Pit Pass: KTM’S Ste­fan Pierer

KTM’SSTEFAN PIERER TALKS ABOUT The Aus­trian man­u­fac­turer’s CEO doesn’t mince words on the RC16 Motogp ef­fort, the Ja­panese fac­to­ries, and where he thinks rac­ing and mo­tor­cy­cling are headed

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The Aus­trian man­u­fac­turer’s CEO doesn’t mince words on the RC16 Motogp ef­fort, the Ja­panese fac­to­ries, and where he thinks rac­ing and mo­tor­cy­cling are headed

KTM CEO Ste­fan Pierer is a very di­rect per­son. His an­swers dur­ing in­ter­views are straight and hon­est, with­out vague­ness or hy­per­bole. He doesn’t try to be elu­sive when asked hard ques­tions, in con­trast to how Ja­panese ex­ec­u­tives of­ten re­act in the same sit­u­a­tion. In­ter­views with Pierer can be summed up as, “Ask me ex­actly what you want to know, and I will tell you.”

Af­ter achiev­ing out­right suc­cess in nu­mer­ous off- road mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing dis­ci­plines— many times over long- dom­i­nant Ja­panese ri­val com­pa­nies— KTM is now set­ting its sights di­rectly on Motogp. The Aus­trian man­u­fac­turer is field­ing a full fac­tory team in 2017, with two estab­lished rid­ers (Bradley Smith and Pol Es­par­garó, both for­merly with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team) on its own

RC16 Motogp race­bike that went from CAD de­signs to fully func­tion­ing pro­to­type in three short years. Pre­sea­son test­ing has shown the KTMS to be very, very close to com­pet­i­tive form, no small feat con­sid­er­ing the ul­tra- high level of Motogp and the very short ges­ta­tion time of the RC16.

“We are in this to win,” is the main mes­sage Pierer sends when asked about the com­pany’s goals in Motogp. And con­sid­er­ing the proud his­tory of the Aus­trian brand— as well as his forth­right per­son­al­ity— Pierer is not one to speak ca­su­ally about such mat­ters.

What does the Motogp project rep­re­sent for you per­son­ally?

We had ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing but suc­cess in Motogp, and this ac­count is still open with KTM. We started ev­ery­thing 20 years ago, with the Paris- Dakar rally and all that, and last year we won the Su­per­cross cham­pi­onship in the USA. Some­thing that took 12 years of hard work and per­sis­tence. Now it's time for Motogp. For decades the Ja­panese have been the masters of this cat­e­gory. How re­al­is­tic are the chances of KTM’S suc­cess?

Very re­al­is­tic! The Ja­panese cook with the same wa­ter as we do. I think we are quicker to make de­ci­sions, and we take more risks. Look­ing at the record, you can learn a lot from the Ja­panese. We have shown in other spe­cial­ties that we can beat the Ja­panese, and it’s fun. And do you have any "fa­vorite Ja­panese" you want to de­feat?

The most re­spected [fac­tory], and [the one that] de­serves my high­est ad­mi­ra­tion, is Yamaha. An­other of my fa­vorite brands is Kawasaki. But the vic­to­ries that give me the most sat­is­fac­tion are those that we get over Honda. In the Moto3 cat­e­gory, the on­go­ing bat­tles guar­an­tee there will be ex­cite­ment week­end af­ter week­end…

In Moto3 we have learned a lot. We won’t be “suck­ers” com­ing to Motogp, and this is due in part to the Moto3 project. What led KTM to take part as a chas­sis sup­plier in Moto2, even though some­one else’s en­gine will be used?

With mo­tor­cy­cles it’s not just the en­gine that makes per­for­mance but ev­ery­thing al­to­gether. We are the last to use a multi- tubu­lar chas­sis on our bikes, and in Moto3 we have shown that you can be very suc­cess­ful with this con­cept. We want to do the same in Motogp. In Moto2

we want to show that you can make a dif­fer­ence with a chas­sis in a sin­gle- en­gine cat­e­gory as well. Du­cati won its only world ti­tle with a multi-tubu­lar chas­sis. But an alu­minum- chas­sis builder can list a thou­sand rea­sons their de­sign is bet­ter. Why are you so con­vinced of this al­ter­na­tive?

For decades we have done great in off- road rac­ing with the tech­nol­ogy of a multi- tubu­lar steel chas­sis, and now things have been even more re­fined. Our multi- tubes are good, are highly so­phis­ti­cated al­loyed steel, chrome molyb­de­num, and, in­deed, our SX mo­tocross chas­sis is lighter than an alu­minum chas­sis. This means that high- per­for­mance steel can make a bet­ter chas­sis that is lighter and with bet­ter flex­i­bil­ity. This is the trick. And so I think we’ll show what is the best Motogp too. Ap­par­ently this tech­nol­ogy helps in the de­vel­op­ment phase of a mo­tor­cy­cle, as the trel­lis frames are faster to ma­nip­u­late, when both cut­ting and weld­ing.

That’s right, ev­ery­thing is very fast. If you want to change the flex­i­bil­ity, you cut and/or add an­other one to change the char­ac­ter­is­tics and you’re ready. In the 500cc Grand Prix era, Ca­giva used the strat­egy of copy­ing Yamaha’s tech­nol­ogy with­out re­stric­tions, and it didn’t help. Do you think your pol­icy of be­ing rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent will give you more chances?

In en­gine tech­nol­ogy, we are the ref­er­ence. In this area we don’t need to hide from Honda. And if you an­a­lyze my group of com­pa­nies, you’ll find among them a com­pany that sup­plies mo­tor­sports world­wide, from F1 to Motogp. All in­ter­nal parts of this Motogp bike come from Katzen­berg, from the cylin­der to the con­nect­ing rods to crankshafts… So believe me, in the four- stroke world we know what we are do­ing. You can be sure of this. Does this mean KTM will be free from the low per­for­mance of en­gines as hap­pened first with Suzuki and now to Aprilia?

To this, I want to say that we have an ex­cep­tional en­gine builder, Kurt Trieb. He has been work­ing with us for al­most 15 years, ex­cept for a short pe­riod he was in BMW. He is re­ally a unique per­son. And with the ex­pe­ri­ence we have, I’m not wor­ried at all about the is­sue of per­for­mance of our en­gines. There is enough power avail­able, but now, of course, we have to make it man­age­able. Re­gard­ing the chas­sis, we learned a lot in Moto3 and also used the tech­nol­ogy in all kinds of spe­cial­ties; we are very sol­vent. Over the years we’ve put to­gether a good team, which is lo­cated

near our fac­tory in Mat­tighofen. We don’t have em­ploy­ees in Spain, in Italy, or else­where; we have our peo­ple near our fa­cil­i­ties. Our project is a com­pre­hen­sive project that also in­volves Pankl and WP— which gives me con­fi­dence that we will be com­pet­i­tive rel­a­tively quickly. I al­ways say: Suzuki is my ref­er­ence point. What Suzuki has done has my re­spect. To achieve what they have achieved [in such a short time] is what we want. To match the achieve­ments of Suzuki is your short-term goal, so what is your long-term goal? To win Motogp?

Well of course! We are not in this with Olympic spirit, that is, for the honor and plea­sure to par­tic­i­pate; we want to get on the podium. And there is al­ways that dream of win­ning some­thing at some point. If the time comes to sign an elite cham­pion rider in order to make that last step, are you sure that KTM will have the fi­nan­cial re­sources to do this?

Du­cati bought Lorenzo for 12 to 14 mil­lion eu­ros ($13 to $15 mil­lion), and they are not sure of win­ning, even if they have the best bike! Be­cause when it rains he is out of the top places. We are more look­ing to select tal­ented rid­ers from Moto3 and Moto2 and grow with them and then move them up. This is an­other rea­son why we are en­ter­ing Moto2. Look, the re­ally good rid­ers have all been with us in the small cat­e­gories at some point: [Casey] Stoner, [Marc] Márquez, [Mav­er­ick] Viñales…all of them. And now Brad Bin­der, who I don’t want to leave off this list. Next year he’ll be in Moto2 with us. And if he con­tin­ues as he is go­ing now, he will nat­u­rally have a place in Motogp. This saves us mil­lions, with­out im­ply­ing that he won’t be paid what he de­serves. The fig­ures are now be­ing moved around that pro­vide for the need to de­velop the bike. And I think we were lucky in choos­ing rid­ers. We de­cided very early on Bradley Smith, who is fast and has ex­pe­ri­ence. As for Pol Es­par­garó, he was about to jump onto an of­fi­cial team, some­thing that in the end did not hap­pen. He was dis­ap­pointed, so nat­u­rally he agreed to come with us. With him we have two young and pow­er­ful rid­ers. With them, in a very Ja­panese style, we are paving a care­ful path for­ward, step by step. KTM is ac­cus­tomed to sell­ing repli­cas of its race­bikes; do you have plans to do the same with the RC16?

We want to of­fer nearly ex­act repli­cas. We also in­tend to ad­just the price as best as pos­si­ble. For this pur­pose some parts could be dif­fer­ent, but the prin­ci­ple is to use the same en­gine. Some­thing sim­i­lar to what we do with the Ral­lye, where we man­u­fac­ture a replica of the race­bike. Will they be pro­duc­tion bikes or for cir­cuit use?

For the cir­cuit only; safety is one of our pri­or­i­ties. A mo­tor­cy­cle with 270 or 260 horse­power these days does not make sense on the street. KTM is part of a group of com­pa­nies that you have been com­bin­ing in re­cent years. How big is your hold­ing right now?

Right now we em­ploy 5,000 peo­ple di­vided into three com­pa­nies. The first of those is KTM with the sec­ond be­ing Husq­varna, which has

What Suzuki has done has my re­spect. To achieve what they have achieved [in such a short time] is what we want.

helped us a lot in re­cent years. To­day we make no fewer than 30,000 Husq­var­nas a year. Then nat­u­rally there is Pankl with ap­prox­i­mately 200 mil­lion eu­ros ($215 mil­lion) in rev­enue and 1,400 em­ploy­ees. Fi­nally there is WP, with 600 work­ers, that has moved 140 mil­lion eu­ros ($150 mil­lion) in busi­ness. The whole group moves be­tween 1.3 to 1.4 bil­lion eu­ros ($1.4 to $1.5 bil­lion) with 5,000 work­ers, of which 70 per­cent are in Aus­tria. All our R&D has been and are al­ways in Europe, mainly in Aus­tria. And the fu­ture? What do you see in the fu­ture of the mo­tor­cy­cle? Where do you think the bike world is head­ing?

I think mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing will be­come in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive. And the in­ter­est is com­ing from the loss of in­ter­est in car rac­ing. Who is still in­ter­ested in F1 or any other car races? We are talk­ing about a com­pe­ti­tion in which driv­ers have in­creas­ingly less in­flu­ence. In mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing, how­ever, the rid­ers con­tinue to have a ma­jor in­flu­ence on the rac­ing and the over­tak­ing, and the prices for live com­pe­ti­tion are af­ford­able. It re­mains a fam­ily event, which you can go with chil­dren who can get close to the rid­ers. They are rac­ing as be­fore. We see it in mo­tocross. A well- or­ga­nized race at­tracts up to 30,000 spec­ta­tors. And we're talk­ing about mo­tocross!

On the other hand, the two- wheeled ve­hi­cle will re­cover its role as a trans­port ve­hi­cle. Not that we’ll go back to the ’50s and ’60s, but what young per­son can af­ford a car these days? And in a city, it of­ten does not make sense to have one. There are prac­ti­cal scoot­ers, mo­tor­cy­cles, and other two- wheel­ers. I am con­vinced that in the next 15 years elec­tric mo­bil­ity in the form of bi­cy­cles and/or mo­tor­cy­cles that need just an A1 li­cense will be im­posed. Ve­hi­cles with a power of 1,2, 3, or 4 kilo­watts. These ve­hi­cles will at­tract young peo­ple. So if you ask me where we go as a com­pany, my an­swer is cer­tainly to­ward that seg­ment of the mar­ket. SR

BY MANUEL PECINO PHOTOGRAPHY COUR­TESY OF KTM

“With the ex­pe­ri­ence we have, I’m not wor­ried at all about the is­sue of per­for­mance of our en­gines.” KTM has al­ways been known for its pow­er­ful en­gines in the off- road seg­ment, and Pierer is con­fi­dent the RC16 won’t be lack­ing.

The vic­to­ries that give me the most sat­is­fac­tion are those that we get over Honda.

Join­ing Pol Es­par­garó will be the Spa­niard’s team­mate from Monster Yamaha Tech 3, Bradley Smith. The young Brit had a tough year in ’ 16 and is look­ing to re­bound strong with the Red Bull KTM Fac­tory team. Ste­fan Pierer has over­seen the ac­qui­si­tion of num

One of the Red Bull KTM Fac­tory team rid­ers for 2017 will be Es­par­garó, who fin­ished eighth in the Motogp cham­pi­onship last year as part of Monster Yamaha Tech 3.

Red Bull and KTM spared no ex­pense in gath­er­ing to­gether a very qual­i­fied group of peo­ple for its team, poach­ing a good num­ber of HRC en­gi­neers and vet­eran tech­ni­cians from through­out the Motogp pad­dock. Those in­clude for­mer Dani Pe­drosa crew chief Mike L

Motogp right­sh­old­ers Dorna were ob­vi­ously happy to add KTM to the list of fac­to­ries com­pet­ing in the cham­pi­onship, with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta (right) and KTM Mo­tor­sports Di­rec­tor Pit Beirer (left) pos­ing with Pierer and the RC16 be­fore its de­but. Pie

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