Team launches are always a little combative. They are, after all, the places where factory bosses, team managers, and riders stake out their intentions for the coming season.

They loudly proclaim that they are in it to win it, that their goal is to be champions sooner rather than later, and that they are plainly superior to their competition, both in talent and in engineering prowess and ingenuity. Team launches are a place for hyperbole.

Even by normal standards, though, the words spoken at KTM’s team launch were more than ordinarily abrasive. In an interview with Austrian broadcaster Servus TV, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer took plenty of potshots at his rivals.

He boasted of KTM passing BMW in terms of sales, adding that beating them in racing would be hard, “because they don’t race any more”. He spoke of competing against the Japanese manufacturers. “We love racing, and we love beating the Japanese manufacturers.” But Pierer reserved his sharpest ire for Honda.

Speaking of the surprise decision to compete in Moto2, he joked that the spec Moto2 engine was supplied by “our most hated rival Honda”.

He also noted that KTM’s entry into MotoGP brought balance to the MSMA, the manufacturers’ group that has a vote in the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule making body.

With three European manufacturers against three Japanese manufacturers, they were in a position to prevent Honda from bulldozing through proposals.

“Honda tries everything,” Pierer told Servus TV. On the one hand with money, they shower the promoter with cash, and if that doesn’t help, they pull all sorts of tricks. Now there’s a balance in the Grand Prix Commission. That’s important.”

Ancient History

Why the venom for Honda? The two manufacturers have a long history of conflict, in many of the series they have raced in. But the feud started in earnest with the birth of Moto2.

After great success in 125s, KTM entered the 250cc class with a two-stroke twin and met with immediate success. Hiroshi Aoyama and Mika Kallio had both won races on the innovative parallel twin, as KTM had been extremely innovative with the machine, also debuting fuel injection on the bike.

So when the FIM and Dorna came up with a plan to replace the 250cc class with 600cc four-strokes, and the class that would eventually become Moto2, KTM was furious.

The Austrian factory, like many others in the paddock, sensed the hand of Honda behind the decision, as Honda had a long and illustrious history of hating two-strokes, and trying to kill them off.

In the late 1970s, Honda had tried but failed to compete with two strokes using the remarkable oval-pistoned NR500, but that bike was never fast enough or reliable enough to beat the two-strokes.

Honda had been forced to admit defeat and built the NS500, which would go on to become the world-beating NSR500. But their historic aversion to two-stroke engines remained, and so the move to reboot the intermediate class as a four-stroke class immediately raised suspicions of a Honda plot.

When the Moto2 class was announced, KTM immediately pulled out of Grand Prix racing, dropping their 250cc team for the 2009 season, then pulling out of 125s a year later. KTM vowed revenge on Honda, and withdrew to Austria to mull over their future.

Best Served Cold

When the Moto3 championship was announced, KTM seized the opportunity with both hands. While Honda had built a mildly-tuned engine down to a budget, to stay within the price cap imposed by Dorna, KTM built a thoroughbred racing bike using its 250cc four-stroke motocross engine as a starting point.

KTM won the inaugural Moto3 championship in 2012 with Sandro Cortese, and would have had a clean sweep of the top three had it not been for the remarkable talent of Maverick Viñales, who got the horribly underpowered FTR Honda to do things that were entirely improbable.

Honda was furious, and accused KTM of being unfair. They were violating the spirit of the rules, said HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto, by building an expensive race bike rather than a cheap machine for nurturing talent. KTM were unimpressed by this, pointing out that the rulebook said nothing about the spirit of the rules.

In 2013, KTM supplied all of the top talent in Moto3, sweeping the championship once again. The rules were altered to force manufacturers to supply identical engines to any team that had signed a contract, in an attempt to prevent some teams having de facto factory status, and an unfair advantage.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

It was Honda’s turn to extract revenge. Throughout the 2013 season, Honda kept putting off an announcement of their plans for 2014, causing many Honda Moto3 teams to lose their nerve and switch to KTM for the 2014 season.

This suited Honda, as they had a trick up their sleeves. For 2014, they would supply just six riders, but they supplied them with the all-new Honda NSF250RR, a full factory machine capable of stomping on the competition.

Honda had accused KTM in 2013 of circumventing the price cap rules, by supplying a cheap engine but charging €200,000 for a chassis and support.

Their bikes in 2014 cost double that, and nearly half a million euros by 2015, despite both engine and chassis having a price cap. Alex Márquez took the title on a Honda, beating Jack Miller on a KTM.

For 2015, the rev limit was reduced from 14,000 RPM to 13,500, forcing KTM to build a new engine for the Moto3 class. At the end of the season, in which Danny Kent became Moto3 world champion on a Honda with the Kiefer team, KTM’s racing director Pit Beirer accused Honda of cheating by exceeding the rev limit.

That turned out to be an artifact of the Dell’Orto spec ECU, and the way the Honda engineers were managing the transition into the rev limit. KTM’s accusations were rejected by Dorna after studying the data.

In 2016, it was KTM’s turn to get their own back, Brad Binder winning the Moto3 championship with ease, and with four races to spare. Honda had no answer, and no riders capable of providing an answer to the domination of Binder and the Red Bull Ajo KTM team.

A Feud for the Ages

Stefan Pierer’s remarks need to be seen in the context of this long and bitter history. The blood feud that exists between KTM and Honda is alive and well, and likely to continue into the future.

An observer prone to conspiracy theories might even suggest that KTM’s RC16 MotoGP bike bears so many similarities to the Honda RC213V for a very good reason. KTM will surely want to beat Honda in MotoGP, but to do it with a version of their bike that is like Honda’s, but better, would be sweetest.

Rivalries are a key part of any sport, and alive and well in MotoGP. Pierer’s attack on Honda at the launch of KTM’s MotoGP project is a timely reminder that rivalries exist just as much between factories as they do between riders.

Photo: KTM

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • paulus

    A bit of bad blood makes for interesting viewing. East vs West, Orange vs Red… For sure, all teams are equally guilty of bending the rules… some just have bigger budgets to bend them with.

  • VForce

    Oh Stefan, that was not a smart move to anger Honda.

    Perhaps Stefan forgot his companies own track record in racing- they have a very poor one in the USA.

    Their snap decision to pull out of the KTM challenge in the USA a few years ago and left all of those kids (and their parents who bankrolled them) high and dry.

    Their participation in the AMA Superbike class with Mitch Hansenn was a half assed attempt.

    But in the end, angering Honda is the equivalent of shaking a hornet’s nest and sticking your hand inside. Yamaha talked trash about beating Honda for sales in the early 80s and it is well known how Honda just quietly pounded Yamaha into submission over the next several decades. I fully expect that Honda will hand Stefan a diaper and a pacifier and make him suck it in front of them as they wipe the floor with them over the next few seasons.

  • Hans

    Great read from David, as always.

  • Gadfly57

    I think KTM cares a little bit more about the world stage than the US….

  • Rafa

    And it is not like Honda is doing great things in AMA Superbike either.

  • CBR Sean

    Honda US just released their bike for this season. They are getting back into it apparently as a factory team. Should be interesting.

  • Alam R

    This is interesting spice but somewhat distasteful from the CEO of KTM.
    Revenge is dish best served cold.

  • GrayFox

    Now this put a big smile on my face. I love the idea of a good rivalry and the idea of a CEO declaring total war could indicate that the pursuit has the full focus of the overall business. Looks to me like MotoGP mite just be getting that much better :-D

  • HelloFriend

    The hate is strong with this one.

  • Superhawk

    Factory supported ONLY… not a factory team… It should do better in MotoAmerica, but in WSBK… even with the strong riders… I’m not sure it’s going to fly… Hope I’m wrong!

  • KevinB

    You apparently don’t follow off-road racing much

  • Superhawk

    TRUE… It’s just competition… don’t cry about it. And if your feeling lucky and you know your limitations and you want to stir the hornets nest… by all means, it’s fun as long as their is a pond with alligators near by to jump in while running from the hornets.

  • CBR Sean

    True, it’s only US (small) factory supported, but much larger budget than a privateer.

    WSBK is a totally different level than our home series. Much more competitive and a lot more money needs to be spent. Ten Kate is doing all they can without the support from HRC. If HRC was present, then and only then would be bike be a consistent front runner. I like you, am looking forward to it, but can be realistic in seeing results. The new bike apparently is going to be at best probably 10th place, unless of course there’s a lot of downplaying. Even with Marquez topping time sheets, I doubt that’s what is going on though in WSBK.

    However, the fact that Honda US is getting back into the scene, shows progression.

  • Just_Ride_man

    Surprising that so little has been written of the ill fated 2002 Kenny Roberts/Proton MotoGP bike powered by KTM. KTM yanked the rug out from under them mid season (to be replaced by Honda engines!) and it has taken them 15 years to get back into the upper class of MotoGP again. KTM’s problem now is talent. The package is close, but you need a great development rider to take it the rest of the way there and I just dont have confidence that either current rider is that guy.

  • VForce

    The context of this was road racing.

  • VForce

    They should. It’s still the biggest market. There are still many people upset about that dick move that ktm pulled w the Red Bull rookies program. If you had pissed that much money away perhaps you would be also.

  • VForce

    Apparently your don’t pay much attention to the news.

  • Gadfly57

    Yes, a valid point argument for most companies in my opinion. But KTM has been having record sales year over year. I don’t think this is a factor for their sales. Only model that could maybe be affected is the RC. Their model range is too wide for it to matter much.

  • Gary

    The off track competition is almost more interesting than what happens on the circuit. Meanwhile we all benefit from great entertainment and great trickle-down technology in production bikes.

  • JSTNCOL

    An enlightening lesson in history, thank you Mr. Emmett.

  • JSTNCOL

    If you build it they will come.

  • tony

    and this is why you gotta love austrians!

  • Superhawk

    We’re breathing the same smoke my friend… must be a 2-stroke! With the sponsor and the riders and the past Ten Kate success… I’m hoping for more top 6 stuff once they have the bugs fixed and are beating the WSS boys. :)

  • CBR Sean

    Me too. It is becoming very boring, although I do enjoy watching Chaz Davies throw that Panigale around and carry absurd amounts of lean angle. I just wish HRC would take some focus away from GP and put a little more emphasis on the WSBK project.

    I guess my hopes will not be so bad, Honda UK is pushing for data sharing between WSBK, BSB, and I believe it was the Road Racing guys to expedite development.

  • CBR Sean

    Me too, but man, this is David vs Goliath. To Honda, they are like an annoying little brother that doesn’t leave you alone.

  • Ryan Donahue

    I was a bit ‘meh’ about KTM joining MotoGP, but after reading this and seeing Ten Kate and Nicky get the proverbial shaft in WSBK… and seeing Marquez continue to be himself, I’m all for KTM in GP this year. While they likely won’t trounce Honda this year, seeing them eventually do so will be most excellent.

    And all this from a guy who had a few CBRs.

  • GrayFox

    Agreed, KTM seems to be committed and i think that’s awesome. Honda has money but KTM seems to be a company with allot of tallent and the management to guide that tallent. Honda is an amazing factory but like so many “large” organizations I wonder if they get bogged down with bureaucracy and stifling innovation.

    In any case I really hope KTM becomes a serious contender for no other reason then raising the bar on the other factories.

  • Steven

    Peter Lenz’s death at an international event held in America, riding a KTM, in a KTM series, ratcheted up some unnecessary outside the industry pressure to do away with all teen road racing. KTM bowed out because they were continually targeted as contributors to Peter’s death. They had plans to go even bigger with the Rookie’s Cup. But, after Peter’s death sponsors got nervous, and started bailing out. Then the “save the children!” numpties were trying to get government agencies to shut down teen road racing. KTM doesn’t have the money to fight that fight in court.
    They still run the Rookie’s Cup in other parts of the world.

  • I remember the Red Bull Rookies and Kenny Roberts engine fiasco’s very well. I’m still cranky about those incidents. Nonetheless, KTM seems to be a larger, more stable company these days and I guess if I can forgive Pedrosa for taking Hayden out, I can let go of my anger at KTM. More competition is better for racing period. More manufacturers will water down Honda’s influence on the sport and that’s a good thing as well.

  • Brett Lewis

    He let the hate out of the bag.

  • DC

    Knowing nothing of the politics involved, could Red Bull be pressured to “pick a side” if this thing escalates? I’d guess the two Austrian brands would stick together.

  • Kings of Beach

    I think Peter Lenz and the other racers were on Moriwaki 250s that day and USGPRU was organinizing. Red Bull Rookies in the US was already gone before that Indy race.

    Another young man did die in a Red Bull Rookies race at VIR if I remember correctly.

  • GrayFox

    Honestly i don’t think so. At the end of the day Red Bull pay allot of money to those teams and I imagine that those teams are more then happy to take it. If a team were to complain Red Bull can threaten a drop of sponsorship and on the other side Dorna I’m sure would love it if Red Bull would pump more money into more teams. Red Bull really isn’t in a position to be pressured.

  • AHA

    Bradley and Pol won’t see which way Marquez went at most tracks this season. It’s up to Pierer to give Honda some heat.
    FYI: He’s quiet when he’s making money and noisy when he’s got a financial stunt to pull. This probably isn’t about MotoGP. Let’s see what deals KTM announce in the next 6mths.

  • Anteater

    Despite the needle between the companies I really like the way KTM have taken a fresh approach to Moto2 compared to other manufacturers ;-

    Rather than take the huff and refuse to use a Honda engine they’ve grabbed the (Red) Bull by the horns and built a bike around it anyway – practicality of running a full GP programme before pride.

    Doesn’t matter which manufacturer you prefer, its smart thinking by the Austrians.

  • Anteater

    I think you’ll see more manufacturers building Moto2 bikes when Triumph take over engine supply as there is no baggage there.

    At least I hope more manufacturers build moto2 bikes when Triumph are doing it – the Kalex Cup is boring me.

    Heres hoping the revived Suter’s can do something this year.

  • mikstr

    Honda have a history of strong-arming their way around to get things to go in their favour; Pierer merely expressed what is common knowledge… Sadly, it takes more than spite to beat deep pockets…

  • Statement Plus

    People who comment that it takes a lot to beat deep pockets makes it sound like KTM doesn’t have deep pockets. With Redbull fully backing them, I assure you KTM has extremely deep pockets right now.

    I’m so happy that KTM is going head to head with Honda, and I’m glad he sees it as a Europe vs Japan thing as well. I won’t be surprised if Redbull does not renew the Honda contract once that sponsorship deal ends.

    I want KTM to do well, the biggest mistake they have made so far was hiring Bradley Smith. They really should have hired a vet to lead the development and a youngster to throw the bike balls to the walls at races to see the limit of the machine.

    What’s more interesting is if Honda CEO or even Nakamoto will issue a reply, most likely not because they are afraid to lose face.

  • Jonn Dol

    Moto2 should have been a multi engine & multi chassis manufacturer class. Even when the Honda (KTM’s most hated rival) contract expires, how does a Triumph-engined KTM bike sounds to you? Plain ridiculous. If people are worried about the skyrocketing cost, just limit every aspect of the technology to the max. You have an exciting rider’s class without the syndrome of “Single make / Cup” class. Dorna should look into this..

  • Vladimir Pushkin

    I don’t think you realize how deep Honda’s pockets are. Why would Redbull leave the team that in all honesty, promotes them the most? You ever seen the Repsol bikes, the large redbull logo on Marquez’s helmet? Publicity. KTM isn’t ready to do battle with quite literally one of the largest manufacturers in the world. Their biggest mistake is approaching the manufacturer that pretty much is running motogp with this attitude.

    Hiring bradley smith was not only a wise decision, but from a financial standpoint. They had world top riders testing the bike, paying them salaries, and it is their return to MotoGP. The only riders that they may have had a slight option would have been Rins, maybe Iannone, Bautista, Smith, Pol, Aleix, and a few other backmarkers. At least Smith and Pol were top 10 on a large majority of occasions and top 5 on one or two on a competitive satellite bike.

  • MikeD

    Regular Honda Hater here. Where do i sign up for the Hate Honda Rally ? LOL

  • Wayoutyonder

    Kinda surprised there’s not much written about the tech behind the KTM GP bikes from the 2stk era. Just looked around trying to see some kind of info on them out of curiosity, nothing short of a few articles about some of the races and them dropping out.

  • Jd

    Guys..Guys! We all know why Honda puts the amount of effort into the Gp(as it was named long ago) is because their retail bikes suck. Nothing but watered down vanilla. Win on Sunday sell on Monday.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    The CEO of KTM says it like it is.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Red Bull sponsored two rival F1 teams. They just like to see their logo on the track. The more the merrier.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    KTM has Red Bull’s deep pockets.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Honda may have a lot of money but all of it is not available for the MotoGP project. They have to stay within their budget. Why would KTM win the Dakar for 16 straight years and Honda has still not been able to beat them (even by cheating)?

  • Joe D

    I would not get out of the electric chair to ride a Honda.

  • CBR Sean

    Honda just got back into the Dakar and are a bit behind the times. However, if you follow closely, this year Honda was heavily penalized while leading the pack and last year they suffered from mechanical break downs I believe forcing them to retire early with one bike, but they were not that far behind. 30 seconds I believe.

    HRC in MotoGP doesn’t have a budget. They are more than willing to spend what it takes to win in GP and have been this way since the 80’s. The only class where Honda is potentially struggling with budget is probably in F1, and even then they are still spending boat loads of money in that operation. KTM is such a small company compared to Honda it’s laughable that anyone would think they could match them dollar for dollar.

    Name one company that tops the time sheets in nearly every effort of racing, I will wait.

  • CBR Sean

    Behind Valentino Rossi and a gazillion others.

  • CBR Sean

    Their road bikes are ok. Just have to put a little bit of money into them to make them suit your tastes. But when you do, man is it a phenomenal experience.

  • CBR Sean

    What is your preference? I am curious.

  • Hornet

    LOL!

  • Hornet

    ever since KTM stepped into Dakar it actually took them 9 years, yes 9 years to win their first Dakar. So things take time. Honda nearly had it this year but bungled it with the penalty.

  • Hornet

    erm, Red Bull renewed their sponsorship of Repsol Honda for 2017, 2018. Face it, they get a lot of exposure when Marcy Mark wins at the front. So i’ll be surprised if they drop the sponsorship of Honda. Although I am inclined to think they will sponsor whichever manufacturer he switches to in the future.

  • Joe D

    Current rides are 74 Commando, Benelli CR1130, Guzzi Mille, Sport 1100 and V11 Café Sport. Past bikes were Kawasaki 400 triple, GpZ 550 and 1100.

  • MikeD

    LOL 😂

  • Statement Plus

    Every rider you mentioned in that list is better than Smith. Just because Smith was consistent on the M1 doesn’t make him a good rider. The M1 was the best bike last year, and the year before, yet where was he last year? No where. Spies, Dovi and Crutchlow on the same team on a worse version of the M1 can podium, Smith? nope. So no, it wasn’t a wise decision. He’s last at the tests, and trust me, it’s not the bike, it’s him. Yes the bike will get better, KTM is making tons of parts, but watch and see Smith get obliterated by Pol this year. And Pol isn’t even that good of a rider either.

    Why is it a mistake for KTM to have this attitude? They took it to Honda in Moto3 and Moto2 and beat them, well before KTM has the budget they have now.

  • Statement Plus

    Redbull can pull team sponsor and switch to a rider sponsor.

  • Statement Plus

    It’s laughable that you neglect facts – facts right in front of you in this article that KTM beat Honda in the other two classes of MotoGP. Yea it’s laughable that Honda can even lose to a KTM that stuck a motocross engine in a GP frame and beat Honda, and even more laughable because KTM was even smaller of a company back then than it is now. So the only thing that’s laughable is Honda.

    The fact that a minuscule company of KTM can win Dakar as many times as it did, and beat monsters like Honda shows how dedicated they take competition. So anyone who doesn’t take KTM seriously is laughable. But I mean, you have CBR in your name after all.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    I think once the racing starts, all this squabbling will stop. 2017 will be an interesting year. MotoGP was the only place where Honda felt safe, and now KTM is there too.

  • CBR Sean

    I prefer facts over opinion first and foremost. Let’s get that understood so if there’s a CBR in my name, it holds no real weight. You continue mentioning Dakar rally and what KTM did years ago to Honda in one year. Where is the consistency? For facts, since you continue to mention one race series, I will go one step further and mention in the last 3 years, a series Honda (HRC) has won either a major race or championship:

    MotoGP, Isle of Man, Suzuka 8 hours, BTCC, Moto3, JSB, etc. When KTM can match Honda in the amount of legitimate series they are involved in, then I will take notice. Until then, they beat Honda in one race and a moto3 championship. Slow clap.

  • CBR Sean

    I am pretty sure, Honda is safe in MotoGP. It took someone other than Honda or Yamaha years to win a race, meanwhile, 2 satellite Honda’s finished on the top spot this year.

  • Paul M. Fenn

    This confrontation can only be good for motorcycling, and signals the only sign of sensible thinking by powerful men on the planet right now.

  • Statement Plus

    I never mention Dakar before until it was mentioned…and um…KTM won the Dakar for the past 16 years buddy, your definition of facts and consistency are in the toilet. The last time Honda won Dakar was in 1989. That is laughable.

    As we all know KTM is small yes? you are the one that pointed that out. We all know they don’t even have a superbike anymore, so why should anyone expect them to run in a slew of circuit racing series? You’re making very invalid points, especially mentioning BTCC, KTM doesn’t even make cars, unless you want them to race the X-BOW in a Touring car class…what are you smoking? Slow clap to you….

    Since you’re so factual based – and let’s be fair here, lets bring up the class KTM and Honda both race in and both dump money into. Supercross and Motocross. Let’s see here…KTM a tiny company has won the past 2 years in the elite class (450) Supercross championships, and since 2010, they have won three 450 Motocross championships. In the past 10 years, Honda has won ZERO championships in either class. In fact, Honda hasn’t won since 2002 for Supercross, 15 years ago, when strokers were still being used, and 13 years ago in 2004 for Motocross.

    So yea, Honda is laughable. If they are the giant and financial powerhouse you make them out to be, then according to – you -, they should be able to enter races and win all the time, yet they don’t. And not only that, they lose to tiny company like KTM. Anyone who thinks KTM is stupid to take it to Honda is naive and laughable. If you don’t take KTM seriously, something is wrong with you.

    Case closed.

  • Statement Plus

    For the record, I think Honda CBR line are amazing. I have ridden track ridden numerous well set up CBR 600s, as well as a totally stock 2014 CBR 1000 and all were amazing to ride, especially the 1000. In fact, it was a better handling bike than all the race bikes I’ve owned (Suzuki, Yamaha etc.)

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Statement Plus, you are making good points.

  • paulus

    KTM tend to ‘recruit’ their talent from the other successful companies… same with their racing team.

  • GregS

    I’m still waiting for Honda to build a decent F1 engine

  • Sayyed Bashir

    They say it like it is.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    You must be talking about Mr. T and Mr. P.

  • appliance5000

    Honda makes more bikes in a week than KTM sells in a year. This is a kind of reverse suck up. Make your bikes, run your races and STFU.