Mike Leitner, the man who was brought in to lead KTM's MotoGP project from the very beginning, is to be moved aside by the Austrian factory. Today, KTM officially announced that the engineer and former HRC crew chief - he was crew chief to Dani Pedrosa for most of the Spaniard's career - is to be moved into a consultancy role.
Although the press release does not give an explict reason for the change, beyond a desire to "restructure the KTM Factory Racing hierarchy", the move reflects a feeling that KTM's progress toward its objective of winning a MotoGP title has stalled. While KTM made good progress in 2019, and won its first races in 2020, 2021 saw the Austrian factory take a step backward. Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira still won races, but they struggled to make it into the top ten just as often.
Leitner is to make way for Pramac Ducati team manager Francesco Guidotti, as has been widely reported in the Italian media. Guidotti was previously a part of KTM's effort in the 250cc GP class, the precursor to Moto2, and has been successful at the helm of Pramac, the Ducati satellite team regularly winning races and feeding a string of riders into the factory team.
The poaching of Guidotti from Pramac fits into a long history of KTM poaching top talent from other factories and teams (a practice in which they are not by any means unique). Previously, WP Suspension, KTM's own brand of suspension, poached senior Öhlins engineer Peter Bergvall, they took Jun Miyazaki from Honda, where he had helped design HRC's first seamless gearbox, and most recently, they took Fabio Sterlacchini, one of Ducati Corse's most senior engineers. Respected journalist Mat Oxley recently wrote a blog on KTM's history of hiring outside talent into the team.
Guidotti will be charged with getting KTM's MotoGP title challenge back on track. They are not short of talent - if anything, they have too much rather than too little talent, and not enough seats to place it all. Guidotti will have to take that talent and make sure that they are given the tools they need to fight for a championship.
The press release from KTM appears below:
KTM Factory Racing expresses sincere thanks to Mike Leitner for pivotal MotoGP™ management role
2021 MotoGP news
KTM Factory Racing wish to extend their gratitude to Mike Leitner for his application and knowledge towards their MotoGP program as the Austrian steps down from his position as Red Bull KTM Race Manager.
2022 will represent KTM’s sixth season as part of the MotoGP grid and the KTM Factory Racing hierarchy will restructure. The 59-year-old will no longer fill his management role as principal of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing set-up and will transition into a consultancy post.
Leitner originally came into the KTM Race Department and helped construct the testing squad that began work on the KTM RC16 in 2015 and then the official Red Bull KTM MotoGP team that first took to the grid at the end of 2016 in Valencia.
Since 2017 he has been an important part of the KTM MotoGP race management and organisation that has produced five victories and 13 trophies in less than half a decade of Grand Prix competition. He was instrumental in delivering the company’s first podium as rider Pol Espargaro classified 3rd at the 2018 Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana. By 2020 he oversaw KTM’s maiden victory, scored by Brad Binder in the Czech Republic as well as further spoils by the South African in 2021 and the three triumphs marked by Miguel Oliveira in Austria, Portugal and Catalunya in the last two seasons.
Further milestones include Espargaro’s 5th place finish in the 2020 rider’s standings while Binder ranked 6th by the end of the recent 2021 campaign.
Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsports Director: “Mike has been a key figure in our mission to fight against the best in the world of road racing. Together we created a MotoGP structure with the right staff and the right riders which achieved outstanding results at the pinnacle of the sport. We started building our RC16 and the whole plan from a blank piece of paper and under his guidance we put a great team together; one that took on the challenge of MotoGP. Now, after seven years together, we decided to reorganize our MotoGP leadership for the future, and I cannot express how much we want to thank him for all the work he put into this project. Mike pushed very hard to get us from the back of the grid to the front row and his dedication has played a major part in our success story.”