The 3rd place finish of Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Miguel Oliveira last time out at the Aragon GP was the 150th podium finish in the World Championship for the Ajo Motorsport group. We will now make a little throwback to the most important moments in the history of the Finnish team.
The first ever appearance of the team in the World Championship was at Sachsenring 2001 in the 125cc class, when they raced Mika Kallio as a wildcard. The scenario repeated in Valencia, but the Finn failed crossing the finish line in any of the 2 GPs.
In 2002, the team entered the championship as a full-time team, with the same Mika Kallio as a solo rider and a Honda bike. In spite of failing to appear on the podium through out the whole season, Kallio was a constant point scorer. He managed to win the ”Rookie of the Year” and finished 11th in the championship, with 78 points.
2003 was the year when Ajo Motorsport expanded to a two-rider team. Kallio remained in the team and he was joined by Japanese rider Masao Azuma. After a strong first half of the season, with both riders having scored points in almost every race, Mika Kallio left the team as he accepted an offer from KTM. Andrea Ballerini came in as a replacement till the end of the season. The Italian was very far away from Kallio in terms of results. However, a wet race at the penultimate GP of the year brought a historic result for the Ajo Motorsport duo. With the Bridgestone tyres optimal for damp weather, as Aki Ajo eventually said, Ballerini and Azuma scored a fabulous 1-2 in Australia which remained in the history as the first ever podium finish and, in the same time, the first ever win of the Ajo Motorsport team.
The team entered the 2004 season with high hopes and two new riders – Czech rider Lukas Pesek and Danish rider Robbin Harms. Unfortunately, Pesek proved to be a very inconsistent rider, having crashed out of 7 out of 16 races. On the other side of the garage, Harms was followed by a lot of bad luck as the Scandinavian missed no less than 8 races due to several injuries. His only points were scored in Brno, where he finished 11th, while the best result of the team in the year was achieved by Pesek, who crossed the line 8th at Estoril.
The 2005 season brought another total change in terms of riders. Tomoyoshi Koyama and Alexis Masbou were offered a ride with Ajo Motorsport. The debut of the Japanese rider in the competition was an impressive one, as Koyama ended the season as the Rookie of the Year. Through out the season he managed to climb the podium twice. In Phillip Island he secured 2nd place for only 0.002 ahead of Marco Simoncelli and 0.010 ahead of Mattia Pasini in what had been a triple photo-finish. Only one week later, Koyama finished 3rd at the Turkish GP, missing out on the win for only 0.156. He finished 8th in the championship, with Masbou, whose best result was a 5th place finish at Assen, in 18th.
The promising results of the Koyama-Masbou duo determined Aki Ajo to renew their contracts for 2006. This time it was the manufacturer who had been changed, as Ajo opted for Malaguti instead of Honda. Unfortunately, none of them could get close to what they had achieved one year earlier. Alexis Masbou had a similar fate to the one of Robbin Harms two years before, as the Frenchman took part in only 8th races because of several injuries. He failed scoring any points. Koyama also suffered an injury which forced him to miss 3 races in a row and, in spite of having scored points in 11 out of 13 started races, he finished only 15th in the championship.
Due to the poor performances of the Malaguti, 2007 brought another change at the level of manufacturer . This time, Derbi was the engine supplier for the Ajo Motorpsort bikes. Also, Koyama and Masbou were replaced by Austrian rider Michael Ranseder and Romanian rider Robert Mureșan. Ranseder was a constant finisher in the zone of the 8-13 places and finished the championship in 12th. Unfortunately for Mureșan, who nowadays still is the only Romanian to have ever raced in the World Championship, he did not score any points.
For 2008, Aki Ajo managed to capture the signature of French rider Mike di Meglio, a previous GP winner in the lightweight class. He shared the garage with Swiss rider Dominique Aegerter. After scoring the first podium of the team in 3 years by finishing 2nd at the Chinese Grand Prix, di Meglio exploded on home turf and took a resounding win and with it the championship lead from Simone Corsi. The Italian fought back next race on home turf for him this time and won with di Meglio in 4th. This tied the 2 rivals in points at the top of the championship, with Corsi in advantage due to more victories. However, di Meglio regained his lead after another amazing win, this time in Catalunya, and the Frenchman did not let the championship lead escape his grasp anymore from then on. Two further wins in Germany and Phillip Island and four additional podium finishes, corroborated with Simone Corsi s lack of consistency, gave Mike di Meglio the 2008 125cc World Championship. Thus, he became the first ever World Champion of Ajo Motorsport. Dominique Aegerter did good for a #2 rider in the team, as he finished 16th overall.
Mike di Meglio stepped up to the 250cc class in 2009 and his place in the team was taken by German rider Sandro Cortese. Aegerter stayed for a second year with the team. Cortese was not capable of repeating the performance of his predecessor in the team, but he however had a strong season. Three podium finishes with a best of 2nd at the Portuguese GP and a lot of top 6 finishes assured Cortese of the 6th place in the championship standings. Dominique Aegerter improved on his results from 2008 and became an usual top 10 presence. He finished the year in 13th place.
In 2010, Aki Ajo lined up 3 bikes on the 125cc grid. One Aprilia for Adrian Martin and two Derbis for Sandro Cortese and a certain Marc Marquez. Ajo met instant success with the later Spaniard, who managed to win no less than 10 races in that year. However, an enviable consistency by Nico Terol, his main rival, took the title battle to the very last race of the season, where Marquez was crowned the 2010 125cc World Champion by crossing the line in 4th. One episode that certainly needs to be reminded of is the 2010 Portuguese GP, the penultimate GP of the year. Marquez and Terol came at Estoril separated by only 12 points. After 7 laps, the race was red-flagged due to rain and restarded afterwards for 9 laps. In the sighting lap before the restart, Marc Marquez suffered a lowside which caused serious damage to his bike, which needed to be brought back in the pits. As a result, Marquez was forced to start the second race from the last spot on the grid. This eventually proved not to be a serious problem for the 16-years old Spaniard, who easily made his way up to the podium battle. Running in 2nd behind Terol, Marquez made a decisive move on his compatriot in the last lap and scored his 10th win of the season, extending his lead to 17 points with only 25 remaining. Impressive indeed.
In 2011, Aki Ajo managed two teams in the lightweight class, having a total of 5 riders racing for the Ajo Motorsport group. Jonas Folger and Danny Kent raced for Red Bull Ajo Motorsport, an Aprilia supplied team, while Khairuddin Zulfahmi, Efren Vazquez and Johann Zarco were part of the Avant Air-Asia Ajo, which was supplied by Derbi. Once again, Ajo had a rider engaged in the title battle, in the person of Johann Zarco. And once again, the main rival was Nicolas Terol. The young Frenchman impressed with his skills and blew in the back of the neck of Terol through out the whole season. Unfortunately for Ajo, the 2011 season had a reverse scenario compared to 2010. This time, his rider was the consistent podium finisher desperated for a win, while Terol was scoring victory after victory. The first victory of the season was surprisingly brought by Jonas Folger, who dominated the British GP. After six 2nd place finishes and two 3rd place finishes, a maiden win finally came for Johann Zarco, who stamped his authority on Motegi. He eventually finished as a runner-up to Terol. His teammate Efren Vazquez also notched two 3rd place finishes and finished 7th in the championship, just behind Jonas Folger. All in all, it was a good year for Ajo Motorsport.
Aki Ajo kept his 2 teams for the 2012 season in the newly introduced Moto3 class, but switched to KTM bikes for both of them. This time, the Air Asia Ajo team had only one rider, in the person of Khairuddin Zulfahmi, while Arthur Sissis, Danny Kent and Sandro Cortese formed a powerful trio in the Red Bull KTM Ajo team. Cortese opened the season with two 3rd places in a row, followed by a win in Estoril after a magnificent battle with main rival Maverick Vinales. After a wet French GP, in which Vinales retired and Cortese finished 6th, the Spaniard dominated the next 3 GPs, but the German joined him on the podium every time. Cortese shined on home turf in the wet conditions of the Sachsenring and scored his second win of the year. With Vinales only 17th, Cortese took the championship lead. The second part of the championship was a different story for Vinales, whose races were ruined by bad luck and mistakes. Cortese continued his podium run and he was crowned the 2012 Moto3 World Champion after taking his 5th win of the season in Sepang, after an amazing battle with local hero Zulfahmi. Teammate Danny Kent also scored two wins, in Motegi and Valencia, while Khairuddin Zulfahmi climbed the podium twice, 2nd in Malaysia and 3rd in Valencia. While Cortese became World Champion, Kent finished 4th in the championship with Zulfahmi 7th and Arthur Sissis (who also had a podium finish – 3rd in Australia) 12th. A perfect year for Ajo Motorsport we may say.
In 2013, Ajo dropped the Air Asia team and remained only with the Red Bull KTM. Arthur Sissis remained in the team, Luis Salom was brought as a replacement for champ Cortese, who moved to Moto2, while Khairuddin Zulfahmi completed the trio. 2013 was one of the most intense championships the Moto3 had ever seen. The first 3 riders in the championship came into the final round separated by only 5 points, so whoever of them managed to win the Valencian GP would also take home the World Championship. With 7 wins and 5 additional podium finishes, Salom was leading before Valencia with 300 points. Alex Rins was 2nd with 298 points (6 wins and 7 other podiums), while in 3rd it was Maverick Vinales with 295 points (2 wins and 12 other podiums). Unfortunately for Ajo, Salom crashed in the grand finale, letting Rins and Vinales to dispute the championship (with Vinales eventually walking away victorious). However, in spite of finishing 3rd, Luis Salom highly impressed through out the season. His 7 wins were a new record in the Moto3 class (a record which lasted until 2017, when it was beaten by Joan Mir). Salom proved a great strategist, as there where many races in which he entered the last lap in 3rd or outside the podium to eventually get the win. Unfortunately, his death in 2016 robbed us all of a great talent and of an even greater personality, but Salom will forever remain a valuable member of the Ajo family.
In 2014, Aki Ajo switched back to the 2 teams and 5 riders formula. The Red Bull KTM trio was entirely changed, as Jack Miller, Karel Hanika and Hafiq Azmi replaced Salom, Sissis and Zulfahmi. The newly entered Husqvarna Ajo team was formed by the duo Danny Kent-Nicklas Ajo. As we got used to, someone of the Ajo group had to be engaged in the title fight, and that someone was Jack Miller. The Aussie opened the year with two stunning wins in Qatar and Austin, followed by a 3rd place in Argentina. However, four further wins in Le Mans, Sachsenring, Phillip Island and Valencia were not enough for Miller to clinch the championship. Crashing out of Mugello, Assen and Aragon gave Alex Marquez the opportunity to go in front in the championship. Miller came at Valencia with a deficit of 11 points to his rival. His win was not enough as the Spaniard locked out the podium and clinched the championship by only 2 points.
For the first time ever, Aki Ajo entered a season with teams in two different classes. That was the case in 2015. The Husqvarna team disappeared and the Red Bull KTM remained the only team in the lightweight class. Miguel Oliveira, Brad Binder and Karel Hanika were the three riders to race under the Ajo Motorsport colours. In Moto2, Ajo lined up on the grid a team (named Ajo Motorsport) with only one bike, a Kalex. The rider was a known face in the surroundings – a certain Johann Zarco.
In the Moto3, Miguel Oliveira had been expected to be the title challenger, but the chances of the Portuguese were considerably shattered after having failed to score points in the first 2 races. A second place in Jerez and two wins in Mugello and Assen mantained some hopes in the fight with the amazing Danny Kent, Who had one 4 of the first 8 races. Disaster struck for Oliveira in Sachsenring, where he broke two fingers after a crash in FP1 and was ruled out of the GP. Kent went on to win again, and that seemed to be check-mate for Oliveira s title hopes. Three further races in which Oliveira failed to finish in the top 7 also slowed Oliveira down in the runner-up battle with Enea Bastianini. However, what happened next was absolutely fantastic and is still remembered as one of the biggest remount in the history of the World Championship. Oliveira won in Aragon, Phillip Island and Sepang and finished 2nd in Misano and Motegi, while Kent gathered only 29 points across these 5 races. This brought Oliveira 24 points behind Kent with 25 up for grabs at the final round in Valencia, which was also won by the Red Bull Ajo rider. Unfortunately for him, Kent managed to stay on the bike this time and finished 9th, thus securing the title. Oliveira managed to recover no less than 104 points in 6 races, so there is nothing that the Portuguese should be sad at.
On the other side, the debut of the team in Moto2 was simply perfect. Johann Zarco took revenge for all the frustration accumulated in 2011 during those countless 2nd places. The Frenchman took the lead in the championship after taking his maiden win in the class in Argentina and did not let it escape his grasp until the very end. He added 5 more wins and 5 additional podium finishes before the Japanese round at Motegi. Starting from pole, he was also unstoppable in the land of the rising sun and clinched a 6th win of the season and with it the World Championship. He also won in Sepang, thus reaching 7 wins in the season, and with the 9 points gathered in Valencia he established a new record for points gathered in a single Moto2 season – 352. One word can describe the Frenchman s 2015 season – UNSTOPPABLE.
In 2016, Zarco remained with Ajo Motorsport and tried to become the first ever rider to win back-to-back Moto2 championships. A series of 4 wins and one 2nd place finish in 5 races in a row (Mugello-Catalunya-Assen-Sachsenring-Brno) seemed to be enough for Zarco to repeat the performance of the previous year, but some lack of form in the following 4 GPs, where he failed climbing the podium, allowed his rivals to cut his lead. A 2nd place finish at Motegi brought Zarco his momentum back and the Frenchman matematically clinched the title after dominating Sepang. Only 276 points this time, but the same final outcome – Moto2 World Champion.
In the lightweight class, the Red Bull KTM Ajo turned back to the 2-rider formula, with Brad Binder and Bo Bendsneyder. If Zarco encountered some difficulties in clinching his category title, that was not the case for South African Brad Binder. The rider born in Potchefstroom strated the season with 7 podiums in a row, including 3 straight wins in Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello. After opening the second half of the year with a 2nd place in Austria, a first race without points came for Binder as he crashed out of the Czech GP. This motivated the KTM rider even more, as he came back in style and scored two wins in Silverstone and Misano. Binder played defense at the Aragon GP and finished 2nd, thus clinching the World Title with 4 races remaining in the season – new record in the Moto3 class. Binder finished the year with 7 wins and 319 points, 142 more than the runner-up.
As they became World Champions in both Moto2 and Moto3, 2016 can be considered the best ever season in the history of Ajo Motorsport.
In 2017, Ajo also entered the premier class (with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as their riders) and expanded the Moto2 project to two bikes and also brought Red Bull as a sponsor for the intermmediate class team. What is more, the team switched to the brand new KTM chassis.
In Moto3, Bo Bendsneyder remained in the team, while Niccolo Antonelli came as a replacement for Binder. Unfortunately, both riders have been, until now, far away from the performances of the former riders of the team. Niccolo Antonelli currently sits 20th in the championship, having scored points in only 3 races. On the other side, Bendsneyder is 13th.
The Moto2 duo is the former 2015 Moto3 duo of Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder. Altough big things were not expected for the new chassis in the first season, Oliveira managed to take 2 pole positions and 6 podium finishes. He still lacks a win, but signs show that it will come in the near future.
Last time out at the Aragon GP, Miguel Oliveira finished 3rd after starting from pole. This podium was the one that reached the impressive milestone of 150 podiums for Ajo Motorsport, who has already become a fierce team in the World Championship paddock.
In the end, we leave you with the list of all the riders that have stood at least once on the podium representing Ajo Motorsport since the team debut in 2001:
1. Johann Zarco – 35 podiums (16 x 1st, 13 x 2nd, 6 x 3rd)
2. Sandro Cortese – 20 podiums (5 x 1st, 7 x 2nd, 8 x 3rd)
3. Brad Binder – 18 podiums (7 x 1st, 6 x 2nd, 5 x 3rd)
4. Miguel Oliveira – 15 podiums (6 x 1st, 5 x 2nd, 4 x 3rd)
5. Marc Marquez – 12 podiums (10 x 1st, 2 x 3rd)
6. Luis Salom – 12 podiums (7 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd)
7. Jack Miller – 10 podiums (6 x 1st, 1 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd)
8. Mike di Meglio – 9 podiums (4 x 1st, 4 x snd, 1 x 3rd)
9. Danny Kent – 5 podiums (2 x 1st, 3 x 3rd)
10. Jonas Folger – 3 podiums (1 x 1st, 1 x 2nd, 1 x 3rd)
11. Tomoyoshi Koyama – 2 podiums (1 x 2nd, 1 x 3rd)
12. Zulfahmi Khairuddin – 2 podiums (1 x 2nd, 1 x 3rd)
13. Efren Vazquez – 2 podiums (2 x 3rd)
14. Bo Bendsneyder – 2 podiums (2 x 3rd)
15. Andrea Bellerini – 1 podium (1 x 1st)
16. Masao Azuma – 1 podium (1 x 2nd)
17. Arthur Sissis – 1 podium (1 x 3rd)
photo credit – Speedweek