Japan’s Tetsuta Nagashima scored a totally deserved success in Losail. After starting from 14th place on the grid after a disappointing qualifying, he produced an amazing comeback that culminated in the first victory of his career in the world championship.
The colours of his bike are immediately recognizable, because they clearly recall those of the factory KTMs that race in MotoGP with Pol Espargarò and Brad Binder. In fact, in addition to the orange typical of Mattighofen's bikes, the Japanese rider’s bike is decorated both by sponsor Red Bull and by large KTM writing.
This all might seem totally normal, except that in reality the bike with which Nagashima races is not a KTM, but a Kalex powered by a Triumph three-cylinder engine. Until last season, the Austrian manufacturer built the bike chassis, which by regulation must rely on the motorization made available by Triumph under the one-make supply system. The desire to focus on the MotoGP project without abandoning Moto3 convinced KTM to take this drastic decision but the AJO Team continues to be characterized by KTM colors.
Today an orange KTM-branded motorcycle won
It’s all a bit of a communication paradox, because the bike with which Nagashima races, despite having abundant KTM stickers scattered all over the fairing, does not have one single screw from the Austrian Factory. The chassis is the tried and tested Kalex, the engine is a Triumph three-cylinder engine that could not be further away from the KTM tradition in terms of architecture. Yet Nagashima won on a KTM, or at least did so in the eyes of the general public. Certainly, fans who know the situation are perfectly aware of the technical framework in which this victory came about, while for the public that we can call more generalist, the race in Losail was won by a Japanese rider riding an Austrian motorcycle.
Other manufacturers would never have pushed for such a choice and only Aprilia at the beginning of the Moto2 era considered the possibility of building a frame to accommodate the engine, which at the time was the 4-cylinder Honda CBR 600 derived power unit. A decision that was not carried out, because Aprilia considered it wrong to put half a bike on the track, not being able to even equip it with an engine made in Noale.
Aprilia came close to a similar experiment at the beginning of Moto2
Yet Nagashima's victory on a Kalex-KTM today could be a sort of wake-up call for the other manufacturers too. All things considered, the logic of Marketing could also convince Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia to imitate KTM in this choice. Just look at what happens in Formula E with the manufacturers engaged on the track, all using the same technical base and being able to modify only some of the components of the car.
In fact, Renault, Toyota, Audi and all the others are fighting it out for the general public on the track. So why not replicate the courageous choice of KTM and deploy Junior Teams, perhaps also characterized by the same graphic livery of the teams involved in the premier class. It would be interesting and would allow manufacturers to have a junior program exactly as it does today for KTM, which took Brad Binder from Moto3 to Moto2, right up to his debut in MotoGP (whenever it might happen in this unfortunate 2020).
Would it be such a crazy choice from a technical point of view? Maybe it would make the purists turn up their noses, but perhaps it would provide some extra spectacle for the less expert spectators. The way forward would be very simple, because all you need to do is to consolidate partnerships with existing teams in the category. This would create a virtuous supply chain and would allow manufacturers to follow the riders through their growth phase.
Maybe all we need is just a bit more courage for those who today worry too much about a problem that KTM obviously does not see. So did KTM, Kalex or Triumph win the race? No, Nagashima won and until proven otherwise he did it on an unmistakable bike, with that touch of orange that leaves no doubt. It might not be everything, but it is a start.