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From Ilmor to Kawasaki, a number of boutique and major factories have tried their hand in the MotoGP™ World Championship. The most recent additions to the established Honda-Yamaha-Ducati order have been Suzuki and Aprilia, both making comebacks to the premier class after earlier projects. In 2017 KTM look set to become the sixth manufacturer on the grid and have already secured the services of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro.
This will not be the first time KTM have been present in MotoGP™, the Austrian manufacturer supplying engines for Kenny Roberts Senior’s Proton Team KR machine in 2005. The engine was a 990cc V4 and had originally been designed as part of the in-house GP1 project, but the project was discontinued by KTM in 2003.
The Austrian brand has had huge success in the lightweight class, winning their first ever 125cc race back in 2004 with Casey Stoner at the Malaysian GP. In 2013 they won every single Moto3™ race, taking two constructors titles along the way.
Full session (race 125cc)
KTM also have experience in the middleweight class, the KTM 250 FPR debuting in 2005 and winning the 2006 Turkish GP. Hiroshi Aoyama and Mika Kallio would take a total of nine wins between them before KTM withdrew the bike at the end of 2008.
Suzuki’s return to the premier class has set the bar for KTM, proving that intense development away from the track can help to significantly close the distance to the established manufacturers. KTM’s work behind the scenes has been exceedingly intense, having run seven tests in 2016 alone.
KTM’s Beirer confirms 2017 MotoGP™ plan
In 2014 Pit Beirer, KTM Sports Director, officially announced that the RC16 project would go ahead. Staples of the KTM line-up, such as a steel trellis frame and distinct orange colouring, would of course be a part of the project.
The RC16 made its public debut in Austria with former MotoGP™ rider Alex Hofmann on-board towards the end of 2015. During his time in MotoGP™, Hofmann raced for both Kawasaki and Ducati and also helped Aprilia develop their RSV4 Superbike. This first test was a simple shake down to ensure that the machine was functioning properly.
It was then off to Valencia where Hofmann was joined by multiple-Moto2™ race winner, and former KTM 125cc and 250cc rider, Mika Kallio. The RC16 project not only had two experienced riders pushing the machine, but also Dani Pedrosa’s ex-crew chief Mike Leitner. In Valencia the duo were able to put in more laps aboard the bike and help KTM to understand the direction they needed to follow in the coming year.
With two tests behind them, KTM had an intense winter of in-house development, returning to action in February at the Jerez circuit. Again it was Kallio and Hofmann aboard the 1000cc machine for the majority of the test.
On the third day, when the rain had cleared, Randy De Puniet took over for Hofmann. Like the German and the Finnish rider, De Puniet boasts a huge amount of MotoGP™ experience aboard Kawasaki, Honda, Ducati and Aprilia machinery with a best finish of second place. The French rider was also heavily involved in the development of the Suzuki GSX-RR, returning to the championship for a wildcard aboard the machine at the end of 2014.
De Puniet and Kallio stayed in Spain for the second test of 2016, heading to Valencia and allowing KTM to assess their improvements since their first test there. Again weather conditions were mixed, but both riders were able to make significant progress with the electronics. The move to a spec-ECU system should enable new manufacturers such as KTM to enter the world stage with greater ease, removing the time and significant expense of in-house electronics development.
From Spain, De Puniet, Kallio and the KTM team went to Brno, having to wait till the second day to really push the bike when temperatures rose. Between the Valencia and Brno tests, De Puniet felt the bike had made a noticeable improvement.
The fourth test of the year also saw KTM’s fourth development rider out on track, Karel Abraham returning to a MotoGP™ bike in Misano. When developing a Grand Prix motorcycle it is important to get feedback from a number of riders, developing a bike around one rider’s style can cause problems in the long run. Abraham was pleasantly surprised with the level of the RC16.
Back to Brno for KTM with Kallio and Abraham who were able to assess several new parts made between this test and their run in Misano. Weather was vastly improved compared to the previous Brno test, allowing the factory to make progress with the rigidity of the frame and swing arm. Kallio, who has spent the most time with the bike, saw it turn a corner in Brno and become easier to ride.
KTM were again back in Jerez, returning to the same track allowing the Austrian brand to clearly see improvements made to the bike between visits. It proved to be a brutally hot test, so hot that KTM no longer feel the need to go run the bike privately in Malaysia. The extreme conditions presented no issues for the RC16, again confirming the bike was heading in the right direction.
Two weeks later and it was off to Mugello where yet another Moto2™ race winner made his debut on the bike, Tom Luthi taking to the Italian track on the orange machine. Running in Mugello gave the RC16 a chance to stretch its legs and compare itself to the GP bikes which had run there just days before.
Work never stops for KTM, the team in Austria continuing to work even when they're not on track. A number of private tests still await for KTM before their first run alongside all the MotoGP™ bikes at the race in Valencia.