Satellite Yamaha Tech 3 rider Johann Zarco finished second in the recent Argentinian Grand Prix. Picture: Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain - French rider Johann Zarco, 2017 MotoGP Rookie of the Year, has signed a two-year deal to join the Red Bull-backed KTM factory team from 2019.

KTM also confirmed Spanish rider Pol Espargaro would stay, leaving Britain's Bradley Smith without a ride.

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

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

KTM motorsports director Pit Beirer said at the Spanish Grand Prix on Thursday: "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.

"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."