With the final confirmation coming that Dani Pedrosa will finally return to MotoGP action next month at the Red Bull Ring after agreeing on terms for a wildcard appearance on a KTM – it marks a chance to see the diminutive Spaniard back in action that many of his fans thought they’d never see again.
But more than just a chance to see him back in race action, it marks a hugely significant step for KTM given the certainty with which Pedrosa has always insisted that he was simply a test rider for the factory.
It hints at just how far KTM’s development has come in the past few months, even beyond the startling breakthroughs of 2020.
Because as much as fans might hope to see the 35-year-old at the sharp end upon his return at the Styrian Grand Prix, that is very definitely not his motivation for returning to competitive action for the first time since he retired at the end of the 2018 season.
Instead, what we’re likely to see is a Pedrosa who is there fully in his role as a test rider and not with any ambitions of returning to the MotoGP grid next season.
It’s ironically something that Aprilia test rider Andrea Dovizioso disparagingly commented on earlier in the year while still attempting to secure himself with the Italian manufacturer for 2022 until seemingly becoming usurped by Maverick Vinales.
But the reality is that Pedrosa has fully committed to his role at KTM, as evidenced by just how difficult it’s been to lure him out of retirement despite the obvious easy win for the Austrian firm in terms of marketing.
Instead, he’s there to do one job and one job only – test out the latest iteration of the RC16 the only way that the bike can really be tested, in a race. He’s not there to score points or finish on the podium, he’s there to continue development – and based on what KTM has hinted at, there’s a lot more to come despite the bike’s recent role as a consistent podium finisher in the hands of Miguel Oliveira.
It’s an absolute certainty that the bike that Pedrosa rolls out on at the team’s home race will not be an identical clone of the bike used by factory riders Oliveira and team-mate Brad Binder, but will instead be a 2022 machine that’s radically different – and, according to KTM’s management, will be the first bike that Pedrosa has had the chance to shape to his own.
Joining the team in 2019 after retiring from MotoGP, that year’s model was largely already set in stone by the time he had a chance to even try it, let alone develop it. Inputting his feedback into the 2020 bike instead, the results were immediate, as both Oliveria and Binder became race winners almost immediately as soon as the delayed season started.
However, with COVID since affecting progress by seeing development severely curtailed by hastily introduced cost-cutting rules, the machine that Pedrosa will ride will be his first true KTM bike – and that prospect is what team boss Pit Beirer told The Race has lured Pedrosa back to action.
“He doesn’t want to prove something because he stopped his racing career in peace, happy and almost healthy, but for bike development he’s done some great things,” the world championship motocross rider said earlier this year.
“But a race is different, and with this transition bike, he could influence it a lot.
“The next bike will definitely have his signature on it and he has huge interest in the bike performing [well].
“There are some parts that run so long in the development that you can’t invite Dani in and have them ready within half a year. First the engineers and the test rider must understand each other, know what a soft feeling or a hard feeling means from the chassis, to know what he says. But the next bike has everything that he likes.”
The simple fact of the matter is that throughout their history, KTM has followed a standard platform; turn up in a series, learn the ropes, then dominate. It was the model that took them to success in MXGP, supercross and Dakar.
With today’s news that Pedrosa is finally confident enough that the bike needs him to ride it to continue with development, it bodes very well for the Austrian team’s future plans – and might worry more than some of its rivals.