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Motorcycling: Zarco to join KTM MotoGP team in 2019

Motorcycle Racing - Argentina Motorcycle Grand Prix - MotoGP Qualifying Session - Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina - April 7, 2018 - Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Johann Zarco of France races during the qualifying session. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

(Reuters) - French rider Johann Zarco, last year’s MotoGP Rookie of the Year, has signed a two-year deal to join the Red Bull-backed KTM factory team from 2019.

The Austrian team have also confirmed Spanish rider Pol Espargaro is staying, leaving Britain’s Bradley Smith without a ride.

Zarco is a two-times Moto2 champion and has been a consistent frontrunner with the non-factory Tech3 Yamaha team since he stepped up.

KTM made their MotoGP debut in 2017 and are also-rans in a top category where Italian brand Ducati provides the main challenge to major Japanese manufacturers Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki.

“We had to trust in our capability to build a winning bike and Johann would not come over if he did not see and feel that trust,” said KTM motorsports director Pit Beirer in a statement at the Spanish Grand Prix on Thursday.

“We feel very responsible now to get that package strong enough so that he can continue on the level where he is. It is our big target.

“Johann beating the factory guys on satellite machinery and consistently qualifying on the front row means he is a strong fighter with a strong sprit. I’m convinced we can reach the next level with a rider like Johann with us.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar