Hallelujah, sideways MotoGP is back!


Pecco Bagnaia’s superb Jerez MotoGP victory was the work of the very brave man, but the sideways antics of KTM wild men Brad Binder and Jack Miller were what really set the race alight

MotoGP bikes sliding at Jerez in 2023 Spanish GP

Jack Miller is sideways on the brakes into Jerez’s Turn Six, but look where Brad Binder’s front and rear tyres are! Meanwhile GP winner Pecco Bagnaia is wheels in line, foot down


There is a theory in the MotoGP paddock: make your motorcycle work around Jerez and it will work almost anywhere. Ducati won its first MotoGP victory in a decade at Jerez in 2021 and won the world title the following year.

No doubt about it, KTM – with Brad Binder and Jack Miller fighting Pecco Bagnaia for the win, pretty much throughout Sunday’s race – was the big story at Jerez. But even two weeks earlier at COTA, Miller was on fire aboard the RC16, closing on leader Bagnaia and winner Álex Rins until he lost the front.

The 2023 RC16 may look similar to last year’s but it’s a completely different motorcycle: engine with different firing-configuration, chassis with revised balance, aerodynamics with different balance, recoded electronics, everything.

Last year at Jerez the best KTM finished 13 seconds behind winner Bagnaia – half a second off the pace. This time Binder and Miller led most of the race, Binder taking the chequered flag two tenths behind Bagnaia, a lap time different of 0.009 seconds. No doubt about it, KTM is back.

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And not only that. The latest RC16 has reintroduced something that MotoGP fans have mourned for many years: sideways riding!

Binder and Miller were a joy to watch as they fought for the lead, playing chicken as they attacked the Turn 6 right-hand hairpin, rear tyres kicked out to the left as they desperately tried to scrub off speed and hit the apex.

Both men grew up racing motocross, so they like to ride out of shape. And that’s one reason Miller is loving the RC16 even more than he loved Ducati’s various Desmosedicis, which he raced for five seasons.

“In terms of riding the KTM it brings me back a little bit to my Moto3 days [with KTM],” he said at Jerez. “If I want to slide the bike I can put the bike like that, piece of piss. And if I’m stopping the bike sideways, I can do things with the bike more freely.

KTM celebrate victory in 2023 MotoGP Spanish GP

The KTM double-podium celebrations were much messier than this photo makes them look!


“That just gives you an extra tool to use in that area, whereas with the Ducati – and don’t get me wrong, because the Ducati did everything very well, especially the last model – but it kind of felt like you were on top of the bike and riding the bike, but you weren’t in charge of it all the time..”

Which makes you think of Bagnaia’s fall at COTA, where he crashed out of the lead after losing the front, and Jorge Martin’s frequent offs; four at the last two races. Perhaps that grey area which the rider really, really needs – from the first warning sign of impending doom to the front completely letting go – is getting very narrow on the Ducati. I mean, how often do you see a Ducati rider save a front slide with knee and elbow? Not very often. In other words, you’re on the ground before you know it.

“Sometimes you don’t see the braveness of a rider in the eyes”

Considering all this, Bagnaia’s victory at Jerez was something else. When you’ve crashed out of the last two races, losing the front, you come to the next race with doubts, in yourself, in the machine. You are also terrified of crashing out in the same way again, because then you’re in a downward spiral of confidence, which can be very difficult to reverse.

Bagnaia had a horrible Friday at Jerez – 13th fastest – because he wasn’t getting the feeling he wanted from the front end and the front tyre. Maybe it was the bike, maybe it was him.

“Pecco was obviously pissed about the Friday sessions but he trusted the team and he went to sleep without bad ideas in his mind,” team manager Davide Tardozzi told me after the race, champagne glass in hand. “Finally in the Saturday morning session we found out some things and finally we fixed everything after the sprint race. It was a matter of suspension and ride height, the position of the bike.”

There’s no doubt that Bagnaia’s first victory since the season-opening Portuguese GP was the work of a hero. He could have settled for a podium finish to rebuild his confidence, but he didn’t.

Ducati celebrates in pit garage at 2023 MotoGP Spanish GP

Bagnaia won a brave and important victory in front of all his bosses, including Valentino Rossi


On the final lap he risked everything to keep Binder behind him. Binder’s astonishing-late braking into Turn 6 got him to within a few metres of the Ducati’s rear tyre and by Turn 9 he was even closer, trying to build towards an attack at the final Turn 13, where so many Jerez battles have been decided, invariably followed by seething arguments in pitlane and paddock.

Where Bagnaia won the race was the penultimate Turn 12, one of MotoGP’s fastest corners, and with minimal run-off. In other words, very dangerous. But if the hunted wants to beat the hunter at Jerez the only way is to take huge risks at Turn 12, to eke the extra few metres that will make it impossible for someone to find a way past into the final hairpin.

“Sometimes you don’t see the braveness of a rider in the eyes,” says Alex Baumgartel of Kalex, with whom Bagnaia won the 2018 Moto2 world title. “Pecco doesn’t look brave but he is f**king brave!”

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Binder very nearly had a go at Turn 13 anyway – he was behind and to the inside of Bagnaia, all set up to have a go, but his RC16 was making such massive shapes – left, right, up and down – that if he had gone for it, the ensuing two-bike accident would’ve been big.

KTM has made a huge step into 2023 for three main reasons: the race department has some very clever brains, it’s imported more very special brains from Borgo Panigale and KTM and Red Bull have upped their investment even more.

“To be honest, it’s a mix of many, many things,” says RC16 project leader Sebastian Risse. “We’ve balanced the bike and worked on how the bike transfers load. When the front tyres changed for 2021 we were a bit in trouble but now we have found another window to work in.

“Jerez and COTA were two tracks where our bike didn’t work too well before, so it looks like we now have a base, because this weekend bike isn’t much different to COTA. But you always have to go to some other tracks where the old bike fitted the track well to understand how universal you have made the bike.”

MotoGP tyre pressure sensors

MotoGP rims are fitted with two valves (LDL left, McLaren right) to allow ‘washing’ out hot air and replacing it with new air, to reduce the moisture count and pressure problems


KTM engineer Paul Trevathan, who currently works with the GASGAS Tech 3 team, agrees that success comes from getting all the little things right. The days are long gone when you could change one part and gain a few tenths.

“We’ve definitely stepped up the performance of the team because the company has really invested,” he says. “They kept asking us what we need, so we were able to get some good manpower [some from Ducati].

“The bike can be wild but it gives you information”

“Also, it helps that we’ve got Brad and Jack pushing each other. Maybe that’s been part of Ducati’s success – when someone’s winning on the same bike you stop complaining and you start riding better.

“We’ve made a step with the bike for sure, but the key is many little things. The engine, for example. Our engine department had some ideas and 100% made a step – not so much in [horsepower] numbers but the feeling – what the rider can do with the engine.”

Dani [Pedrosa, KTM’s chief test rider] rides in a very different way to Brad and Jack but they can all do the lap time. That’s really good because normally we were stuck in a narrow window, and if you went outside that window the bike didn’t work any more. Obviously some of the many things we’ve done has made that window much wider. This is the cool thing.

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“Jack says there are parts of this bike that are a step better than the Ducati. He just needed to get other things under control to understand how to ride the bike.

“That’s why Pol Espargaró always liked the character of the bike. It can be wild but it gives you information, which gives you a feeling of where the limit is. It’s different with the Ducati – it’s the most stable motorcycle out there, but they have these massive offs – puff – and it’s gone.”

Tyre pressures aren’t the most fascinating part of MotoGP but they are incredibly important to performance, especially front tyres. Most riders and teams expected Jerez to be a nightmare in this respect. But in fact the situation wasn’t so bad, which is a huge plus for the race and probably explains why there was a good amount of overtaking.

The improvements come from various areas. Riders and teams better understanding how to control pressures, by riding in different ways or using a set-up that reduces the load on the front tyre. Incidentally, skidding the rear tyre sideways – like Binder and Miller, takes a lot of load off the front tyre!

Most importantly, teams use a system devised by Michelin to ‘wash’ tyre air when tyres are in their electric blankets, being warmed for use. Each tyre rim is fitted with two valves: the LDL spec valve, which records tyre data for the teams and now for Race Direction, and a McLaren valve.

Even though tyre air is first dried by Michelin, it’s impossible to get rid of all moisture, which expands when tyres get hot, exacerbating pressure problems. When tyres are nearing full temperature they are washed, by blowing cool, dry air through one valve, which exits the hot air out of the other valve. Then tyres stay in their blankets until they are ready. It’s not a 100% fix but it does make a difference.

All this is incredibly important to the quality of racing and how easy it is for riders to overtake, so let’s hope Michelin and teams continue to make improvements.