After six years of successful partnership that yielded 12 race victories and 33 podium finishes, KTM rider Mika Kallio and his team will say good-bye at the end of this racing season. But even though the 25-year-old Finn is joining another manufacturer as he moves to the MotoGP class, it is a farewell between good friends.
'Mika has been under our wings from the beginnings of his Grand Prix career. We've moved up through the ranks as a team and celebrated our first victories together. We fought for the world titles in both the 125 cc and 250 cc class and it was a great and exciting time,' says KTM CEO Stefan Pierer. 'Mika is an outstanding talent in this sport and we always said that we would support him all the way, not only with our bikes but also once he found a good opportunity to move to the MotoGP category. The time has now come. It will be exciting to watch him racing in the future and we all wish him the best of luck.'
Kallio now to face the ultimate challenge. Competing in the highest category of motorcycle racing is every rider's dream but Kallio did not take his decision lightly. "The MotoGP class is the ultimate challenge, and I took this chance after talking to my team and to KTM, and after carefully considering all options. We've won many races, we've been serious title contenders in both the 125 and the 250 class and there is not much more I would be able to prove if I hung in for another year," says Kallio. "I will always remember the great times we had together and our early success when we surprised the paddock and the fans in both categories."
Quick success. Success came quickly as Mika joined the official KTM 125 team in the second half of the 2003 season in Brno. Kallio, a three-times winner of the Finnish 125 cc championship, rode on after a practice crash and conquered fourth place in his first ever race for the Austrian manufacturer despite a badly damaged left little finger. He celebrated second place and his first podium finish for KTM just four races later in Malaysia.
The man to beat in 2005 and 2006. Kallio was definitely the man to beat in the 125 class in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He scored a total of seven victories and 21 podium finishes in this period, finishing both years as runner-up in the championship. Kallio was naturally also instrumental in helping KTM seal the Manufacturer's Title in the 125 cc class. "It's a bit sad that we couldn't win the title, but to be in second place twice is also a very good result. The title fights were very close, especially in 2005. I have very good memories of that time, especially from my first victory in Portugal when I won on the last straight by just eight thousandths of a second."
Perfect partnership of man and machine. When Kallio moved to the 250 class in 2007, the perfect partnership of man and machine seamlessly continued. "Of course I had to learn a lot and we were not fully competitive straight away. But I knew what to expect right from the first test in Valencia at the end of the 2006 season. Even though my new bike was so much stronger with double the capacity and horsepower, it still felt like a KTM and it was still my bike!"
Smooth transition. Harald Bartol, Team Director and constructor of the bikes, always insisted that a good 125 cc rider wouldn't need much time to adjust to a 250. Kallio was proof of that. It only took him half the season, until the German Grand Prix, to score his first podium finish, and the highlight of the year was his first 250 cc victory in Japan, his third successive victory on the demanding Twin Ring Motegi track. "We had won there in 2005 and 2006 with the 125 bike, and to return in my 250 rookie year and win again was just awesome," says Kallio.
Attacking from the front. Kallio took his second 250 cc victory at the last race of the season in Valencia and started into the 2008 season with a bang. He scored four podium finishes and two race wins in the first four races of the season and led the title fight until mid-season. It was a remarkable campaign on a bike that was merely three years old against a brand with a development history that spans more than two decades.
Enduring Friendship. It's also remarkable how Kallio faced all the obstacles in his way with calm confidence. "The magic behind our success is mutual trust. My team knows that I give 100 per cent all the time, and I know the same about my team. I know that I can rely on the team's decisions whenever I go out on the track. And even if something goes wrong on a particular race track, I know that Harald will be back in his workshop and work without rest until he finds the solution to the problem. This sort of trust is one of the reasons why I continued with KTM year after year," says Kallio. "My relationship with Harald and the other engineers in the team is much more than just technical. We are friends - and we will also remain friends in the future!"
The entire KTM Family thanks Mika Kallio for his suburb contribution to Orange road racing over the past seasons and joins in wishing him continued racing success in MotoGP.