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It was a solid full-time debut for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing in Qatar, with both bikes crossing the line and riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro sharing the track for much of the race. motogp.com caught up with Smith after the first race, to see how the project is going.
First up? Debriefing Qatar, and the realities of changing from testing to racing…
Bradley Smith: “With a new project you always need to get the first one over and done with. Testing is one thing but until you’ve put yourself in a race situation you never really know how it's going to be. Obviously we gathered a lot of information, even like the first couple of laps and being around other riders, seeing what their bikes do compared to ours. It was almost weird to think I was racing – because we’re still testing and developing. But in general I think we have to be happy that we got both bikes across the line – and we’re starting the journey of KTM in MotoGP.”
Qatar was also far from a normal MotoGP™ weekend, and that threw up hurdles of its own – especially after Saturday action was cancelled, which had a specific knock-on effect for Smith:
BS38: "I hadn’t done any running on low fuel, because during the tests we were too busy developing – and then qualifying was cancelled! So that was interesting in the last third of the race, because I struggled a lot when the fuel load went down."
Since inception, both KTM riders have been collaborators in figuring out those struggles with the Austrian factory and data is still the primary focus - pushing development forward with both different setups and different riding styles to feed back to engineers.
BS38: “Me and Pol were on track together for the first two thirds of the race, and I was using a different tyre setup. In terms of data that was pretty good, and we have different setups as well. We went for something a bit more extreme in one direction just to get the information and see what we could gain. So it’s just gaining information – then after we have a big team debrief and it helps us both move forward. It works for the benefit of both of us – if you merged the best of his riding and setup and the best of mine, we’ve probably got another half second between us combining our strong points. So it’s for the team to merge that and then we can move forward.”
Moving forward is the name of the game now the debut is done and the curtain is very much up on the 2017 season. The next stop for the paddock is Argentina – which has its positives and negatives for KTM. A simpler layout, but a completely new track – and no test beforehand.
BS38: “It’s difficult to know what will happen in Argentina. The track layout is a bit more basic, there are a few less corners and it’s more user friendly compared to Qatar. But we go there completely blind, we don’t know how our bike is going to be. We have a general understanding and we’re starting to get an algorithm in terms of what the KTM needs at the racetrack. The track will be green the first day, it will evolve and we have to try and set it up at a track we’ve never been to. So I hope it’s easier – but it also gives us a dress rehearsal ahead of Austin, which is another technical track.”
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