By Michael Antonovich | Photos by Chris Kimball
Since the start of the sport, there has been a distinct difference in the technology the factory teams and the second-tier teams possess. Sure, there was the implementation of the “production rule” that all but killed the works bikes of the 70s and 80s, but to think that the big five (Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Yamaha, Suzuki) have their best racers on something the average fan can piece together is lunacy. The motorcycles you see beneath a factory awning share few parts with a bike on your local dealership floor. There is the addition of aftermarket performance products and pipes, but items like custom transmissions and suspension kits costing tens of thousands are truly what separate the haves and have nots. Acquiring specific parts is sometimes possible, and in the past many teams have leased complete bikes from the factory teams, but few speak openly about the process or the amount of money necessary.
This, however, is something KTM has no problem discussing, and they have recently begun to talk openly about their “Factory Services.” Run inside KTM’s Murietta, California, shop, the department has been created to provide premier operations, including Rockstar Energy Racing and BTO Sports, with the same engine used by the Red Bull KTM factory team. While the program itself is not groundbreaking by any means, its transparency and reach deserves attention.
“It’s hard to imagine that we supply these teams with the same engine as what Ryan and Ken have,” said KTM’s Ian Harrison, “but that is exactly what it is.” Harrison, who followed Roger DeCoster from Suzuki to KTM, stated a number of people asked the Japanese brand for this same program but the materials were never shared to those outside the factory umbrella. Factory Services is much less stringent, but that’s not to say that just anyone can get bike. The price tag for a full season is 25,00-dollars plus equipment, which effectively weeds out a privateer barely making it from race to race. KTM realizes that this is a hefty sum, but explains that it is worth what is received. The customer receives a number of practice and race engines, all built in-house by a staff of eight technicians, and the scheduled maintenance to keep them performing at their peak. Practice motors regularly go 20 hours before returning to the workshop to be freshened, and race motors go for 10 hours. If a team feels something is off and would like to have one serviced early, that is always an option. “Once you know a rider’s service interval, we tell them their limit and that they need to bring it back,” he said. “Last year we built Ken Roczen four race engines to start the season, and he finished with all four engines using the same pistons and hard parts. Some guys are very hard on equipment, and Marvin was double what Ken was.”
To keep a certain level of quality, teams are forbidden from building, tearing open, and repairing motors on their own. “We could provide someone with the parts and they build it poorly,” said Dudley Cramond, ”which would result in an engine failure. If they want titanium hardware in the engine, that is on them and they will need to purchase it, but for the rest, the bikes are exactly the same.”
Having a personal exhaust brand is an option, but there are two choices presented already with the program in Akrapovic and FMF Racing. Akrapovic is a primary sponsor for the Red Bull KTM team and produce the pipes for Dungey, Roczen, Musquin, and Ferris, while FMF Racing supports the Rockstar Energy and BTO Sports squads and KTM’s factory off-road team. Surprisingly enough, KTM’s North American President Jon-Erik Burleson said that having two competitors does not cause an issue. “When it comes right down to it, FMF and Akrapovic represent the European and American flavor of the company. We sell both of their products through our Hard Parts catalog and use both of them in our racing. It is kind of like having the Factory Services guys working with the Rockstar and BTO teams, and then our guys in here with the Red Bull KTM team. There is a little bit of sharing, so that the high tide raises all of the ships.”
KTM and the team of technicians have seen what makes their bikes perform the best firsthand, and hope the consumer racing teams come to them directly. “There are so many things that the manufacturers have turned over to the aftermarket,” said Burleson. “After going through a lot of the learning, we decided that instead of handing it over to keep it internal and make something unique and special for the KTM experience.“ Getting the full experience with exotic materials and gear ratios may happen someday for the average consumer, but this could be years away. “We have the intent to open it up and provide the opportunity to the customer that is not at the pro level, but we want to have the infrastructure in place to do first. We want to support our existing teams and then extend it out,” he shared. “No engine goes out of here without dynoing, and that has been a long discussion. In order to do this quality of work, we cannot let an engine go out without getting on the dyno so the consistency is there. It is a long process and takes a lot of work, and there will never be a 1500-dollar engine package for sale.”
Although he is hands-off to the actual process, Burleson knows the details of the program and the effect it has on the company. “When we were in final discussions with the Rockstar Energy Racing team, they wanted to know that the engines would be done correctly and that they would have their own engine work, and we felt confident that their bikes would be as good as our bikes,” he said. “It really comes down to if you are on a KTM, then let the best man win, because the support and technology is available.”