately reminds me of what Red Bull are currently doing in F1 right now, when they switched Gasly with Albon. It's allowed them to assess all the current crop of Red Bull backed drivers before they make a perma decision for 2020 on who is the best fit alongside Verstappen. It's the same with KTM sticking Mika in right now.

It's no secret Oliviera and Binder are KTM's long term hopes, but need a year or two away from extra pressure, by spending time at Tech 3. In the meanwhile, you get a highly motivated Kallio, who if he does a good enough job in these remaining races, get the full time gig in 2020. Then come contract time for 2021, when all the riders in MotoGP are available, it'll be far easier to revert Kallio back to test rider role if need be, and most likely promote either Oliviera or Binder, without any complications or headaches, which makes more sense, than hiring someone external, like Bradley Smith.

Of course, the move also allows them to compare Kallio and Oliviera on similar machinary, so as well as getting Zarco away from the scene, this situation works out very nicely for KTM, without really losing anything.


Zarco may have blundered his way out of Motogp. Zarco to HRC makes no sense in theory. Zarco has the same style as Lorenzo who is struggling severely on the RC213V. How Johann would adapt to the twitchy beast ("highly reactive to inputs" in Morbidelli's words) that only Marquez can master is a mystery. HRC would be better off with either Bautista or Nakagami next to Marc. Crutchlow has been muttering too much about retiring. And Zarco as a tester is also questionable. What does Johann have to offer a manufacturer as a tester that they do not already have? An inability or unwillingness to adapt? As stated in other comments on this page and in other articles, the best option for both Lorenzo and Zarco is heading up a satellite Suzuki project. The only problem there is that Suzuki made clear they don't want primadonnas in their outfit (like Iannone or Lorenzo). No big egos allowed. And Zarco has a history with Suzuki. Then again humbleness usually causes one to set aside old emotional pain.

One thing is for sure - when KTM decide the relationship is over they yank the rug out swiftly. Just ask Kenny Roberts or the Moto2 teams they are supplying this year. Only time will tell if their Motogp project will bring the lofty results they spoke of acquiring when this all started 3 years ago. I vaguely recall talk of winning races in the third season. Recent results are showing a glimmer of light. And the season ain't over 'til mid-november. Good luck. 

I suscribe to Neil Spaulding's philosophy that manufacturers are obligated to try to bring the bike to the rider. They must try to adapt their bike to the style of the rider. It's too much to ask the rider to completely change their style. Probably the most realistic scenario is that the manufacturer tries to change the bike in the direction of the rider's style while the rider modifies their style to go faster on the bike. In Neil's opinion, it would take a lot of changes to make the RC213V a bike that Lorenzo could use to return to the form of his glory days.  

Zarco has to step down a level and regroup, but what I wanted to say was that given the difficulties Cal, Nakagami (OK-ish), and Lorenzo especially are having with the RC213V, doesn’t this put the super-human efforts of Dani into a new light. After more bone crushing accidents- more than Lorenzo - he was still turning in top 5’s when he was post injury recover, and on his day, as Marques even said- he can win. All that on a bike that was clearly developed only for MM. Shows Dani is a pretty special rider given his size disadvantage. Seeing Dani’s smile at Goodwood the other day- seems he is enjoying life again. Good on him. 

the fact that DP26 did not get along with the latest iteration of Michelin tires. At all.

Very sad indeed. Zarco is, in my opinion, the most talented rider to swing his leg over the KTM. The bike is no good, and as a result his career is ruined. Ironically, it's possible that next year's bike would have been much more to his liking.

I don't know anyone can watch Pol ride the wheels of that ill-handling KTM and question his talent. He put it on the front row last round for pete's sake. Worth remembering too that both Zarco and Pol won Moto 2 titles and both finished 6th in their rookie years on the tech 3 yamaha. Zarco had more impressive results at Tech 3, but it's hard to know what the relative levels of support and machinery Tech 3 had when each rider was there. Certainly being a popular French rider in a France based team didn't hurt Zarco, and the fact Yamaha had two legitimate title contenders in the factory team at while Pol was at Tech 3 would have meant they were less inclined to give private teams a leg up. The fact remains that as teamates with the same support and machinery Pol has utterly destroyed Zarco. 

As a fan I reacted to JZ's decision to leave KTM: "The best, fastest, most advanced bikes on the planet, and you're going home to snooze on the couch?!" Hey, give me his ride, I'm sure I could break 2:00 at Misano!

How many chances do you get? Possibly no more for JZ. Too bad, the JZ I watched at PI was awesome, daring, aggessive. He will regret this for the rest of his life.

I have never, and will never, root for MM, but at least he recognizes that this is his glorious moment in time, a moment that may be gone in a flash, a chance to do what has never been done.

It's always interesting following the video camera in the pits prior to the grid. Rossi is always the best performer, Dovi gives a smile or a wave depending on how he's feeling, Rins a smile, MV finally admitting the camera is there, and MM all business. But Zarco just seemed to be feeling sorry for himself.



" I have never, and will never, root for MM, " ? do you mean Marco Melandri or someone else. Yes I agree Melandri's " glorious moment in time " has passed.


why Zarco received a 3 place grid penalty for his clash with Oliveira, after Lorenzo escaped any punishment for taking out 3 of the top 4 riders in the championship at Barcelona? Passport issues?

Lorenzo's incident was in a shitty corner in an otherwise great track. Known in the industry as a catch corner. He was sucked into the draft, and then there was Dovi parking in front of him. You can blame him for Dovi and MV, but not VR.

Little is personal here. KTM and JZ05 are doing ok going their ways. Bad fit. Get the divorce over with.

Makes sense. Shift towards development w Kallio shaking out a bike towards 2020. Orange is on the move! The bike is getting quicker quickly.

Zarco is either Moto2 on a solid Kalex, or Yamaha test/replacement. Hoping for the latter as he can get it on THE pointy pace. Even more than departed Folger. Yamaha has an opportunity.

All is well. Orange is on the right track, and Zarco right to be off of it and paid. Skipping drama.

The Red project is the one I see with rider needs to address, not this one. What does Bagnaia need now? A fuel tank to grab? A fire under his arse? What kid can be gotten on the bike soon? How can the bike keep taking steps towards conventional feel and rideability?

Yamaha is the other project besides KTM at a high rate if positive change. The Quartararo-Vinales rivalry is healthy and helpful. Rossi has much to offer in addition to being on a bike. VR46 can merge w Factory Yamaha and the Italian development team much like the Spanish-Repsol-Puig-Honda behemoth, but even more dynamically. Bike is out of its mire and driving the tire.

Honda? Their bike handles like an petulant errant feral pig. Sorry Cal and Jorge, but hoping it continues.

Suzuki! Time to step up your organization. Quit target fixation on the Factory for funding, then just accepting their limitations. Go to the large established teams wanting a good MotoGP bike (even Gresini). Go to Dorna and have them be there with you to grease skids. Connect with the parties they all share connection with. 2nd team, rider pipeline, sponsors. Four Factory Suzuki bikes for 2021. Then bring that workable expanded plan to the Suzuki brass to sign off on. And, a bit more grunt in that motor. Yamaha is leaving you. KTM is approaching. More is possible. Don't lose Rins next silly season.

regarding Yamaha, you left one item off the prescription: place Jarvis on the scrapheap of history! How he has survived the downfall of a once dominant MotoGP team is beyond me. Here in ‘Murica he woukd have been canned several years ago. As i have said, he must have pictures of Yamaha executives in compromising positions with an Akita.

Also interesting to think about is what happens if Gigi goes to Aprillia?! 

If anywhere, Gigi was going to KTM?  Aprilia really seem to be really without hope or even a plan at present.

As for Yamaha, what they need to do is transition the entire Petronas team to be the factory effort, thereby leaving the remainder of what is now the factory team to be the SkyVR46 near-factory-spec-satellite team.  It neatly sidesteps all the managerial issues that Yam have had since the return of Rossi's overwhelming presence. 

Vinales in a SkyVR46 near-factory-spec-satellite team doesn't seem likely to me and hasn't Rossi said that he would set up a team only after retirement from riding?

Maybe Vinales and Qartararo Factory, Morbidelli and what ever Italian looks most promising for SkyVR46 .

... to the team itself - personell, sponsors hangers-on, etc - rather than the riders. :) 
Vinales is harder to pick than a broken nose.  A better team staff and environment without the long shadow of Rossi would probably see him shine more often, but I struggle to see him being a consistent challenger to Marquez week in week out.  But yes Mav and Fabio in factory Petronas/Zeelenberg/Razali would be the pick of their present crop if looking a few years into the future.  Even better, Fabio and Johnny Rea.  :D  Rossi is clearly still amazing but time waits for no man, or goat.  :)

I have to smile at the 'KTM is a bad bike' comments. Does that also mean the other bikes running round at the back of the field are also 'bad bikes'? 

They were never going to arrive at the front without a lot of development and hard graft, look how long it's taken Ducati to get where they are today, or Suzuki  .... 

The RC16 isn't a 'bad bike' by a stretch of the imagination, anything that can lap at the pace it manages can't be called that. What it is not, yet, is a good MotoGP machine. It's 3-4 years into it's development, and it has to be said, actually making remarkable progress considering.

It now looks like Zarco was the wrong guy to put on it at this stage, his style and mentality aren't right for a bike undergoing rapid change. It would appear he can't give feedback on what is working or not, and what is worth following up, he can only say whether it feels right to him or not.

Pedrosa on the other hand is noted for his ability to download info on many things at once, how they interact, and what he expects from changes. His physique has meant he's had to do that his whole career, as he needs a bike that works with him. 

Pedrosa also knows what a bad MotoGP bike feels like, and how to fix it. Zarco only knows what a M1 feels like, and as has been proved many times now, it flatters a Rookie 250 style rider. 

No bike currently in MotoGP is a bad or indifferent bike and they are all so close. Clearly, the 'team', or people, are what make the difference, be they back room engineers, pit box guru's, or the tyre and suspension experts. Or riders.

The evident lack of engineering understanding of what makes a good bike is what teases all those engineers. Like a good recipe, it sometimes takes a 'secret' ingredient. That riders on bikes that are 'suited' to a particlar track can be beaten by riders on bikes that are 'errant pigs' is testament to the very clever engineers and brilliant riders involved.

Wilco Zeelenberg recently said on BT TV that Quartararo had a long body that allowed him to shift weight more effectively front to rear. He is aslo demonstrably faster than Rossi on a bike with less power, so is he also more aerodynamic in a high speed crouch? Petrucci's struggles with his weight (he looks chubbier to me now than at the start of the season, which seems to be his MO). MM seems very small to me and most of these riders seem to be below average height and weight, even with muscles having greater mass than fat.

Scott Redding got a lot of coments in Moto2 about his size and weight and many of the riders in the support series appear to struggle as they grow.

Most bike components are the same and, if not totally fixed, give little scope for quick development, or adjustment. The parts that appear to have greatest influence are the chassis and swinging arm. Various other key bits such as linkages too, of course, but that applies to many of the smaller items. Given that there are only about 50, maybe 100, riders who can take these machines to consistent fast laps for 45 minutes and also produce a really fast quailifying lap, where is the logic that says you only make a bike for half, or less, of them? If chassis' are being produced to suit one rider, what stops another version being provided for the other riders in the factory team, and even satellites? Money? Machinists? Welders? (The money one is obvious, but it isn't a block to all teams.)

If KTM are churning out as much hardware as is said then couldn't a Zarco type be produced as well as a Pol version?

We are told that one rider in a team 'couldn't ride' the bike of their teammate. Even MotoGP No.1 and No.2 bikes are said to be different due to fine manufacturing differences. So, many differences already exist. MM uses different chassis and swinging arms to other HRC riders. That's probably not unique.

Why cannot riders be provided with a bespoke solution that suits them?

I totally agree that asking riders to' just ride it' and criticising them when they evidently cannot is both dumb and self-defeating.

Zarco has been sensible, no matter the consequences, and he seems strong enough to understand that and not follow the mantras of fools who say he should just adapt. His body will thank him as much as his brain. He clearly had the "Just ride it and tweak it." type feedback from the team.

Some riders say that they love their bike. Well, the divorce rate shows that finding love of the lasting kind is a mercurial sport that is difficult to retire from. And all the matching in the world by software and other experts means that the real, deep, rich oneness that MM seems to have at present is also a lot to do with chance. A bit like coming up with a top energy drink and its brand ethos.

That's why I think MotoGP is the best sport. Long may these controversies and questions keep coming.