Zarco seals 2019 KTM switch

Johann Zarco has been confirmed as KTM's second factory MotoGP rider for the 2019 season, leaving no place for incumbent Bradley Smith in the Austrian marque's works line-up.

Tech 3 Yamaha rider Zarco has long been a target of KTM, and is understood to have agreed a two-year deal to join the team during last month's Austin race.

“It is clear that we want to take another step in MotoGP," KTM motorsport boss Pit Beirer said. "The first two years were about building up the project and to get everything running.

"You always want to get the best possible riders on board and it’s obvious with Johann beating the factory guys on satellite machinery and consistently qualifying on the front row means he is a strong fighter with a strong spirit.

"I’m convinced we can reach the next level with a rider like Johann with us.”

At KTM, Zarco will line up alongside Pol Espargaro, whose place at the Mattighofen manufacturer for the 2019 and 2020 seasons was announced on Wednesday.

"It was a group effort to get this [the Zarco deal] done," Beirer said. "We had to trust in our capability to build a winning bike and Johann would not come over if he did not see and feel that trust.

"We feel very responsible now to get that package strong enough so that he can continue on the level where he is. It is our big target."

Zarco's strong form aboard the 2016-spec Yamaha since the start of his rookie season last year had made him a target of Honda, which has yet to decide whether it will retain Dani Pedrosa.

Suzuki was also known to be interested in Zarco, but the Hamamatsu marque's decision to break off a pre-agreement it had with him in 2016 - and sign Alex Rins instead - counted against it.

Smith in the cold

KTM's announcement leaves Smith, who has been Espargaro's teammate since the start of 2017, with an uncertain future in MotoGP.

He finished 21st in the standings last year with a best finish of 10th, with his poor performances prompting a mid-season change of crew chief and then igniting speculation he could be replaced by test rider Mika Kallio.

Smith's chances of remaining in MotoGP would appear to hinge on a return to Tech 3, where he raced in 2013-16 and finished sixth overall in 2015, or a switch to another independent team.

2019 MotoGP grid so far:

TeamRiders
Repsol Honda

 Marc Marquez

TBA

Movistar Yamaha

 Valentino Rossi

 Maverick Vinales

Ducati

TBA

Suzuki

TBA

Aprilia

TBA

Red Bull KTM 

 Pol Espargaro

 Johann Zarco

LCR Honda

 Cal Crutchlow

TBA

Marc VDS*

 Franco Morbidelli

TBA

Pramac Ducati

 Francesco Bagnaia

TBA

Nieto*

TBA

Avintia*

 Xavier Simeon

TBA

Tech 3 KTM

TBA

* Manufacturer uncertain

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Bradley Smith , Johann Zarco
Teams Red Bull KTM Factory Racing
Article type Breaking news