RAISING THE BAR OF EXC-ELLENCE WITH TWO WORLD CHAMPIONS
Exceptional, emotional, and incredible are the main words that come to mind to describe the World Championship victories of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Manuel Lettenbichler and Josep Garcia. As the reality of achieving their goals sets in, on what has been quite a journey through 2023 aboard completely new KTM EXC machinery, we take a look at their FIM Hard Enduro and FIM Enduro1 World titles.
Manuel Lettenbichler is a fun-loving racer that’s hugely popular with the fans and incredibly talented on a motorcycle. Following in the footsteps of his father Andreas, a former Hard Enduro racer and test rider for KTM, Mani has established himself as one of the best enduro riders on the planet. Completing a season where he was unbeaten with a record six from six consecutive event wins, including victories at the notoriously difficult races such as the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and Red Bull Romaniacs, the 25-year old has been outstanding this season, regardless of the race format.
Heading into the penultimate round of the six-round series, the Hixpania Hard Enduro in Spain in mid-October, Mani explained how the atmosphere was incredible, but the track was super tricky. Like a warrior, the KTM-ace put together another class performance to reach the final climb in first place. The champ even had enough time to acknowledge his achievement as he took the win under the Red Bull arch, breaking the previous consecutive race win-record in Hard Enduro and securing the 2023 FIM Hard Enduro World Championship. An emotional Mani explained he was ‘speechless’ as his back-to-back title was confirmed, he said; “(It was) such a hard year, everything went so perfect. There was some pressure on it, to take the fifth (win) in the row and the world title, I am just speechless.”
A few days after the race and with more time to reflect on his season so far, Lettenbichler elaborated: “It’s quite overwhelming – to get another title is pretty sick, I can’t complain I would say! The year overall went pretty good. I am definitely happy with my riding and super happy with the team and all the effort they put in. We put a lot of hours into testing at the beginning of the year and it has definitely paid off. It was a crazy, good year with some amazing highlights like winning Romaniacs again, and five wins in a row is unbelievable. I never expected that, in some races I didn’t feel like it would be that, but it’s something unique and maybe we can go for a perfect season at Getzen – it won’t be easy, but who knows.”
Speaking about the pressure of going for back-to-back titles, Mani explained how hard it is to manage those expectations when you’re absolutely on top of your game. The German racer handled it well and can enjoy the final race of the year as champion.
“I did feel like there was a lot of pressure. Not from last year, but just in general more from this year, because when you start winning every round, there is an expectation there. The guys really think you’re going to win, the fans expect you to win. It’s quite hard to keep going out there, give your best, and win also. I got a bit emotional after the last one, I couldn’t really train before that last race, I was a little bit sick and there was a lot going on. I felt a bit overwhelmed, so it was quite emotional.”
Mani then went on to complete the clean sweep by winning the final race of the season, his home round in Germany, Getzen Rodeo.
“This year we had the new bike, I felt good on it. It’s definitely different from what we had before, it has a different feeling to the previous bike. To take six out of six is so crazy – I never expected it to be such a good year. I was super overwhelmed after the race at Getzen, my home race, and winning it for the fourth time in a row too. There was quite a bit of pressure going there, but we managed it really good. I’m speechless on how the season went and it turned out just perfect. It was so cool in front of the fans, in front of my family and in front of friends to end this way and it was probably the best and coolest thing about Getzen Rodeo to finish the season” concluded Lettenbichler after the final race of the season.
The championship victory also cements the belief in KTM’s new fuel-injection technology aboard the two-stroke enduros. Perhaps once perceived as being ‘old tech’ – mainly due to emissions – and phased out by some manufacturers, the mighty two-stroke now continues to thrive as an enduro bike. Initially the saviour for KTM was thanks to their TPI system introduced in 2018 (Transfer Port Injection). This has now been replaced by TBI (Throttle Body Injection) for this new generation, which offers a better feeling and response for the riders. The entire KTM Enduro range was given a re-work from the ground up for 2023, and Mani’s instant success aboard the KTM 300 EXC TBI is testament to the Austrian manufacturer’s continuous engineering progression, and knowledge of what it takes to achieve at the highest level. It also should be noted that Canadian racer Trystan Hart enjoyed a number of podium finishes this season in the Hard Enduro series.
“I’m very proud to have Mani and Josep in our team – we are all very proud. Mani won all of the races this season to go six races from six, which is incredible. Garcia was very fast, he won races in the beginning of the season and then he got injured, but when he came back he won everything. Two titles aboard completely new bikes, both two-stroke and four-stroke, I can say we want nothing more,” said KTM Group Enduro Team Manager, Fabio Fairoli.
The work never stops though, with two titles in the pocket, directly after the series-winning Spanish round of the Hard Enduro championship Mani had two intense days testing – because after the race is before the race, and continuous progression is important.
“We had all new bikes this season. We have to say the bikes were coming out of the production line ‘READY TO RACE’, and ready to win. Obviously, we did some work to make fine tuning to adapt the bike for the rider’s personal preferences. The base was good though, we now continue to work on the development, and we switch discipline again for the FIM SuperEnduro World Championship, which is indoors with the four-stroke bike. We tested with Mani right after the Spanish race, which is a big ask after racing an event and then winning the series, but it shows our commitment to continue the development and we know that all our work in racing eventually goes into the production bikes. I can say though, Mani was quite tired after these days! You know, in the beginning it took a while for the riders to adapt to the 2-stroke fuel-injection system, but with this we are at a very good level, and the TBI has taken it to another step,” continued Fairoli.
Riding the KTM 250 EXC-F Josep Garcia had an incredibly challenging season. Switching to the smaller capacity machine from the 350, the Spaniard put in the work to prepare with the new bike, which had also been completely re-designed, for this year.
“Well racing with the new bike I had to adapt on the bike, but after testing in winter we had a good base setting quite quickly. I felt so good, I feel with that bike you can push more the limits, way more than the previous model. I like it a lot, I changed to the KTM 250 EXC-F, but I like to ride aggressively and this suited me a lot too. I think it’s a good bike all round for me and we achieved a lot this year,” said Garcia.
Having kicked off with a 2-1 result at the Italian GP in E1, Garcia did the double at his home race in Spain before a 1-1 result in Finland. However, disaster struck with a bittersweet weekend in Sweden, with his first EnduroGP overall win of the season on Saturday followed by an unfortunate broken collarbone on Sunday. Despite having surgery, the Spanish-ace worked hard to recover enough for the final events of the season, where he was simply outstanding. With a double E1 podium in Slovakia, the 26-year-old secured double victories on all four days in the final two GPs in the EnduroGP and E1 class, to take the E1 championship, his third world title, and runner-up in the EnduroGP class – his and Mani’s championship victories brings KTM’s overall Enduro World title tally to an impressive 129.
“Garcia was for sure one of the most impressive in EnduroGP. After his injury he won all the four days, this was the biggest highlight and it shows how resilient he is, as well as how well he has gelled with the bike,” said Fairoli.
Garcia went on to explain: “From the start of the season the goal was to fight for both the EnduroGP and E1 titles. My pre-season went quite well, I was working hard with the new bike after changing to the KTM 250 EXC-F, but the first few days of the championship were difficult because I didn’t finish as high as I would have liked. From there, I worked hard with the team, making small changes to the bike, and we kept moving up until my unlucky weekend in Sweden. Thankfully we came back really strong. It’s a dream come true again to win the championship for the third time. It’s great to win the E1 title after this tough year, after my injury and changing bike back to the 250.”
“Right now, the level of competition is so high! The top ten riders are so fast but I think there’s four of us that are another step above and all of us are riding on the limit every day – we are pushing the limits in every single test, in every corner, to be the best and to fight for that title you need to give everything, every day,” concluded the Spanish-racer.
Fabio explained that it has been an emotional and incredible year, concluding with the Getzen Rodeo for Mani in Germany where he completed his clean sweep of the season. Teammate Garcia still has the International Six Days Enduro to look forward to from November 6 in South America, a race in which he has taken the overall for the past two years, and he will be hungry for victory again aboard his new-for-2023 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing EXC-F machinery. Good luck guys!