Because the hype surrounding the next generation of MotoGP talent is justified

“Feet on the ground.” A phrase repeated by Aki Ajo, team principal and owner of Ajo Motorsport, during our interview with him in his office at the British Grand Prix. Ajo, a Finnish ex-racer, has run a hugely successful outfit in the lightweight and middleweight championships in the MotoGP paddock, overseeing the development of some of the series’ biggest names.

In typical Finnish fashion, Ajo shoots from the hip. There is no exaggeration, no understatement. His observations are clear and honest.

This is the kind of voice you need when it comes to a potential generational talent. In a year where the NHL will welcome one of its most exciting young prospects in years in Connor Bedard, the No. 1 overall pick in the recent draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, MotoGP is set to get its own in 2024.

Ironically, if NHL draft rules applied to MotoGP, it would be Pedro Acosta’s Honda or Yamaha that would likely end up as the lowest-placed manufacturers right now in what has been a dismal year for the Japanese outfit. For KTM, it will be the next step in Acosta’s continued development that began in what is now known as the FIM Junior World Championship and the Red Bull Rookies Cup – a series won in 2020 by 64 points from David Munoz. .

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

Thus began the then 17-year-old’s journey to the world title, which he clinched in dramatic fashion at the penultimate Algarve GP when Darin Binder hit Acosta’s championship rival Dennis Foggia and took out the Italian.

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

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

His move to Moto2 with the Ajo team for 2022 was already assured by this point, but his debut title of the year raised expectations. Three wins in his Moto2 learner year secured title challenger status for this season. After the British GP, he sits at the top of the standings by two points with four wins under his belt.

Acosta’s move to MotoGP for 2024 has yet to be announced, but it is complete. KTM’s five-rider-for-four-bike problem, which it has tried in many ways to fix but looks likely to have to remove a contracted Tech3 racer, has little impact on Acosta. Whatever happens, it will be in an RC16 in the test after November’s Valencia.

At the age of 19, this is a situation that could easily bog down a young rider’s mind. Not Acosta.

“If you’re mature enough in your mind and think like an old man, it helps a lot,” Ajo says of Acosta. “But on the other hand, it’s always the balance that you have to really enjoy. You can’t be too serious, you have to bring that enthusiasm and never forget why you’re here, because it’s so cool to ride motorcycles.

“He realizes how lucky he is, to have the talent he has and the opportunities to be here.” Aki Ajo

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

“If you want to improve your performance, you have to focus on the points you can touch. Don’t waste your energy on things you can’t touch. Pedro is very good at it and so are the other champions… I don’t want to name names, but some other good guys I’ve worked with in the past, maybe that’s something similar among the strong.”

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

The talent that has come through the doors of Ajo at some stage has been huge, from the likes of Marc Marquez, to Johann Zarco, Binder, Miller, Jorge Martin to name but a few. In terms of out-of-generation talent, in the last decade there have been two who came into 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 Moto2 2023 standings

Pedro Acosta currently leads the Moto2 2023 standings

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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

Of the current MotoGP crop, Marquez scored the most Moto2 wins in the championship season with nine in 2012, while Zarco averaged slightly more points per race with 19.5 in 2015. He was just shy of three wins and 8.85 average points per game. Compared to that year’s champion and teammate Augusto Fernandez’s four wins and 13.5 points average, that wasn’t bad.

After nine rounds in 2023, Acosta has four wins and currently has 17.3 points per game in a 20-round season. This is very comparable to Marquez from 2012. Of course, results are not always indicative. Quartararo’s one win in four years of major races before his step up to MotoGP in 2019 meant nothing to the world champion rider he has become.

Talent, then, is no doubt for Acosta. But that’s only part of what has shaped him into the paddock’s hottest prospect. Racing is his job, but he was able to see it as a privilege. Something he has worked hard for, yes. But something that is not taken for granted, to be enjoyed. This is clearly seen in his interactions with fans, his showmanship. This really isn’t too different from Marquez before the last few years.

“I used to tell 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 a lot easier to focus and enjoy the day,” Ajo states wistfully.

“He understands how lucky he is, to have the talent he has and the opportunities to be here. His father is a fisherman and owns a fishing boat and his father reminded him a few times when he was young that ‘you better do this job well or that boat is waiting for you at sea’. He says fishing isn’t a bad job, but “I’m lucky to be here, I enjoy it 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 prompted him to remove the sim card from his mobile phone. A look at his social media channels reveals someone unfazed by the framing of the “perfect life”. Not much in a ‘spon con’ way, no expensive shopping trips. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. As Acosta’s fame grows, the way he uses social media will likely need to change. This is an inevitable fact of our telephone society, for better or for worse.

However, his current approach is very much in line with his approach to racing. And that will ultimately be a key weapon in his arsenal when that step up to MotoGP comes. MotoGP is a ruthless championship with a deep pool of talent always rising through the ranks, so you’ll find yourself rushing to the exit as fast as the front door opened if you don’t perform.

Acosta is expected to appear in MotoGP immediately.  Could he repeat Marquez's championship debut year?

Acosta is expected to appear in MotoGP immediately. Could he repeat Marquez’s championship debut year?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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

The hype surrounding this young Spaniard will no doubt lead many to ask if he can repeat Marquez’s title-winning heroics in his first year. Just as the anticipation of Bedard’s first NHL goal will boost viewership for Blackhawk games at the start of the 2023/24 season, the interest Acosta will bring to MotoGP will certainly boost the series.

The expectation of immediate performance will be unfair but unstoppable. But few doubt that he will rise to the occasion

So the pressure is huge. Here is a rider who could well one day be considered one of the greatest of all time as today’s stars struggle and relentless career time comes. The expectation of immediate performance will be unfair but unstoppable. But few doubt that he will rise to the occasion.

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

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

Acosta's down-to-earth approach has impressed club boss Aki Ajo as much as his talent

Acosta’s down-to-earth approach has impressed club boss Aki Ajo as much as his talent

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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