Johann Zarco has been confirmed as KTM’s second works MotoGP rider for the 2019 season and leaves no place for incumbent Bradley Smith in the Austrian brand’s works squad
Reporting by Jamie Klein, News Editor
Tech 3 Yamaha rider Zarco has long been a target of KTM and is said to have signed a two-year deal to join the team during last month’s race in Austin.
“It is clear that we want to take another step in MotoGP,” said KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer. “The first two years were about building the project and getting everything up and running.
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“You always want to get the best possible drivers on board and it is obvious that Johann beats the factory people on satellite machines and is consistently qualifying in the front row, which means that he is a strong fighter with a strong spirit.
“I am convinced that with a driver like Johann we can reach the next level with us.”
At KTM, Zarco will compete alongside Pol Espargaro, whose place at the Mattighofen manufacturer for the 2019 and 2020 seasons was announced on Wednesday.
“It was a group effort to do this,” said Beirer. “We had to trust our ability to build a winning bike, and Johann wouldn’t come by if he didn’t see and feel that trust.
“We now feel very responsible for making this package strong enough so that he can continue at the level he is at. That is our big goal.”
Zarco’s strong form aboard the 2016 Yamaha since the start of his rookie season last year had made him a target for Honda that has not yet decided whether Dani Pedrosa will keep it.
Suzuki was also known to be interested in Zarco, but the Hamamatsu brand’s decision to break a pre-agreement with him in 2016 – and sign Alex Rins instead – counted against it.
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Zarco will compete alongside the current KTM rider Pol Espargaro
Blacksmith in the cold
The announcement from KTM leaves Smith, who has been a teammate with Espargaro since the beginning of 2017, an uncertain future in MotoGP.
Last year he finished 21st in the overall standings with a top position of 10. His poor performance led to a change of crew chief in the middle of the season and then to speculation that he could be replaced by test driver Mika Kallio.
Smith’s chances of staying in MotoGP seem to hinge on a return to Tech 3, where he competed in 2013-16 races and finished sixth overall in 2015, or on a move to another independent team.
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