MARCHING MOTOGP™ FORWARDS: THANKS POL!
The Spanish star ends a special four-year arc with Red Bull KTM and after helping the MotoGP project move from the back to the front of the grid. Here’s some of the story…
In 2016 KTM signed former Moto2™ World Champion Pol Espargaro to complete their first Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team line-up for a maiden MotoGP season in 2017.
The Spaniard had claimed 6th place in his debut year but had since stalled in his development and was looking for a fresh challenge and full ‘works’ backing for 2017.
He tested the new RC16 for the first time at the end of 2016 and then finished 16th and just out of the points in Qatar for his debut in ‘orange’ for the opening event of the ’17 campaign.
“We always want more and more but it’s the first race and we need to know what is our position, and where we are right now,” he said at the time. “We need to understand that the 33 seconds [off the lead time] we were today is good.”
Pol’s commitment, character and amiability helped drive the programe from that point. He had five different teammates at various stages up until his final event for KTM at Portugal recently.
He mixed milestone and injury but was always a reliable factor: his sheer effort was a strong platform on which KTM based their RC16 race evolution. No matter what experiment, theory or new part the technicians at the factory wanted to try they always knew they’d get maximum application from #44.
By Brno and the Czech Republic – round ten of 2017 – Espargaro had clocked KTM’s first top ten finish. At the final event of 2018 he took the RC16 to 3rd place and that landmark podium in damp conditions in Valencia.
His first trophy in the premier class was actually the most special recollection of the four years – and his career – for Pol; it came half a year after his scary crash and back injury at testing in Malaysia.
“I came back after one of the hardest injuries I ever had,” he reflected in Portimao last week. “It was not only the best moment of the project but of my whole career. For sure to be world champion was great but when you feel you are ‘destroyed’ and you will not go back on the bike – or when you do you have this fear that you will never be fast again – to make the podium in Valencia meant the feeling was indescribable. Something crazy.”
Front row qualification positions, first Pole Positions and five podiums in 2020 led up to 5th place in the world championship standings, tied on points with 4th. Pol propelled Red Bull KTM from rookie learners to the 3rd best team on the MotoGP grid and with a fantastic path of opportunity ahead. The RC16 became a Grand Prix winner in 2020.
He now joins another brand for 2021. “When he joined our project he had finished 6th with another brand and the goal was always to help him be better,” says Red Bull KTM Race Manager Mike Leitner. “I think he has had a good four years and we wish him all the best for the future.”
Espargaro’s approachability and professionalism rubbed off on the whole structure. “Pol’s been a great reference for me this year,” said 2020 Rookie of the Year and Pol’s final teammate Brad Binder. “He has been super-fast at every track. It’s always awesome to see his data too. Honestly, I really enjoyed being his teammate. He’s a cool guy and he makes life in the box a pleasure. I’ll miss having him around.”
“I feel proud of what we have achieved as a factory and of what I have done as a rider,” says the man himself. “All I can do is say thanks for what we’ve done together. It has been tough at moments but all the people around me and the whole crew in the pitbox helped me to smile every day. They gave me the confidence and the love to be who I am.”
Crucially he summed up his legacy as part of KTM’s narrative with a simple comment at Jerez and the first Grand Prix of 2020 when he was already circulating with similar lap-times to the leaders: “Now, we are on the level of the others.”