KTM has named Brad Binder as Pol Espargaro’s squadmate in its factory MotoGP team in 2020, with Iker Lecuona handed a premier-class promotion as a consequence.
Moto2 ace Binder was already set to graduate to MotoGP next year, but was in line to replace Hafizh Syahrin at KTM’s satellite outfit Tech 3.
However, following Johann Zarco’s early exit from the programme, KTM scrambled to fill the works RC16, its predicament complicated by the fact Tech 3 was particularly keen to hang on to its impressive 2019 rookie Miguel Oliveira.
As a result, KTM has now opted to promote Oliveira’s intended teammate Binder instead, while giving the vacated Tech 3 ride to another Moto2 graduate.
“It was clear that our plans for 2020 needed to change following our mid-season announcement [of Zarco’s exit],” KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer said.
“After some thought and talks we decided to move in this direction and let the young, hungry guys with good experience in the other categories of MotoGP show us what they can do.”
Aside from Oliveira – and with test rider Dani Pedrosa making it clear he did not want to return to competition – fellow tester Mika Kallio and Bradley Smith had seemingly emerged as the obvious options to replace Zarco.
But while KTM called up Kallio for the remaining races of 2018 after benching Zarco in the lead-up to Aragon, the 36-year-old will not be getting the ride on a full-time basis.
Binder, who trialled the RC16 during the summer break, won a Moto3 title for the Austrian marque back in 2016. He remains in mathematical contention for this year’s Moto2 crown – though trails championship leader Alex Marquez by 50 points.
“I’m super-happy with the duo we have for 2020. We had a long discussion about it but finally I think it is a good decision that KTM made,” said KTM team manager Mike Leitner.
“In Pol we have a very strong rider who has made good results for us and we’ve seen in the other categories what Brad is capable of with our bikes. He is one of the young kids that has come through the ranks. It will be a big challenge for him but I think he will have a great future in MotoGP.”
Lecuona, aged 19, had already signed a deal for 2020 to ride for the Ajo Motorsport-run KTM Moto2 factory squad, although KTM would then announce it was ceasing its intermediate-class programme.
A Moto2 regular since mid-2016, Lecuona scored his maiden podium in last year’s Valencia finale and is 11th in the current championship standings, as the second-highest placed KTM rider in the category behind Binder.
Iker Lecuona, American Racing KTM
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
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