The MotoGP outcast who's nailing his early 2023 audition - The Race
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The MotoGP outcast who’s nailing his early 2023 audition

Sep 5 2021
By Valentin Khorounzhiy

Given the lack of a truly glistening pre-MotoGP CV, you’d expect the consensus view to be that two seasons in the premier class is enough for Iker Lecuona. But the way his exit from the Tech3 KTM staple was announced has certainly contributed to extra sympathy.

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And now, his performances are starting to do their part in creating a narrative of a rider who isn’t getting his due, and whose impending exit from the MotoGP grid is unwarranted.

A career-best sixth from Lecuona in the Austrian Grand Prix was admittedly set up by the slicks/wets finale, but next time out at Silverstone was a lot more straightforward – 11 positions gained en route to a superb P7, right behind the leading KTM, that of factory rider Brad Binder.

There were a couple of special circumstances – Joan Mir and Francesco Bagnaia seemed to have unusual pace drop-off, and Marc Marquez obliged in taking himself and Jorge Martin off the road – but it was ultimately a really good ride, at a track where the RC16 had hardly starred.

Was it a result that would’ve been nice to have before the Tech3 line-up was firmed up for 2022? Or was the timing quite enjoyable, as far as proving KTM’s decision wrong was concerned? When those two interpretations were put to Lecuona by The Race, he shrugged at both.

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“Finally, like I say always, my target is to enjoy and improve,” he said. “I think from now I enjoy a lot – for example, today I enjoyed a lot the race, and I see improvement.

” All the weekend I felt strong, in the race finally we recovered 11 positions [from the grid spot], it’s really good, it’s difficult to recover these positions in MotoGP.

“For sure some teams check the potential, but finally it’s the same.”

Truth be told, a race like this earlier in the season would still probably not have mattered. The two riders that will inherit the Tech3 KTM bikes next year are the two standouts in this year’s Moto2 crop. Putting aside the question of whether Raul Fernandez actually wanted to be part of KTM’s MotoGP line-up next year, he and Remy Gardner were no-brainer choices – and Lecuona would’ve had to make a huge step to change that.

It very briefly looked like Lecuona might shuffle into a Petronas Yamaha seat as a result of Valentino Rossi’s retirement and Maverick Vinales’ Yamaha disillusion, but that avenue was seemingly closed by the looming spectre of 15-time MotoGP race winner Andrea Dovizioso and the seemingly impending promotion of Darryn Binder straight from Moto3.

Regardless of the potential merits of that particular line-up – and there’s rumblings Binder may yet make way for Jake Dixon – would Lecuona have warranted a satellite Yamaha ride on the basis of his time in MotoGP so far?

Iker Lecuona Tech3 KTM MotoGP

The case for a ‘yes’ was definitely weaker pre-summer break. There were a few too many crashes and errors, the pace wasn’t really living up to the potential displayed in Lecuona’s stand-in debut in 2019, and though team-mate Danilo Petrucci’s recent gripe with Lecuona after his own crash with Alex Marquez was a little unusual, he did seemingly have a point in painting Lecuona’s in-race strategy as impatient.

And yet, especially as of late, it has also become increasingly undeniable that Lecuona has been improving, and that his Silverstone performance was not necessarily a one-off but in line with a recent trend.

Of the seven races he and Petrucci both finished in 2021, Petrucci was ahead in the first four, and Lecuona was ahead in the most recent three. He also recorded a faster best lap than his team-mate in each race since Jerez (although that might well be a sign of early-race impatience).

Perhaps most indicatively, Lecuona trailed Petrucci by an average of 0.278s in qualifying sessions in the first six grands prix, but was then ahead by an average of 0.264s in the six qualifyings since.

So, where does that put him?

Iker Lecuona Tech3 KTM MotoGP

 

“I think it doesn’t change nothing because for next year everybody has contracts,” Lecuona said of his Silverstone effort.

“It’s not the next year when the contracts are open, it’s in 2023 when everything changes. So for me, I don’t think about next year, from now I don’t know what happens, because my manager [Diego Silvente] doesn’t want to ask me during the GP – like, it’s normal to have a clean mind.

“The next week I think we have a meeting with him and we take the decision if I have something to take.”

Lecuona has made it clear earlier in the weekend that he had options on the table. Some of those were apparently in Moto2, but he’s not interested in returning to the intermediate class.

Nor is he interested in a test rider role. “I’m 21 years, I don’t want to stay all my life to try new pieces honestly, I like racing.”

Iker Lecuona Tech3 KTM MotoGP

Instead, Lecuona’s sights appear to be on a stop-gap World Superbikes move. An independent team link-up there would make the most sense – only Honda really has factory ride vacancies, and you wouldn’t expect it to go for a single-year deal with a rider who will likely pursue a MotoGP return,.

But while riders who head to World SBK after losing their MotoGP seats don’t tend to return to the premier class, Lecuona is only 21. He may well have a better chance than most.

And his recent performances, particularly Silverstone, will have done no harm whatsoever. While at some points he has looked a wet-weather specialist, no doubt aided by his (relatively recent) supermoto routes, British GP hinted at a rider who could yet become a sustainably competitive presence in the premier class for years to come. As long as there’s a way back.

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