Consider this: Just a handful of years ago, KTM riders were thought to be at a disadvantage in comparison to their rivals. KTM has enjoyed a vast amount of success in recent months; but the Austrians have had to work hard to establish a solid team structure that top riders want to be a part of.
Previously, most of KTM’s struggles have come in the MX1 class. Despite this, the Austrian manufacturer has enjoyed a lot of success in the MX2 division. Since the inception of the class in the FIM Motocross World Championship KTM have won the title six times; ’04, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11 and now 2012 also. However, whilst KTM riders were enjoying success on the smaller bike, championships on the 450f were much harder for the Austrians to acquire. However, from 2006 onwards they have signed some big names to their MX1 roster over here. This eventually paid off when they garnered the signature of Antonio Cairoli in the latter stages of 2009.
Evidently KTM are willing to do everything they possibly can to be successful; like building completely new bikes to please their riders. Part of the reason Cairoli travelled over to KTM was the promise of an all-new 350f machine, one that would have the best characteristics of both the 250 and the 450; the bike was supposed to change the MX1 class. The brand had immediate success on the bike in the World Championship series, as it is undefeated at the moment, winning three world titles since it’s maiden season.
However, whilst the ‘Orange Army’ was drowning in champagne regularly over here, they were struggling massively in the USA. In the United States KTM had to go through a huge rebuilding process. Unfortunately, they had garnered the reputation of having unreliable machinery. Perhaps this reputation that they previously had in America was down to the KTM that snapped in half whilst David Pingree was piloting the bike over a triple in 2002. Other, smaller incidents that have taken place over the years had a terrible affect on the reputation of KTM; most believed that they were most certainly not the bikes to have.
But in recent years, KTM has progressed massively in the United States also. In doing so, they have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with worldwide. In my mind their sudden transformation in the USA is all because of one man, Roger DeCoster. Once Roger’s signature was acquired by KTM in the fall of 2010, it was evident that they were about to turn a corner. Having DeCoster onboard gave the brand credibility within the paddock. Just one year after Roger joined the program, KTM signing the commodity that they had been missing all along, a title contender.
Once KTM had signed Ryan Dungey, most immediately looked at the brand differently. If a current champion was willing too put their career in the hands of KTM, surely the Austrian manufacturer is competitive. But to be honest, signing with the Red Bull KTM team was a huge risk for Ryan Dungey. Why? Well, the radically new KTM 450f he had been promised didn’t even exist at that time, and KTM had no previous title success in the 450 class in the USA. KTM’s success in Europe means virtually nothing to those on the other side of the pond. The 350 that was adored by many in the World Championship really struggled in America, if KTM were going to succeed in the USA they needed a completely new plan.
I think it is fair to say that KTM are currently leading the way in the world of motocross. They are one of only a few manufacturers that are actively selling two strokes (a bike that appeals to the masses), and they are also one of the only manufacturers that are actively taking their race program forwards, rather than scaling back and cutting support. But most importantly, they have had title success in all corners of the world this year; because they now have that missing commodity, title contenders.
So, just how good are KTM? Clearly their 250f is the best in the field. If you look at any start from this years MX2 World Championship a large percentage of the leading riders are riding an orange machine. Unless you’re name was Tommy Searle (or Joel Roelants) you had to be on a KTM to succeed. In that very series, KTM won eighteen of the thirty-two motos started this year. In the MX1 World Championship (the category that they had previously struggled in) KTM was on top of the box in twenty-two of the thirty-two motos contested. What more can a manufacturer ask for?
Now that KTM have those title contenders locked down in every single series worldwide, the big four Japanese manufacturers are desperately trying to catch up. But not too long ago, it was KTM that were falling behind. They may have the FIM Motocross World Championship under control; but they still have a long way to go in the USA. But slowly, KTM is building a solid foundation for their teams and riders to work off of. It looks like world domination is not too far away for KTM.
Words by Lewis Phillips