KTM has decided to replace Johann Zarco effective immediately. From Aragon until the end of 2019, current KTM test rider Mika Kallio will take the place of the Frenchman in the factory Red Bull KTM team.
Though the decision comes as a surprise to the outside world, it makes sense from the perspective of KTM. Zarco has announced his intention to leave at the end of the season, and given his options are limited for 2020, is looking at becoming a test rider, and has been linked to a possible vacancy at Yamaha.
With so much work happening on the KTM RC16, and a constant flow of new parts in the garage, KTM has decided it is better to have test rider Mika Kallio on the bike than keeping Johann Zarco.
Zarco hinted at these motives on Sunday night at Misano. He told reporters he did not expect to receive new parts for the rest of 2019, and said he would not be taking part at a two-day test planned for Aragon after the race.
“There will be a test at Aragon and I won’t do it because it will be with a totally new bike and I am not any more in the confidence of KTM to be able to do this,” Zarco said.
It is also a good move for Kallio and KTM. Kallio has made no secret of his desire to return to racing, and focused very hard on preparing the wildcard appearances he made last year.
That was the reason KTM decided to scale those wildcards back, as they felt they were losing too much pure testing time to Kallio’s desire to get ready for a race. This move allows Kallio to race, while also sharpening his speed to help improve his pace in testing.
“We have to make decisions to ensure that we use our resources in the best possible way and we are currently in a positive direction with our MotoGP structure,” said Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director. “We firmly believe that Mika can help us in this stage thanks to his knowledge and background.”
“It is paramount that we verify our testing results in real race conditions to start our 2020 season in the best position. Mika has proved his ability on the RC16 and we are happy that he joins the line-up as a racer again. There is no doubt that we will focus on a new configuration with the #82 bike while fighting for points in the last races of the championship.”
“At the same time we want to express gratitude to Johann for his effort since he joined our ambitious project in November last year. We now have to think of the future and are making this step accordingly. KTM will continue supporting him until the expiry of our contract at the end of the 2019 and we truly wish him all the best for his future.”
Though Zarco will no longer be racing for KTM in 2019, the Austrian factory did say in the press release that they would ‘honor his contract’, code for paying out his salary for the rest of the year.
Kallio replacing Zarco in 2019 does not necessarily mean he will replace the Frenchman in 2020 as well. KTM has not made a decision on who will team with Pol Espargaro for next season.
At Misano, Pit Beirer told me that he did not expect to make an announcement until much later in the year. In the meantime, the rumor mill will continue to grind.