‘On another planet’ Acosta is completely changing KTM’s timeline


It took an Aprilia launching Maverick Vinales into orbit for Pedro Acosta to get on a MotoGP podium so soon in his premier-class career – but the milestone makes little to no difference when it comes to the overall impression from a ride in which Acosta tangoed his way past two factory KTMs, then a six-time MotoGP champion, then this year’s overwhelming title favourite.

All this at a track where MotoGP had not tested, unlike Qatar, meaning that it was Acosta’s first time navigating MotoGP’s particular weekend format as a true rookie on his Tech3 Gas Gas privateer KTM.

Pedro Acosta holds up his trophy for scoring a podium in the Portimao MotoGP race

It even maybe helped the impact. In the Saturday sprint, Acosta rode generally par for the course, behind the works KTMs (at least until Brad Binder crashed), with Aleix Espargaro his (vanquished) main rival in the battle for seventh place.

Espargaro had mitigating circumstances on Sunday in the form of being barged down the order on lap one – but there was an admission from him that Acosta in any case would’ve been a viable rival no longer.

“I don’t know what he ate for breakfast. Because yesterday we were similar, and today he was on another planet,” gushed the Spanish veteran.

“He’s been amazing, the way he rides the bike, the way he stops the bike. He’s not a rookie anymore. He’s unbelievable, how fast he is.”

But Espargaro then made another telling comment.

“Everybody has said that Brad Binder is a very strong rider – he is a very strong rider – but looks like the KTM is also not a bad bike.

“Because immediately he [Acosta] is fighting for victory, crazy.”

‘Victory’ is a bit of hyperbole, but the fact remains that Acosta showed up the established RC16 riders big-time at Portimao.

And taking into account the pre-season, the Qatar Grand Prix season opener and now the Portuguese GP, it stands to reason that KTM’s steady march towards the front in MotoGP – first anchored by Pol Espargaro, then by Binder – has a good chance of being supercharged by Acosta’s natural progression.

KTM pair have work to do

Pedro Acosta leads Brad Binder in the Portimao MotoGP race, 2024

No rider loves taking about how good a job their team-mate (in this case, technically, stablemate) has done, but Binder and Jack Miller could only hold their hands up and go ‘fair enough’ after the 25 laps at Portimao.

RC16s in the Portuguese GP

Race results
3. Pedro Acosta (Tech3 Gas Gas), +5.362s
4. Brad Binder (KTM), +11.129s
5. Jack Miller (KTM), +16.437s
11. Augusto Fernandez (Tech3 Gas Gas), +28.244s

Fastest laps
Pedro Acosta (KTM), 1m38.824s (lap 22)
Brad Binder (KTM), +0.323s (lap 6)
Jack Miller (KTM), +0.464s (lap 6)
Augusto Fernandez (Tech3 Gas Gas), +0.752s (lap 4)

Miller, at least, was spared the relative indignity of being overtaken in battle – he gave up his place to Acosta when Binder chopped him off, slightly unceremoniously, on approach to Turn 1 and sent him off-track.

“I didn’t really have a chance [to defend against Acosta],” he said. “Me and Brad got pretty close in the braking zone and then I ended up off the kerb, left the door open for Pedro.

“Pedro rode fantastic. Once he got past Brad, he kind of just put the hammer down.

“I mean, Brad and I both had our tongues hanging out trying to chase him down. But… we couldn’t do nothing about it.”

“Bud, I tell you, when he passed me, he was rolling, eh?” chuckled Binder. “It’s really special. When you watch him ride, you can see how good he is.

“The way he can control the bike – carries a lot of corner speed, picks it up nicely. He’s a real class act. So… hats off to him. He really deserves a podium.”

And if Qatar was particularly chastening for Miller (while Binder still generally had Acosta covered), here Binder too suffered an unmistakable defeat.

Pedro Acosta jumps over a barrier to celebrate with his team after a MotoGP podium at Portimao, 2024

Binder didn’t even try to play it down, really – instead focusing publicly on the value of having Acosta alongside him.

“I think one of my biggest blessings as a rider is I’ve always had team-mates that have really pushed me. I’ve always had good team-mates,” Binder said.

“You can look at it as a blessing or a curse, but it’s always been really good for me.

“Together we can really keep pushing and try and get this whole project going forward.”

Sky’s the limit

Race winner Jorge Martin and Pedro Acosta on the podium, MotoGP Portimao 2024

Such is the hype around Acosta that Portuguese Grand Prix winner Jorge Martin’s claim his start to life in MotoGP “reminds me a bit of myself” could even be seen in some circles as undue self-promotion.

“I was also third in the second race. It’s not a surprise, because we all new he had the talent,” Martin explained.

But Martin’s completely right. Acosta is making a similar start in many ways: both had a Qatar debut in which they dazzled and chewed up the tyres, and both immediately followed it up with a podium.

Martin then immediately had a brutal injury at, coincidentally, Portimao, which conditioned his learning process. But he was faster in 2021 and 2022 than his championship position shows, and you could make a strong claim that by the middle of his third year he was already the pound-for-pound fastest rider in MotoGP.

Acosta, assuming he hopefully stays healthy, could be on an even quicker timeline than that.

That can never be taken for granted. MotoGP progress is not usually linear. As Binder – himself a race winner in his third grand prix start – pointed out, even if you’re fast from the get-go, you soon “catch surprises along the way”.

Pedro Acosta leads Pecco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez in the Portimao MotoGP race, 2024

And Portimao certainly didn’t test Acosta the same way as Qatar in terms of tyre management in particular.

But Binder also posited, rather magnanimously, that for a rookie “it’s tougher now than when I joined”.

So, ask yourself this: is it reasonable to expect Acosta to get, say, a quarter of a second a lap faster over the rest of the season?

Pedro Acosta raises his helmet and a Red Bull celebrating on the podium, Portimao MotoGP 2024

That kind of gain would’ve won him the Portuguese GP. It would almost certainly win him races over the rest of 2024.

And it would take him and the KTM bike into 2025 as not just frontrunners, not just dark horses, not just outside threats – but no-two-ways-about-it championship contenders.



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