Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro secured the Austrian factory's first top ten finish of the 2019 season at Termas de Rio Hondo, but there were smiles just as wide in the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 garage after rookie Miguel Oliveira finished in eleventh, just a tenth adrift of the factory rider.
Oliveira put in some people’s performance of the day in Argentina by pushing Espargaro, who is now into his third season aboard the RC16, as closely as he did in only his second premier class race. The Portuguese rider's first points of the season saw him leapfrog factory counterpart Johann Zarco in the World Championship standings, whilst moving to within two points of five-time World Champion Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team).
“Two races in, I can safely say I’m adapting quite good,” said Oliveira on his start to life in MotoGP™. “We know we have our struggles but already I’m battling with the top guy of KTM, who has much more experience than me, so I think it shows I’m adapting good to the category and the bike. And I think it’s definitely positive this start of the season.”
"Everything this weekend was really tight but we managed to control the race. We went with the medium rear choice, which we knew was not going to be perfect in terms of speed, but at least for the consistency of the tyre we knew this was the best option. I felt good on the bike. At the end, I was coming closer to Pol and Aleix and yeah, we’re definitely working on a good direction."
2013 Moto2™ World Champion Pol Espargaro was only three tenths of a second away from beating his brother, Aleix (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), to ninth place and consequently matching KTM’s best result in dry conditions.
“Satisfied, for sure. A top ten, we get some points and I think we did, not an amazing race, but a good race,” said Espargaro on a weekend that saw him get a KTM machine into Q2 for the first time this season. “We finished, well 25 seconds off Marquez, but 15 seconds off of second. This means it’s a nice gap, we are closing the gap to the top guys. We’re still missing in some points, we’re missing a lot of grip and in these conditions, I struggle a lot to ride but, as I said, top ten is good.”
Primer top 10 del año en un finde difícil para mí! Al final de carrera dejé ganar a mi hermano mayor... Hay que ser respetuoso ???? First top10! Hard weekend but good points in the pocket! I let my brother win. Question of respect ???? pic.twitter.com/OVmNfeTImy— Pol Espargaró (@polespargaro) March 31, 2019
The Spaniard believes the progress they’re making is clear to see: “The bike is getting better. I think in the tracks Qatar, Argentina and now Texas, it's tracks where we’ve struggled these last years. We’ve been a lot of seconds from the top but finally we are closing the gap. Everyone is closing the gap but my feeling is we’re closing more than the others. And we’re going better and better.
Once the MotoGP™ paddock descends on Europe, starting on May 5 at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto, Espargaro is confident of pushing towards a MotoGP™ top eight finish and improving on their best result in dry conditions.
“When we start in Europe, that’s where we feel stronger and where we can make our difference. I think we can do a little bit better. Also, the new parts are coming there so, yeah, looking forward to finishing the next race in Texas and start in Jerez with positive wishes.”
With Espargaro having made his best start to a season since making the switch to KTM, currently tenth in the standings ahead of Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales, and Oliveira heading to a track he finished on the podium at last time, don’t discount a KTM charge at the Circuit of the Americas.