KTM in MotoGP: What’s going on?

Over a year, tens of thousands of track kilometers, five tests with rivals for company and a first wild-card race appearance: KTM has certainly built the foundations for their first MotoGP season in 2017 but after all the images, soundbites, assessments and output with the RC16 what is the actual state of play with the project? We asked the open and jovial Crew Chief Paul Trevathan for some information at the Jerez shakedown …

Mika Kallio, Pit Beirer & Paul Trevathan Valencia (ESP) 2016

Mika Kallio (FIN), Pit Beirer (GER) & Paul Trevathan (GBR) Valencia (ESP) 2016

Outside, the Spanish rain is unrelenting. It blows in pattering waves against the Jerez pit box door. Inside the KTM MotoGP garage spirits are upbeat. A Red Bull camera crew follows the lively Pol Espargaró around as he greets various members and many orange and blue-shirted personnel like long lost friends. Bradley Smith, in an active riding role compared to Espargaró’s contract-bound spectator status in Jerez, is also having a laugh somewhere among the fancy kit, bling, boxes, parts and other components necessary at a full-blown MotoGP test.

KTM’s mega racing project is now finding fourth gear and hurrying into fifth with the Spanish and English athletes having sampled the RC16 and comparing notes alongside the endless miles accumulated by Mika Kallio – the only rider getting ready for the howling rain outside.

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Bradley Smith (GBR) KTM RC16 Jerez (ESP) 2016

The team have been filling pit lane garages around the continent for over a year and were able to wear their ‘race faces’ only a fortnight ago at Valencia and before our little visit at Jerez to speak to Crew Chief Paul Trevathan for an update on one of the final status checks on a ‘stew’ that has been simmering for so long and so far. Are they nearly ready for blast-off as testing window closes until the year of reckoning?

Paul, it seems like KTM have been testing and preparing forever so where is the team at now after this last November test?
“I think we’ve shown now that we have a certain pace. In my opinion we have a very balanced package with the RC16 and a good thing is that all three riders we have are pinpointing the same thing that we’re missing. It is something we suspected earlier but we wondered if the new guys would think the same. It didn’t stop development but we did hold back a little bit until the new guys tried the bike and we could be sure we were going in the right direction. We have a clear target and the riders are saying that if we touch this particular area then the difference will be felt immediately. I think that is super-positive for the whole project.”

KTM RC16 Jerez (ESP) 2016

KTM RC16 Jerez (ESP) 2016

So getting Bradley and Pol’s opinions meant verification for what Mika had been saying …
“More of a double-check that we were going down the right path. We got it super-clear. We could use Mika to develop the bike for the other guys as well. We had some other things to do but we wanted to be sure that this was the main point.”

“Pol is like a can of pop-corn. For this kind of project that attitude is fantastic because there will be dark days. If we can count on a character like that then it will lift everybody. I saw the engineers walking around with a spring in their step after some of the rider’s comments.”

From what you talked about before at Valencia it seemed to be the turning of the bike that was the weak spot …
“Yeah, that’s the point. The natural turning of the bike and trying to understand this part a little bit more. The beautiful aspect is that you have three different riding styles and all three say the same thing so if you ‘get it’ then the problem is solved. It is not like we have a special style or demand to cater for. It is generally the same element to help the character of the bike and to turn a bit more to help them.”

Was there a ‘Valencia Effect’? When you look back on that wild-card debut what can you take from it?
“Technically it helped being on the track with the other guys. We’d done the MotoGP test [in Austria] so we knew some parts where we were ‘with’ the others … but we did not see that extra 10% or even 20% that comes out at a race. It was like ‘whoah, here’s a mountain’. It was also the end of the season so they were all going strong in their final rides and with not much too lose. We had a fair idea of what we were missing and it wasn’t all that bad. There were some surprises and some solutions that we found through the weekend. For the team and the technical package I thought that 1min 32 lap-time we did was very positive. The race was the negative, maybe not so much for us but more for Mika. I was disappointed for him because that was his chance to go racing with the guys again. We’d done so many race simulations and we never stopped or had a technical issue in one of them … so the timing was terrible. Technically we got out of that race what we needed. We then got to the test and you have Bradley super-smooth on the bike and Pol climbing all over the thing and I’d never see the KTM moving like that all year; it was nice … and good for the bike that it was OK to do that.”

Mika Kallio (FIN) RC16 Valencia (ESP) 2016

Mika Kallio (FIN) KTM RC16 Valencia (ESP) 2016

What goes into the logbook now for the winter?
“I was disappointed [in Jerez] that we didn’t have Pol because he helped massively with the electronics in the test. He mainly focused on that and felt the turning issue wasn’t a pure setting so we took his knowledge of the electronics and made big steps. It would have been nice to continue the path … instead we were able to ask Mika to ride that package and have actually taken it forward again. We didn’t have enough time to really take onboard everything from the test in Valencia and before the one in Jerez and think ‘this is where we need to go’. I have two weeks at home now to relax a little bit and work out some thoughts, feelings and get some parts made. We have development parts with clear ideas so we can go to Sepang and really go for it there.”

It must feel like there is not much time at all. Soon there will be a team presentation and then straight back into 2017 tests …
“It is exactly like that! I really believe we will get to a satisfactory level by then … because the boys have done it so many times already this year so hats off to them. I’ve looked into the eyes of some of them at times and they have been empty but we’ve still got done what we needed to do. There have been moments this year when we needed something really quickly and nobody has let us down. It is not only the guys at the company though it is also the suppliers. The bike – as it is now – is down to all of those people. We had guys coming in from their summer holidays to do things for us. The passion of the company for racing is real and when you come to KTM you hear READY TO RACE … but when you are actually inside then you really feel it. It’s not just a logo. You also have Pit there. If you say ‘Pit, we really need this …’ then he is able to pick up the phone and a decision is made there and then and we ‘go’. There isn’t a set of meetings or a board meeting. It is very clear and it’s KTM advantage. The whole company is behind it [MotoGP] 100% and that’s why I’m sure we’ll get there. Our development idea will really help. You also have to understand that KTM’s ‘library’ when it comes to MotoGP is empty and we need to fill it. It’s not like you can go to the shelf and pull down an archive on ‘chassis’. It is a massive learning curve and it’s the fun part. We should not get disappointed by a setback or by getting it wrong; sometimes going wrong is the fastest way to get something right.”

KTM RC16 Valencia (ESP) 2016

KTM RC16 Valencia (ESP) 2016

Photos: KTM