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Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup: Riding school powered by KTM

They are young, they are fast – and they are dreaming of a career in World Championships. The junior pilots in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, some as young as 13, kicked off the 2015 season last weekend in the Spanish city of Jerez. This speedy group of racers, many still with braces on their teeth, is following the trail of many renowned names.

Is this a good thing? 13-year-old squirts on real racing machines, doing more than 200km/h? This is a very good thing. The KTM RC 250 RB being used in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup makes the series a perfect training enterprise for up-and-coming World Championship pilots. Only nuances distinguish the machine from the bike that KTM is using in the Moto3 World Championship. This makes it easier for the 24 most talented spring chickens jostling for the title in 2015 to climb the ladder.


Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup 2015

Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup 2015


Their predecessors have prominent names: Johann Zarco, the overall winner in the premiere year of the Rookies Cup in 2007, raced to his first Moto2 World Championship victory two weeks ago in Argentina and is already knocking on the door of the MotoGP royal league. And Danny Kent, the runner-up in the Rookies Cup 2010, won three of the four Moto3 races so far in 2015.

Both are leading the World Championship table, Zarco in Moto2, Kent in Moto3: flawlessly demonstrating the quality of riding maturing in the Rookies Cup.

Red Bull rookies who are managing to ascend to the Motorcycle World Championship, enjoy enormous advantages: Because the cup is exclusively held in the supporting program to European Motorcycling World Championship races, they are already familiar with the race tracks and could ride them blind. Regardless whether they are in Jerez, Assen or the Sachsenring – Red Bull Rookies know where they’re going. This gives them a great advantage over pilots who ascend to the World Championship from a national mastership.

The Rookies Cup focuses on equal opportunity: All ride identical KTM RC 250 RB motorcycles, and all these machines are maintained by a central service team between the races. Only the hand the pilot uses to accelerate decides whether the race will end in victory or defeat.

For KTM, the Rookies Cup represents the first step in promoting junior talent properly. “Our commitment to the Rookies Cup,” as KTM Moto3 project manager Christian Korntner says, “ensures we have good access when it comes to developing pilots for our Moto3 factory team.” The KTM factory team is showing how true that is in the ongoing Moto3 World Championship season: All three pilots (Miguel Oliveira, Karel Hanika, Brad Binder) have their origins in the Rookies Cup.

Now that the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup 2015 season has kicked off, the first to triumph during the first weekend of racing in Jerez is called Bo Bendsneyder (Netherlands): The 16-year-old, riding his second Cup season, won both races. Who knows – Bendsneyder might also be racing to victory in the World Championships in the not too distant future.


Bo Bendsneyder Jerez 2015

Bo Bendsneyder Jerez 2015


And there is no lack of successful role models for Bendsneyder and his competitors for the cup. Here is a list of former Red Bull Rookies who raced to success in the World Championship. From A as in Alt, to Z as in Zarco.

Johann Zarco: The MotoGP is calling

  1. Country: France

  2. Age: 24

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2009

  4. Currently racing: Moto2 World Championship for Ajo Motorsport

Alphabetically the last, but the first in our list. This is because no Red Bull Rookie has made it further than Johann Zarco, the first overall winner of the Rookies Cup (2007). In the 125 World Championship 2011, Zarco rode his way to the title of Vice-World Championship, and to his very first World Championship racing victory. If he hadn’t found himself having to get used to a new team every year in the medium engine size Moto2 class, he might already be leading the MotoGP royal class today. Because his speed is uncontested. And as his chassis technician Stefan Kurfiss once rhapsodized: “Unbelievable how quickly Zarco grasps technical aspects.”

After three years of journeying through the Moto2 teams JIR, Ioda and Caterham, Zarco has now returned his old patron, Aki Ajo, in 2015. And it’s going swimmingly: World Championship leadership after his victory in Argentina and two runner-up spots in Austin and Jerez.

Wanna bet that Zarco has already become first choice for a few MotoGP teams looking for recruits?


Johann Zarco Estoril 2007

Johann Zarco Estoril 2007


Florian Alt: Second attempt

  1. Country: Germany

  2. Age: 19

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2013

  4. Currently racing: Moto2 World Championship in the Octo Iodaracing Team

One who tends to tower over the competition. That said, we should just strike through the ‘tends to’. The overall Rookies Cup winner from 2012 meanwhile measures 1.88 meters. Florian Alt won the Rookies Cup, made his debut in the Moto3 World Championship in 2013, shot up during the season, failed to score points over the entire season, with then seeking salvation on a larger Moto2 machine.

But Alt did not ride in the World Championship, but rather in the Spanish Moto2 masterships. And promptly crossed the finish line – hats off! – in second place overall.

He took to the starting line a second time in the Motorcycle World Championship in 2014. However, just like in the Moto3 in 2013, Alt had a difficult time in the Moto2 as well: He didn’t make the top 20 in any of his first four races.


Florian Alt Aragón 2012

Florian Alt Aragón 2012


Luis Salom: Nearly the World Champion

  1. Country: Spain

  2. Age: 23

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2009

  4. Currently racing: Moto2 World Championship for Páginas Amarillas HP40

He came within an inch of being the first Red Bull Rookie who managed to claim a World Championship title. He led the rankings over large stretches of the Moto3 season in 2013 – only to fall at the finals in Valencia and see his dream shattered. This left him with 3rd place in the World Championship (after claiming runner up in 2012 behind Sandro Cortese).

Luis Salom rounded off his first Moto2 year in eighth place in 2014, with his seventh place in Jerez being his best result in the current season so far.


Luis Salom Assen 2007

Luis Salom Assen 2007


Danny Kent: What a talent!

  1. Country: England

  2. Age: 21

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2010

  4. Currently racing: Moto3 World Championship at Leopard Racing

His name rhymes with his distinguishing feature: What a talent, this Danny Kent! Three victories in four races, giving him the lead in the World Championship – the Brit is current the measure of all things in the Moto3 World Championship.

Kent’s skills already became apparent in 2010, when the young man from Chippenham competed in his first World Championship race parallel to his Rookies Cup season (overall rank 2). Two years later, he raced to two victories and a fourth-place World Championship ranking with the Red Bull KTM factory team headed by Aki Ajo.

If only Kent, buoyed by his wins, had decided against ascending to the Moto2. Or, it might be better to say: decided against the Tech3 team, where he and his Mistral chassis saw their ambitions fail in 2013 (World Championship rank 22).

Kent has meanwhile returned to Moto3 and is now impressively demonstrating what an excellent racer he is.


Danny Kent Jerez 2010

Danny Kent Jerez 2010


Karel Hanika: The one with the flowing mane of hair

  1. Country: Czech Republic

  2. Age: 19

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2014

  4. Currently racing: Moto3 World Championship for Red Bull KTM Ajo

Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose mane is the longest of them all? Karel Hanika, of course, who won the Rookies Cup in 2013 and was then promptly placed in the Moto3 Factory Team thanks to the KTM’s consistent promotion of junior talent. “Karel is a very good formative rider,” as KTM Moto3 project manager Christian Korntner says. “You can trust what he says.”

Hanika is, admittedly, not particularly happy with taking 18th spot in his debut season in the World Championship 2014. But things are running better this year. Following two top-10 placements in the first four races, the Czech rider has now reached World Championship rank 12.

When will his long hair be getting shorn? Hanika is not revealing anything. We are presuming it will be after his first place on the podium in the Moto3 World Championship. And that won’t be much longer.


Karel Hanika Aragón 2013

Karel Hanika Aragón 2013


Brad Binder: Family outing

  1. Country: South Africa

  2. Age: 19

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2011

  4. Currently racing: Moto3 World Championship for Red Bull KTM Ajo

Brad Binder was once a habitual feature of the Red Bull Rookies Cup. The young man from Potchefstroom raced in the cup for three years, from 2009 to 2011. He contested his first World Championship race in 2011 in parallel, and just missed out on scoring a placement at his debut in Indianapolis.

Despite material disadvantages, Binder put on superb performances again and again for the two years following, and soon reaped the rewards: he was engaged by the Red Bull KTM factory team for 2015.

And by the way: Brad’s younger brother Darryn is the second Binder to be racing in the Moto3 World Championship, making each and every Grand Prix a family outing. And guess where Darryn learned how to race motorcycles before working his way up to the World Championship? Bingo!


Brad Binder Estoril 2011

Brad Binder Estoril 2011


Miguel Oliveira: A late arrival at KTM

  1. Country: Portugal

  2. Age: 20

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2011

  4. Currently racing: Moto3 World Championship for Red Bull KTM Ajo

Hard luck: Miguel Oliveira‘s name first appeared on the wish list compiled by Aki Ajo, the team leader of the Red Bull KTM Ajo factory team back in 2012. However, Oliveira opted for a Honda instead, which only allowed him to manage a World Championship ranking of 8 – while Sandro Cortese, who had been engaged in his place, raced to a title with his factory KTM.

After two years at Mahindra, and once again on sub-optimal material, Oliveira ended up making his way to the KTM factory team in 2015 after all. Pole position at the Argentinian GP, starting position 2 in Austin, leader of the race right up to the last bend in Jerez. Oliveira made the most lasting impression so far out of this year’s three KTM factory pilots.

Oliveira only used to appear sporadically in the Red Bull Rookies Cup – which made him all the most impressive: In 2008, he raced to victory twice in three races. Being engaged by the Red Bull KTM factory team has seen the only Portuguese in the Motorcycle World Championship come full circle, seven years on.


Miguel Oliveira Assen 2008

Miguel Oliveira Assen 2008


Jorge Martín: “Very, very fast”

  1. Country: Spain

  2. Age: 17

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2015

  4. Currently racing: Moto3 World Championship for MAPFRE Team Mahindra

Jorge Martín raced in the Red Bull Rookies Cup for three years straight and the consistent improvement of his performance ultimately lead to an overall Cup win in 2014.

The Madrileño put his faith in the Mahindra factory team for the Moto3 World Championship 2015, and promptly caused a stir at the pre-season tests in Jerez when he just missed out on beating Fabio Quartararo’s best time by a few thousandths of a second. However, Martín had a hard time in the first four races of the season, only managing three World Championship points (15th place in Qatar, 14th place in Jerez).

The words uttered by team manager Gino Borsoi rang true. “Jorge is very, very fast,”, as Borsoi observed before the season kicked off. “Nonetheless, he will need to race a few times before he reaches the same level as the best riders.” But as the Rookies Cup has already shown: Just give Jorge Martín a little time, and things will work out.


Jorge Martín Silverstone 2014

Jorge Martín Silverstone 2014


Jakub Kornfeil: The old hand

  1. Country: Czech Republic

  2. Age: 22

  3. Motorcycle World Championship since: 2009

  4. Currently racing: Moto3 World Championship for Drive M7 SIC-KTM

Jakub Kornfeil is 22 – an almost biblical age for Moto3. This means it does not come as a surprise that there are presently only two World Championship pilots (Efrén Vázquez, Alexis Masbou) who have raced at more Grand Prix events than Kornfeil.

The overall winner of the Rookies Cup in 2009 contested his first five World Championship races in the same year, and has since been a fixed feature of the lowest engine class. However, the title of “nomad” sticks to Kornfeil: He has already tried out six different teams: Loncin, Racing Team Germany, Ongetta, RW Racing, Calvo and the team newly formed for 2015, the SIC-KTM team – so far none were ever enough to get him a place on the podium.

The qualifying rounds he has run prove that the KTM pilot has the speed needed: Last year, Kornfeil joined starting line 1 two times.


Jakub Kornfeil Sachsenring 2009

Jakub Kornfeil Sachsenring 2009


Photos: www.ktmimages.com | Red Bull Content Pool

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