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MotoGP Thailand GP

Why Binder is a class above in the KTM MotoGP stable in 2023

Against the relentless onslaught of the Ducatis, Brad Binder held out in the 2023 MotoGP title chase until last weekend’s Thailand Grand Prix when he mathematically dropped out of contention.

Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Last weekend in Buriram, Binder put in another strong showing for KTM with a brace of seconds in the sprint and grand prix (though was demoted to third in the latter for exceeding track limits on the last lap).

It marked his fourth Sunday podium of the year and sixth sprint rostrum, including two wins in the half-distance contests.

The only other KTM rider to have seen a podium in 2023 in a grand prix was Jack Miller, Binder’s team-mate, who was third at the Spanish GP as well as having scored two sprint rostrums.

Read more: 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Thailand Grand Prix

It hasn’t been an easy year for KTM. Binder has been the only bit of stability in the Austrian marque’s rider ranks. Miller was signed from Ducati for 2023, and thus has needed time to adapt to the unconventional RC16.

While Pol Espargaro is known to KTM, he spent two years away at Honda before returning to the GasGas-branded Tech3 squad this year. Already finding the bike had changed quite a lot in his time away, Espargaro’s season crashed to a halt after suffering numerous fractures in a violent practice accident in Portugal.

He would be out of action until the British GP. Team-mate Augusto Fernandez is a rookie, and while he has shown flashes of speed, his education in the class has been a slow process.

And so, KTM’s hopes of strong results have largely rested on Binder’s shoulders. In Thailand last weekend, while he was second on the road and just 0.114s off race winner Jorge Martin, the next-best KTM was Miller in 16th – some 17.5s adrift. Behind him came the Tech3 duo.

Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

“I’m struggling a lot with this bike,” Pol Espargaro started. “I have the feeling also Augusto is struggling on the races and Jack today struggled a lot. I think Brad, somehow, if you put him on a Moto2 [bike] he is able to win races now in MotoGP because his level now is super high.

“I feel that I struggle a lot with these races where it’s hot. It makes it much more physical and physically I’m recovering still. I don’t feel ready for these extreme conditions. But especially I don’t feel comfortable on this bike with the changes that they do over all the year.

“When we are using these kinds of casing that are very hard, we lose the edge grip and I’m not able to ride the bike. I’m not able to be fast. I’m trying, but when I follow what the engineers are saying, because it’s the bike that should be ridden in that way, I struggle a lot and I’m not able to be fast.”

To cope with the heat demands in Thailand, Michelin brought a rear tyre with a harder casing. This has typically caused issues for KTM riders. Except Binder, seemingly. On the same tyre in Austria, he was second in both the sprint and GP; in Indonesia he was sixth despite two long lap penalties; and in India he was fourth.

By contrast, Miller was a spot behind him in Indonesia; was 14th in India and in Austria was 15th. Some of this deficit can be chalked up to Miller trying various set-ups similar to Binder’s earlier in the season in order to best maximise his package.

Binder finished sixth in the championship last season and currently sits fourth, 105 points clear of the next-best KTM in the standings – Miller – in 10th. He is the only full-time KTM rider in 2023 to have taken points away from every weekend.

Even in qualifying, which was something of a weakness in the last few years for Binder, he has made big gains. After 17 rounds in 2023, his average starting position for the year is eighth with a best of second in Australia. Last year his average for the whole season was 12th with a best of third in a wet Japan qualifying.

Pol Espargaro, Tech3 GASGAS Factory Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Pol Espargaro, Tech3 GASGAS Factory Racing

“At the moment, just Brad is performing,” Espargaro added. “The other [KTM] ones are struggling, so I don’t say that the bike is made for Brad. Far from that. Actually, I say that Brad is so good that he’s able to be fast with whatever bike you put him on. After today’s race (the Thailand GP), that we are far from the first and we three are the last ones, it’s something that we need to study for the future.”

Espargaro notes that in Thailand Binder – who conceded his bike wasn’t perfect – made the difference by being able to brake later into corners and carry more speed. This will certainly have helped him negate the traction issues the other KTM riders struggled so much with in Thailand.

KTM’s introduction of the carbon fibre chassis – first raced by Dani Pedrosa at Misano – in Japan has delivered some of the rear grip Binder was missing last year. Neither Tech3 riders currently has this frame, which accounts for some of their deficit.

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But more than any of that, Espargaro believes Binder’s ability to adapt to every change KTM makes to the bike is what has ensured his consistent frontrunning form this season.

“He’s able, somehow, to brake a little bit later and then carry corner speed,” Espargaro explained when asked where Binder is making the difference. “Normally, we were riding quite similar with Brad [in the past] but he’s been changing his riding style through the years as the bike has been changing.

“He was able to adapt, maybe because he’s younger and fresher, to the new conditions a little bit easier than me. But I’m struggling a lot and at the moment I’m not able to make it. In Europe I’m able, but out of Europe when you need to go to the maximum level of riding style that the bike asks, I’m not able to do that.”

With the rider market set explode into life for the 2025 season, KTM has already signed Binder up to the end of the 2026 campaign. And it’s easy to see why.

On a bike he concedes is still carrying a few weak points, he is able to keep the dominant Ducatis in sight round to round. If KTM can make the step it needs to sustain victory challenges every weekend in 2024, Binder has already proved he will take full advantage.

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