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Former MotoGP™ racer Randy De Puniet spoke to motogp.com about his debut on the KTM RC16.
After helping Suzuki prepare for their return to the MotoGP™ World Championship with the GSX-RR, Randy de Puniet has begun a new adventure as the test rider for KTM, using his talent and experience to help develop the RC16 prototype. He recently had his first run on the bike at Jerez de la Frontera alongside Mika Kallio and Alex Hofmann. This was also De Puniet’s first time back on a MotoGP™ prototype after spending a season in WorldSBK, the Frenchman had just enough time on the KTM to make an initial assessment before three more days of testing at Valencia in early March.
How did you join the KTM MotoGP project?
“We talked with them in June last year but the discussion calmed. Then I encountered Mike Leitner in Valencia, he asked me what I was doing next year and I did not have much planned. I was surprised because I had heard they had signed Mika Kallio so I though they had no need for another rider. In the end they wanted to have a second one, which was fortunate for me. My manager then contacted Mike and reached an agreement to participate in a number of tests this year.
“I participated in my first test on Saturday. It was three days, it was expected that I would not do all the days but it was a little shorter than that because I was forced to start late due to bad weather. Then we spent three-quarters of the time just adjusting the position because I felt really bad with the footrest setting, the seat height, the handle bars, everything. I made only a few laps but it was important to prepare in order to attack the test we’ll do in a fortnight at Valencia. There I will have three full days to start working properly.”
KTM have chosen a tubular steel frame while most manufacturers already have twin spare frame. Have you been able to notice a difference between the two?
“Honestly, today it is still too early to say because we are still far from the lap times. Once we get closer we’ll see and I can give my opinion on it. Now, Ducati won with this style of frame about ten years ago. It is true that it seems a bit of an exotic choice but it is also their trademark, we’ll see how it goes as the tests progress but for now it’s too early to say more.”
Various riders said that with the new electronics, the bikes would be more difficult to control physically. How do you feel about the electronics?
“I had already started working on this with Suzuki. Here it is a bike early in development and the electronics are not a focus. This is normal because you first must find a base and then add various electronic controls, anti-wheelie and all that. I think it will be a little trickier for the rider since the electronics will have less of a role. It will be good for the show; maybe we’ll see more motorcycles sliding, even if it is hard with the Michelin tyres as they have a lot of grip. There are many parameters to consider but I think KTM is coming in at a good point, everybody is starting off again, not from scratch, but they have to make a big step and can’t rely on their achievements of the previous seasons as much.”
What did you think of the MotoGP pre-season test?
“It was very tight and there have been many surprises. Lorenzo was a second ahead of everyone in Sepang. Then Viñales made the best time in Australia and for me it is a half-surprise because he had done a very good Grand Prix weekend there last year and progressed well throughout the season. I heard the engine had evolved, they also have a gearbox that is seamless through the upshifts, and the bike has also evolved. It is therefore only a half-surprise. We’ll have to see what comes of it but Viñales could spring a few surprises in Qatar and in the year. The new ECU and the arrival of Michelin have helped Suzuki, for sure.
“The Ducati of Baz and Barbera were ahead of the official bikes. It’s good for Loris. I think the new Ducati is perhaps not quite right with the Michelins yet. In any case it is certain that there will be surprises early in the season and then it’ll settle in mid-year. I would say that the advantage remains with Yamaha and Honda, although they are still looking a bit.”
How many tests will you do with KTM?
“It’s difficult to plan and it can vary. I will be in Valencia and then in Brno at the end of April and there will be others but I can’t define a number, it can move in the right or wrong direction depending on what happens. There’s a little map and I think their schedule is somewhat flexible. From my side I hope to do the utmost to advance this bike. I have a good feeling with this team. There are a lot of people I’ve worked with in the past. I was welcomed and it is important to feel good in the team.”
Will we see you on track as a wildcard, maybe this year?
“They talked about wildcards in Valencia but they have not yet spoken about a rider. I do not know more, but everything is possible. We are still from that but it would be good. If I do a good job and they think I deserve this place, great, I’ll take it. Finally for now I do not think about it too much. I think only about giving my maximum on this bike and then we will see, but it would be nice to make a race late in the season.”
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