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12 months ago, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing were getting ready to make their MotoGP™ debut. Now, they’re entering their second season with a host of top ten finishes under their belt already – and at their 2018 Team Presentation, some of the project’s key figures took to the stage to take stock. That included Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director, who talked about their progress so far as well as what’s to come.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing on 2018: no time to sit still
“What the team and riders have achieved in such a short time is outstanding and we’re really happy about it,” begins Beirer. “But all of us know that, in racing, there’s no time to sit still so we had to work hard this winter to make another step forward, present a new bike and make our riders happy that they’re in a position to fight this year. But it’s been an amazing adventure and I’m really happy we’re already on this level at the moment.
“We’ll keep the speed up, that’s in our DNA and our passion. So there’s no reason to slow down. But if you’re within a second of the top guys in MotoGP, you have to deliver a lot…then if you’re a second slower you’re still outside the top 15! It’s crazy how tough the competition is but we knew that before, it’s not a surprise and we wanted the challenge. But I think now we’re on a different level because first we had to come out of nowhere, but now we’re looking back already on great basics. We can make the steps more logically now, and we know better what we’re doing, the riders know more what to expect. In this class it’s tough, Johann Zarco for example went seven tenths faster in the Qatar test than last year’s pole position! If you stand still, you’re going backwards. But we enjoy it a lot.”
Standing still equating to going backwards is a good way of explaining the record-breakingly close competition in the premier class of late, but riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith are ready for the challenge. For Espargaro there’s an added challenge to begin the year, however, with the Spaniard having recently had surgery and still recovering. But he was back on track in the #QatarTest.
“I didn’t feel 100% at the test but better than I expected, and I’ve had more time to rest and train ready for the first GP,” says the 2013 Moto2™ World Champion. “We’ll see. The bike needs someone very fit on it and I’ll try to do my best! I’ve lost some time riding but they did a good job, the team, Bradley and Mika, developing the bike.” The Spaniard then went on to talk more of the season ahead, including setting a more concrete target. “The good thing about riding with KTM is you never know where you’re going to finish. You know where you’ll start, but where you’re going to finish is impossible to know. Nobody could have said last year from when we were starting last on the grid that by the middle of the season we’d be in the top ten. If you’d said that to anyone in the paddock they wouldn’t have believed you! We know where we’re going to start this year, but we don’t know where we’re going to finish. We want to finish in the top six. After some top nines, I think we can do something else.”
For teammate Smith, the roles are reversed. After his own injury troubles at the end of 2016, the Brit is fully fighting fit for 2018. Talking through their progress and expectations, the Oxfordshire-bred rider is raring to race once the lights go out, hoping to hit the ground running and start again where they left off last year.
“More than anything, I’m back to feeling normal on a motorcycle and back to feeling comfortable,” says the premier class podium finisher. “We’ve managed 14 days of testing and that’s a lot of laps, a lot of improvements, a lot of understanding and a lot of data that’s gone into making what we have now and of course, that never finishes. We’re constantly developing, constantly moving forward and constantly getting faster. That’s all we can ask for and expect from ourselves. On one side the riders are trying to improve and on the other the engineers are trying to improve the bike, too. It’s exciting starting the season in this shape, knowing if we put everything together we can come back in at the same level that we finished last year because it’s never a given, everyone’s been making improvements. I’m just looking forward to in a few days it all starting and it all meaning something - getting the competitive spirit out. When the green lights go on on Sunday it will be very fun.”
Action starts on Friday 16th March, and racing starts on Sunday 18th March.
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