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“It’s a tough track for us,” said Pol Espargaro ahead of the Qatar GP, and that remained true on Sunday after the Spaniard was forced to retire from the race. Teammate Bradley Smith wasn’t as he lined up for his 200th Grand Prix, but the Brit just missed out on points to make it a tough weekend in the desert for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team overall.
After some big improvements shown through testing – despite Espargaro missing half the track time through injury – it wasn’t what KTM had in mind for the first race, but progress is seldom something explained solely on the timesheets.
“We had a small issue in the electronics,” explains Espargaro of his DNF, “and overall I think it was not our best weekend. But at the end of the race we did a more or less good job, I was around 13th with Bautista and at the end, we could have finished the race less than 20 seconds off the leader. Overall we need to be happy looking how the weekend was after the crash and problem with the qualifying meaning I started so far back on the grid. I needed many laps to overtake some guys and then to start to get into my rhythm. It's a shame but it’s the first race and it’s our second year. We can’t ask for super things but we’re on the way.”
Teammate Smith agrees that Qatar is a difficult place to race, and debriefed his #QatarGP in characteristic detail.
“I mean Qatar is always a tricky one, it's one of those tracks where the conditions constantly change and you find yourself chasing setting. Then the track gets better and a setting works, and then it doesn't, and it's very confusing so I'm quite happy that we finished the race without any problems. But yeah, we can’t be overly happy with the performance. I was happy with my opening ten laps, I made a good start up into the points and was fighting with all the guys that finished there, which was looking promising. I had a little bit of a slower pace than some of the guys around me but you know 56.5 was kind of my maximum. Then after just 10 laps I started to struggle with the front tyre! it seems quite strange because we hadn't had that problem during all the weekend so it was a little frustrating from that point of view. Then I just tried to do the maximum I could, learn from the guys that passed me, the different manufacturers and how they were riding; where they had some advantages on us, and give all this info to my engineers. Hopefully we come up with something interesting for Argentina.
Riders react to the #QatarGP
“We try to take as many positives as we can. You know, positive or negative race, we try to take everything and give as much information as we can. We´re still trying to improve. If we keep learning then it will all pay off.”
That it will, with the Austrian factory having leapt up the grid throughout 2017 and looking to continue their trajectory this year.
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