Most people support the little guy, and while overtaking BMW in 2012 to become Europe’s number-one brand (selling 107,142 motorcycles – over 32 percent better than the year before) means KTM isn’t exactly second division. But it still makes only a fraction of Honda’s annual two-wheeled production, even after you add in the 3.76 million machines manufactured by its Indian partner (and 47.18 percent shareholder), Bajaj Auto.
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So KTM’s affront in defeating Honda to win its first-ever road racing World Championship in 2012 courtesy of German rider Sandro Cortese stirred the senses of fans around the world, especially as its engineers started so late in trying to pose a serious challenge to the might of Honda in the new category. For the fact that Honda’s NSF250R Moto3 contender was unveiled in public in June of 2011 reflected the fact that it had been working on it for some time in the full expectation it’d be adopted as the control bike for a spec World Championship, only to find the FIM insistent on throwing the new category open to all-comers.
So it caused widespread satisfaction that Honda appeared to get seriously outmaneuvered by KTM not only in Moto3’s kickoff year, but for a second successive season in 2013, with Maverick Viñales retaining the title on a KTM customer bike, ahead of Alex Rins on a similar machine, with Luis Salom third in the final points table on the factory Red Bull KTM Team Ajo bike. Honda’s best rider, meanwhile, was Aussie Jack Miller, who will replace Arthur Sissis on the KTM Red Bull team this coming season. Miller was seventh.
Salom led the championship all season long, winning more races than anyone else (seven out of 17 rounds, with 12 podiums and never out of the top five), before unaccountably succumbing to pressure and crashing in each of the final two rounds and handing the title on a plate to Viñales – his teammate this year in Moto2 with team Pons.
It was only in November of 2010 that KTM management made the decision to join the new class as part of a fresh long-term road racing strategy that will also involve Superbike racing and began developing its RC250R contender, whose engine ran on a dyno for the first time on August 26, 2011. The complete new KTM RC250R didn’t see a racetrack until November that year, but by the first ever Moto3 race at Qatar in April of 2012 it was already quick enough to take pole position; Cortese won KTM’s first Moto3 GP in the third race at Estoril, en route to the title.
Though honors were even between Honda and KTM in that debut season in terms of GP victories, for 2013 the Austrians stepped up a level – winning all 17 rounds to post a record run of 21 successive Moto3 race wins, smashing Honda’s previous record of 19 125cc GP victories in a row in 1990-91.
Austria 2, Japan 0, and the underdog had triumphed.
In view of this, the chance to ride Salom’s 2013 factory RC250R at Almeria during Red Bull Team Ajo’s final tests just before the start of GP racing’s six-week shutdown presented a window on the forthcoming season, especially after losing my Moto3 virginity by riding its increasingly competitive Mahindra rival a couple of months earlier.