The Red Bull KTM Ajo team reach the halfway point of the 2018 season in good shape, after a victory for Brad Binder in Moto2™ and fourth place for Miguel Oliveira at Sachsenring, plus a top 10 in Moto3™ for Raul Fernandez, standing in for the injured Darryn Binder. Team Manager Aki Ajo explains his feelings about the first half of the campaign for all of the teams, including the FIM CEV outfit where the Turkish Öncü brothers debut this season.
After a first victory in Moto2™ for Brad Binder, we should start with that class. What do you think about the first half of the season?
"It has been very positive. We are second in the World Championship, only 7 points off the top, and leading the team standings, so things have gone pretty well so far. But you always have to try to improve, and as is normal in motorcycle racing there are still things that we can perfect. For example, I think that right now we should improve our results in qualifying, as that would make things much easier for our riders in the race. This year Moto2 is very evenly matched: Last year if you were half a second off pole, you could start from the second row -now you are ten positions further back. In short, everything is very tight and that motivates us to work harder every day."
After a great final stretch in 2017, with three wins plus three consecutive podiums, did you expect more from these first nine Grands Prix?
"It's difficult to analyse expectations, I try not to think too much about it. I like to motivate the team with the idea of working at our best and seeing how far that gets us. The start to the year hasn’t been as easy as we might have thought after an excellent end to 2017, but this is part of the game. Even though you work very well, your rivals are going to strive just as hard -or more- to keep up, and that's what makes racing so interesting."
What might be the difference between the performances in Free Practice and qualifying, and in the races?
"There may be several factors, although it is also part of the characteristics of the bike. It's normal in a class where everything is so competitive; each team can be strong in different aspects, especially considering the different types of tyres that you can use. It is not uncommon for each bike, each structure, to have different strengths and weaknesses. Everything is a matter of finding balance; It is what we are trying to do with our qualifying results, where we are looking to be more competitive."
We are talking about a KTM Moto2™ bike that is only in its second season. How do you see its evolution?
"Sometimes we need to remember that we are practically a new team in this class. The usual thing to do is to go step by step until reaching the top, but our start was much better than expected and the expectations around us grew very fast. We are still taking those steps to reach our goal of winning the Moto2 title in the coming years."
What do you expect from the second half of 2018? Red Bull KTM Ajo teams always have great ends to the season, it seems.
"The second halves of the season usually go well for us and, to be honest, I don’t have an explanation for it. Perhaps our team, with our family atmosphere, have an advantage in the three consecutive overseas rounds. There is a very ‘old school’ atmosphere and that might help us to be better. The aim is to be strong at all times, but that part of the season is especially good for us."
Can Oliveira and Brad Binder be in the fight for the title right through to the last race?
"I'm not the kind of person who thinks the goal is to win the title or always win races. The goal is to improve every day and that mentality is something I believe in. When we work hard, we never stop taking steps forward and that, obviously, leads us to fight for titles at the end of the season."
With the renewal for Brad Binder and the arrival of Jorge Martin, you have already finalised the lineup for 2019 in Moto2™. Are you satisfied with the look of the structure for next year?
"Yes, it will be the third season for KTM in the intermediate class, but it will be a new start for everyone with the new engines. I’m very happy to be able to continue with Brad, who has been with us since 2015, and I am glad that he is spending a fifth year with us. He is a very talented rider and we are getting great results together. As for our rookie rider, Jorge Martin, everyone knows that he is one of the best young talents in the paddock. I'm very happy to continue to have such a strong duo in Moto2."
In Moto3™, what is your analysis of this first half of the season?
"We can’t be fully happy, because our history in Moto3 is very good and in the last two years we have not reached our previous level. My attitude will always be that we shouldn’t give up and have to trust that we will continue to improve. With Darryn [Binder], although his results are not what we would like, he is clearly growing and at Assen he reached seventh position fighting with good riders, which is a positive sign. It was a pity about the injury he suffered to his collarbone after that race. Raul Fernandez had a great weekend in Germany, and we are very happy about that."
It also seems that the bike has taken a step forward in 2018.
"KTM have done a great job developing the bike, and that also motivates us for the future with our riders."
Finally, what do you think about Can and Deniz Öncü in their rookie season in the FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Championship?
"It's amazing to be able to work with these two very young twins. It is always very fun, motivating and enjoyable to have such young talents, with such great enthusiasm for what they do. They only turn 15 this month, but they already show a great determination to do well in this sport and improve very quickly; they are insatiable. At the same time, at this age they need to keep their feet on the ground and that is our part of our job, as an experienced team, to teach them the right path to take."