KTM has officially announced it is parting with its MotoGP team manager Mike Leitner.
The news was reported on Wednesday in the original version of this article, having been confirmed by The Race’s sources in the MotoGP paddock, and then confirmed by a KTM press release on Thursday morning.
The veteran manager believed to be a casualty of a disappointing season for KTM, though he will remain involved in a consultancy role.
According to reports in Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, KTM has poached the highly-regarded Francesco Guidotti from Pramac Racing to replace the Austrian, in a significant reshuffling of team principals only days after the conclusion of the 2021 MotoGP season.
Leitner has departed after a thoroughly disappointing season for KTM despite it winning two races, with a much-anticipated title challenge failing to emerge thanks to huge inconsistencies for both Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder throughout the season.
After starting off poorly after the initial 2021 chassis completely failed to work with Michelin’s revised allocation of tyres, it seemed that things were on the mend when a new frame introduced at Mugello allowed Oliveira to take a convincing victory at Barcelona.
And despite an injury for the Portuguese rider sustained at the Red Bull Ring, in a crash caused in part due to a software glitch on his bike, the second part of the season started off strongly as well as Binder took an emphatic victory at KTM and Red Bull’s home venue with a slick tyre gamble in changing weather.
But since then, form has fallen away again, with Olivera never finding his race-winning potential in the latter half of the season and Binder seeming to hit a wall in terms of Sunday performance, able to race inside the top six but never breaking through to podium contention.
Leitner, a former crew chief who worked with Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda and eventually poached a number of that team’s staff to join KTM, has headed up the Austrian manufacturer’s MotoGP project since it first came into the premier class in 2015.
However, despite an impressive 2020 season where it won three races and finished only 21 points from winner Ducati in the constructors’ championship, The Race’s sources in KTM have hinted at disharmony with Leitner for some time, suggesting that the expected announcement isn’t a knee jerk reaction.
By contrast, the Pramac Ducati squad had a stellar year in MotoGP in 2021 winning the independent team championship, taking four pole positions and victory at the Red Bull Ring with rookie sensation Jorge Martin as well as fifth in the riders’ championship and four podium finishes with Johann Zarco.
Guidotti has successfully managed the Italian team since 2012 – but has previous KTM experience as well, working as team manager of its 125cc and 250cc teams over 15 years ago, where he was responsible for riders like Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl and current KTM MotoGP test rider Mika Kallio.
As previously reported by The Race, he’s set to be joined by another Italian veteran in the shape of new technical boss Fabiano Sterlacchini, formerly Gigi Dall’Igna’s right hand at Ducati, in what seems to be a splitting of Leitner’s current role into two separate management functions.
In its statement announcing Leitner’s exit, KTM motorsports director Pit Beirer paid tribute to his contribution to the firm’s MotoGP journey so far.
“Mike has been a key figure in our mission to fight against the best in the world of road racing,” said Beirer.
“Together we created a MotoGP structure with the right staff and the right riders which achieved outstanding results at the pinnacle of the sport.
“We started building our RC16 and the whole plan from a blank piece of paper and under his guidance we put a great team together; one that took on the challenge of MotoGP.
“Now, after seven years together, we decided to reorganise our MotoGP leadership for the future, and I cannot express how much we want to thank him for all the work he put into this project.
“Mike pushed very hard to get us from the back of the grid to the front row and his dedication has played a major part in our success story.”