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Aki Ajo

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Danny Kent is to test KTM’s Moto3 bike at Jerez on Tuesday, and is to race as a wildcard at Le Mans.

Aki Ajo, team manager of the Red Bull KTM team, who knows the 23-year-old Englishman well from his previous stints in the Ajo team, has seized the opportunity to use Kent’s experience in Moto3 to help develop the bike, which is struggling against the Honda at the moment.

This has thrown Kent a temporary lifeline, after he decided to leave the Kiefer Moto2 team before the race in Austin. That decision came as a shock to the team, though Kent had struggled through the first two races of the season.

Aki Ajo is one of the most significant figures in the Grand Prix paddock. The Finnish manager has seen a long string of talent pass through his team on their way to greater success.

Ajo explained how he goes about identifying talent in the first part of this two-part interview. In the second part, he gives more insight into the process of building a winning team.

Ajo talks about how he nearly ended up working with Romano Fenati in 2017, and some of the factors which prevented it. Ajo also explains why he believes Moto2 is the toughest category in motorcycle racing, and the daunting challenge stepping up to the intermediate category can be.

The Finnish team manager also dives more deeply into the importance of a team, and surrounding a rider with the right pieces to help him get the best out of himself.

Aki Ajo is one of the most significant figures in the Grand Prix paddock. The Finnish manager has seen a long string of talent pass through his team on their way to greater success.

The list of champions and great riders he has produced is almost endless: Marc Marquez, Johann Zarco, Jack Miller, Sandro Cortese, Luis Salom, Danny Kent to name just a few.

To find out how he does it, I sat down with Aki Ajo at Valencia and spoke for nearly half an hour. The results of this interview were fascinating, and offer a great insight into the how to get the best out of a rider, to help them achieve success.

In the first part of this interview, he shares his philosophy of racing and team management, of motivation, and what keeps him going. He also talks about the difference it makes working with a rider the second time around, and why he is happy with his current crop of riders in Moto2 and Moto3.

It’s tough at the top, but it’s a lot tougher the further down the grid you go. Every rider has tales of missed opportunities, but few have fallen as far off the radar as Arthur Sissis. Four years ago, the 21-year-old Australian was standing on the podium of his home Grand Prix, but his dream quickly turned sour, and he turned his back on road racing and moved to Speedway. Looking back on this decision Sissis says that he was “young and stupid” and that facing up to the fact that he hadn’t met his own expectations in two and a half Moto3 seasons was the reason that he ran for the exit door. “I went into Speedway basically because I was young and stupid,” said Sissis as he reflected on his Moto3 career.

KTM’s Moto2 project officially debuted today, with Aki Ajo managing the team that will consist of riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira. Like KTM’s MotoGP project, with the KTM RC16 race bike, the Moto2 project uses some intriguing elements. Namely, the frame is of a steel trellis design, the suspension is provided for by WP, and of course the engine is a lightly tuned Honda CBR600RR lump. If looks could win races, the WP KTM Moto2 machine would already be a contender. That being said, we have high expectations for the racing program in next year’s Moto2 Championship. Until then tough, we’ll let you drool over the high-resolution images we have waiting for you, after the jump.

KTM is to enter the Moto2 class. The Ajo team is to expand its current Moto2 operation to two riders, with Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira (not Tom Lüthi, as we had previously reported) taking the place of the departing Johann Zarco. The team is also to switch from Kalex to KTM, as part of KTM’s project to provide a career path for young riders from the FIM CEV Moto3 championship through all three Grand Prix classes to MotoGP. The names of the riders involved should come as no surprise. Brad Binder is a race or two away at most from becoming the 2016 Moto3 world champion, and Miguel Oliveira came very close to winning the Moto3 title in 2015, as Binder’s teammate in the Red Bull KTM Ajo Moto3 team. Both riders are highly rated both by KTM and by team boss Aki Ajo.

KTM is working on Moto2 race bike, to compliment the Austrian brand’s move into the MotoGP Championship next year? We only learned about the project earlier this year in February, but KTM and WP suspension are supposedly quite far with their progress on the bike, and are now “ready to race” in earnest. It might seem a little strange to see a KTM building a race bike chassis around a rival manufacturer’s engine, but zie Austrian’s are serious about their Grand Prix racing presence, and feel that they need to be involved in all three of the championship’s classes. KTM CEO Stefan Pierer recently talked to Germany’s Speedweek publication about the Moto2 project recently, where Pierer revealed that the Austrian brand will race in the Moto2 Championship starting in 2017.

Is Maverick Viñales the next Alien? There are many who claim that he will be. Yamaha clearly believe he has the potential to become one, as they signed him as Jorge Lorenzo’s replacement for 2017 and beyond.

In 2016, Viñales has show real potential with some impressive performances. Yet at other times, he has been positively middling. The jury is still out at the moment.

On the Monday after the Austin round of MotoGP, the Suzuki team stayed on to do an extra private test, which we attended. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales had hoped to start relatively early, but heavy overnight rain left the track both wet and dirty, taking some time to dry out.

When they did start, the times were poor – around 2’08, rather than the 2’05s both riders had been posting in the race. But conditions improved as the day went on, and the session turned into a very productive test for both riders.

After two races on back-to-back weekends, there was little time to be testing new parts. Both men had some new electronics to try, aimed at helping the seamless gearbox be a little smoother. They also both tried the 2016 chassis again, after having spent the first three races on the 2015.

While the eyes of the world will be on Yamaha, Honda, and Ducati as far as MotoGP’s Silly Season is concerned, the three remaining manufacturers in MotoGP will play an integral part in how this all plays out.

What happens at Suzuki and KTM is crucial to how things play out at Honda and Ducati, especially. Meanwhile, Aprilia will also have a role to play, albeit a lesser one.

As I wrote in part one of this Silly Season primer, this year’s set of contract negotiations look a lot more like musical chairs than anything else.

Jack Miller is a rider in demand. The current leader in the Moto3 World Championship has been linked to several top teams, and has been openly flirting with a step up to MotoGP, skipping Moto2 altogether.

The fly in the ointment for Miller is the pre-contract he signed with the Marc VDS Racing team in 2013, securing his services for 2014, 2015 and 2016. Under the terms of the contract, Miller was released to ride for the Red Bull KTM Ajo team in Moto3, as Miller was keen to have a shot at the Moto3 title before moving up a class.

That situation appears to have caused some confusion. Jack Miller told the media as recently as Assen that he has no contract to ride for 2015, and is free to race wherever he wants. That is a position which was earlier laid out in a press release from the Red Bull KTM Ajo team, in which Miller made the same statement.

Marc VDS Racing and their team manager Michael Bartholémy insist that this is not the case, and the situation has gotten so far out of hand that the Marc VDS team has issued a press release of their own, clarifying the deal which they have with the Australian.

The press release sets out Marc VDS Racing’s perspective on the deal. A binding, three-year deal was agreed between Miller and Marc VDS, laid down in the form of a pre-agreement.