Test rider Dani Pedrosa has been credited by MotoGP riders both inside and outside of KTM for playing a key role in turning the factory’s RC16 into a race-winning machine.
After 31 MotoGP victories, the most for any rider without a premier-class title, over eleven seasons at Repsol Honda, Pedrosa retired from competition at the end of 2018 and was swiftly snapped-up for testing duties at KTM.
Some doubted the decision, saying Pedrosa’s small size required a unique set-up and riding style that wouldn’t translate into progress for other riders and might even lead the Austrian factory astray.
KTM race manager Mike Leitner took the opposite approach, believing that since the 1.60m/51kg Spaniard cannot physically muscle the bike around, he is extra-sensitive when it comes to finding the best set-up and behaviour.
Leitner should know, of course, having served as Pedrosa’s crew chief from his first 250cc season in 2004, through until the end of the 2014 MotoGP campaign.
“I think such he’s such an experienced MotoGP rider and where Dani is really good is that he’s not only looking for a lap time,” Leitner said.
“I mean the guy, in his brain – and this he had to have in his career because he’s a very small rider and only had a certain amount of energy for a race – he’s really looking at what makes the change for the race distance.
“On that point he’s really, really good. Many people learn a lot from him.”
The RC16 has become noticeably tamer since Pedrosa’s arrival – the smoother ride, combined with better turning, also aiding tyre life and helping maintain pace to the chequered flag.
‘We try to improve from both sides’
The RC16 development process involves a tidal flow of information back-and-forth between Pedrosa and KTM.
While the 35-year-old is often asked to deliver a verdict on new parts or ideas conceived entirely in the factory or in response to requests made by the race riders, the situation is then reversed when Pedrosa acts as the starting point for areas of the bike he wants engineers to ‘target’.
“It’s two completely different targets,” Leitner confirmed. “I mean, of course you bring new parts to test and ask Dani exactly about the feeling or what impression he has about them.
“But after riding the bike and doing the tests he also impresses on us from his side what he would target. So it is always a combination between the rider input and the ideas people have in the company.
“We try to improve from both sides.
“We have many good designers and engineers, so they bring also a lot of ideas to the track that none of the riders have requested. Then there are other parts we bring, which are in answer to the requests from the riders.
“In this point Dani is doing a really good job, being always very honest.
“It’s not always easy to work with people – let’s say, you can imagine if you are a young designer or engineer, you work for one month on one specific part. You bring it to test, you are so pumped about it and then the first thing the rider tells you when he comes back into the garage is it’s better you put it in the bin or something!
“But Dani does it in a very good way. Very straight and very honest. I think now after two years of testing all the people in KTM understand him very well and can work from his comments better and better.
“It’s a good combination, that’s been growing in these last two years.”
Both Pedrosa and fellow test rider Mika Kallio (who acts as the team’s official substitute rider) have been retained by KTM for the 2021 season.
With KTM having lost technical concessions due to last year’s success, they are no longer able to conduct private testing with race riders and will thus be relying on Pedrosa and Kallio more than ever for development duties.