Pol Espargaro puts KTM in P7

Another impressive day at the office? Tick – but it’s the same bike!

Mika Kallio put in a wildcard appearance for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and took the Austrian factory’s first top ten of the year on a 2019 prototype last time out, but Pol Espargaro says he was riding the same bike he has all year to take P7 on Day 1 at Le Mans. Just half a second off the fastest time on Friday set by Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), that’s a big step forward.

“I’m just using the normal bike,” affirms Espargaro. “Since the beginning of the year we’ve made some small improvements but it’s exactly the same bike and just by riding and knowing the machine a little bit more we can improve. It’s been good but everyone is going so fast!”

That they are, and records fell – with the Spaniard also close to the previous best. “We’re checking the lap times from last year, the records and everything, and we are really close to the record. Everyone is really close to the record and even fast like Dovi today, and Marc with the used hard tyre…”

So the pace, deficit and rhythm make good reading for man and machine as the Championship continues on more familiar ground than that which saw KTM struggle more during the first three races, but it’s by no means easy – with 16 riders in a second on Friday.

“It’s really difficult, it’s like you can do a really good lap time but you’re not safe,” says Espargaro, referring to Q2 qualification. “You know, for tomorrow you still need to push once again and risk once again. The level now in MotoGP is really high and the riders are pushing over the limit and giving everything the bike has. It’s difficult for sure but this is MotoGP and this is what you need to be. It’s helped us to improve. It’s helped the brand KTM and we are all pushing together.”

They’ll be doing more of that on Saturday as they gun for a top place on the grid once again, helped by, in Espargaro’s words, the “super grippy” surface. Does automatic Q2 graduation beckon on Saturday? Find out in FP3 from 9:55 (GMT +2).