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Special feature

Why the hype around MotoGP’s next generational talent is justified

KTM’s wunderkind Pedro Acosta’s MotoGP future should be known soon. The 19-year-old has shone brightly already in just two and a half years of grand prix racing, with his premier class step garnering incredible levels of hype. But why is this kid so highly rated and is it justified? Motorsport.com spoke to Aki Ajo, Acosta’s current team boss, to find out.

Pedro Acosta, Red Bull KTM Ajo

“Feet on the ground.” A phrase repeatedly uttered by Aki Ajo, team boss and owner of Ajo Motorsport, during our interview with him in his office at the British Grand Prix. Ajo, a Finnish former racer, has run an ultra-successful outfit in the lightweight and intermediate class championships in the MotoGP paddock, overseeing the development of some of the series’ biggest names.

In typically Finnish fashion, Ajo shoots from the hip. There’s no hyperbole, no understating. His observations are straightforward and honest.

That’s the kind of voice you need when the subject is a potential generational talent. In a year that the NHL will welcome one of its most exciting young prospects for years in Connor Bedard, #1 overall pick in the recent selection draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, MotoGP is set to get its own in 2024.

Ironically, if NHL draft rules applied in MotoGP, it would be Honda or Yamaha that Pedro Acosta would likely end up at as the lowest placed manufacturers currently in a dismal year for the Japanese outfits. For KTM, it will be the next step in its continued development of Acosta which began in what is now known as the FIM Junior World Championship and in the Red Bull Rookies Cup – a series he won in 2020 by a whopping 64 points from David Munoz.

Acosta was due to join the Prustel GP KTM-backed squad in the Moto3 world championship for 2021. When that deal fell through, KTM and Ajo Motorsport stepped in and Acosta made his debut with the team in that year’s Qatar GP. Finishing on the podium in his first race, he won at the following week’s Doha GP having been forced to start from pitlane.

Thus started the then-17-year-old's march to the world title, which he secured in dramatic fashion at the penultimate Algarve GP when Darryn Binder clattered into Acosta’s championship rival Dennis Foggia and took the Italian out.

Acosta won the Moto3 title in his rookie season and scored his first grand prix victory from pitlane at the Doha GP

Acosta won the Moto3 title in his rookie season and scored his first grand prix victory from pitlane at the Doha GP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

His move to Moto2 with the Ajo squad for 2022 had already been assured by this point, but his debut year title only heightened expectations. Three wins in his Moto2 learning year made sure of title challenger status for this season. After the British GP, he sits top of the standings by two points with four wins under his belt.

Acosta’s move to MotoGP for 2024 is yet to be announced, but it is all but done. KTM’s five riders for four bikes problem, which it has tried in numerous ways to rectify but appears likely to have to shift a contracted Tech3 runner out of the way, has little impact on Acosta. Come what may, he will be on an RC16 in November’s post-Valencia test.

At 19 years old, this is a situation that could easily swamp a young rider’s mind. Not Acosta.

“If you are quite mature in your mind and think like older people, it helps you a lot,” Ajo says of Acosta. “But on the other hand, it’s always the balance that you still need to really enjoy. You cannot be too serious, you need to bring this enthusiasm and never forget why you are here, because it’s so nice to ride motorcycles.

"He understands how lucky he is, that he has the talent that he has and the opportunities to be here" Aki Ajo

“But in the same time, if you can be quite mature and keep it simple and focus on the right things. I see so many times riders and their families focusing too much on what other people have. It’s always important to keep it simple.

“If you want to improve your performance, you need to focus on the points that you can touch. Don’t waste your energy on things you cannot touch. Pedro is really good at that and also the other champions… I don’t want to say names, but some other good guys that I worked with in the past, maybe this is something that is similar between the strong guys.”

Ajo would eventually compare Acosta to the likes of Jack Miller and Brad Binder, products of the Finn’s team, in that he is part of “the last generation of old school guys”. Feet firmly on the ground.

The talent that has come through Ajo’s doors at some stage has been immense, from the likes of Marc Marquez, to Johann Zarco, Binder, Miller, Jorge Martin to name but a few. In terms of out and out generational talents, there have been two over the last decade to come to the championship who could be considered as such: Marquez and Fabio Quartararo (who didn’t come through the Ajo or KTM system).

Pedro Acosta currently leads the 2023 Moto2 standings

Pedro Acosta currently leads the 2023 Moto2 standings

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Marquez won the 2010 125cc championship for Ajo, scoring 10 wins with an 18.2-point average across a 17-round championship. Binder took seven wins in Moto3 in 2016 with a 17.7-point-per-race average in an 18-round championship. Acosta won six times in 2021 in Moto3 with an average of 14.3 points per race over an 18-round season. He was a rookie; Marquez was in year two of grands prix, while Binder was in his fifth.

Of the current MotoGP crop, Marquez scored the most Moto2 wins in his championship season at nine in 2012, while Zarco had slightly more average points per race at 19.5 in 2015. Acosta’s rookie season, which was hindered by a mid-year broken leg, was someway shy at three wins and 8.85 average points per race. Compared to that year’s champion and team-mate Augusto Fernandez on four wins and 13.5 average points, it wasn’t bad.

After nine rounds in 2023, Acosta has four wins and is currently sitting on 17.3 points per race in what is due to be a 20-round season. That's very comparable to Marquez from 2012. Of course, results aren’t always telling; Quartararo’s one victory in four years of grand racing prior to his 2019 MotoGP step signalled nothing of the world champion rider he has become.

Talent, then, is not a doubt for Acosta. But that’s only part of what has shaped him into paddock’s hottest prospect. Racing is his job, but he has been able to view it as a privilege. Something he has worked hard for, yes. But something not taken for granted, to be enjoyed. This is clear to see in his interactions with fans, his showmanship. That really isn’t very unlike Marquez prior to the last few years.

“I used to say to some riders in the past that we are lucky bastards, and when you remember every morning when we open our eyes that we are, it’s so much easier to focus and enjoy the day,” Ajo poignantly states.

“He understands how lucky he is, that he has the talent that he has and the opportunities to be here. His father is a fisherman and has a fishing boat, and his father reminded him a few times when he was young that ‘you better do this job well or this boat is waiting for you on the sea’. He says fishing is not a bad job but ‘I’m lucky to be here, I enjoy this more’. Feet on the ground, that’s important. He has it.”

When Acosta won his first grand prix in Qatar two years ago, the overwhelming response led him to pull the sim card out of his mobile phone. A glance at his social media channels reveals someone unbothered by framing ‘the perfect life’. Not much in the way of ‘spon con’, no expensive shopping trips. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that; as Acosta’s fame grows, how he uses social media will likely need to change. That is an inescapable fact of our phone-wed society, for better or worse.

Yet, his current approach is very much in keeping with his approach to racing. And that will ultimately be a key weapon in his arsenal when that step to MotoGP comes. MotoGP is a ruthless championship with a deep talent pool always ascending the ranks, so you’ll find yourself hurried to the exit just as quickly as the front door was opened if you don’t perform.

Acosta will be expected to perform straight away in MotoGP. Could he repeat Marquez's first-year championship win?

Acosta will be expected to perform straight away in MotoGP. Could he repeat Marquez's first-year championship win?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

And the expectation of a KTM rider is also changing. The odd podium is no longer enough. The behemoth Austrian manufacturer demands wins, soon the championship. For a while now, its future hopes have seemingly been intertwined with Acosta’s development.

The hype surrounding this young Spaniard will undoubtedly lead to many asking the question of whether he can repeat Marquez’s title-winning heroics in his first year. Just as the wait for Bedard’s first NHL goal will boost the viewership of Blackhawk games at the start of the 2023/24 season, the interest Acosta will bring to MotoGP will certainly elevate the series.

The expectation to perform instantly will be unfair but unstoppable. But few doubt he'll rise to the occasion

The pressure, then, is immense. Here is a rider who could well one day be regarded as one of the best ever, as current stars struggle and merciless time eventually comes for careers. The expectation to perform instantly will be unfair but unstoppable. But few doubt he'll rise to the occasion.

“I believe Pedro is one of those young guys, one of a few of them, who will have a really nice future,” says Ajo.

Feet on the ground. That’s the Acosta way.

Acosta's grounded approach has impressed team boss Aki Ajo just as much as his talent

Acosta's grounded approach has impressed team boss Aki Ajo just as much as his talent

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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