It was elation for Pol Espargaro and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing at the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France after the Spaniard stormed to his best dry result with the Austrian factory.
Le Mans witnessed the younger Espargaro brother sit inside the top ten in every session leading up to the race, with the 2013 Moto2™ World Champion making no mistake when it came to race day. His 5.935 second deficit to Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez at the chequered flag was the closest KTM has ever been to the win, including his and KTM’s wonderful maiden MotoGP™ podium at a rain-soaked Valencia GP last season. And, to put it into perspective, Espargaro finished 32 seconds off the win this time last season in France.
Pol: “Simply stunning! We've seen today they are not Gods”
“That was fun!” – Pol’s first words when reflecting on the race says all you need to know about his Sunday afternoon. “To see Vale in front of me and he was pushing, and he was not able to take a lot of time out of us - just two seconds in 27 laps. Plus, to see Marc pulling just five seconds on us at the end of the race, this was simply stunning.
“We have seen today that they are not Gods and with a good bike, and a good performance all weekend, we can be with them fighting. Just we need a few things to be improved and if we improve them, I think we can fight for the podium in other places. We need to touch our feet on the ground. The next is race is Mugello and we will try to do the same, or similar, and to improve on the results of last year.”
As ever, KTM had plenty of parts to try in the post-Spanish GP test the premier class took part in, with KTM also having a private test day in Jerez on the Wednesday. Pol and teammate Johann Zarco also tested in Le Mans prior to the French GP and by the sounds of things, some of the new parts that were tried have worked a treat.
“The improvements we test on Wednesday in Jerez were really, really good,” continued Pol. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t have it for the race in Jerez and we couldn’t take profit from it there, but we saw a big performance on the Wednesday when we were testing alone. Then, KTM struggled a little to bring all this good stuff to Le Mans but they are Austrian – when they want something, they get it and they bring it so I’m super pleased with that. Super happy to see this tubular chassis and this WP suspension working and I’m happy to shout some mouth about those saying this will never work and here you have it working.”
Rider round-up: Race Day at the French GP
The number 44 rider was also seen using a carbon swingarm at the French GP, something we’ve become accustomed to seeing with every factory this season. This P6 result moves Espargaro onto 31 points for the season, 13 more than he’d tallied this time last season and 25 more than he did in 2017. But how did teammate Zarco get on at his home GP?
“Tough race today,” began the Frenchman, who crossed the line 13th despite a strong start to the race. “I got a good feeling on the start, on the first lap I was controlling the bike well but lap after lap this feeling got worse and the end of the race was really at the end of my power because I’m still not feeling correctly on this bike. So, happy to be in 13th position, it’s always good to get points, even in the hardest time I can get something.
“Anyway, overall there were a few good things this weekend, I’ll try to keep this in mind and see for the next race but once again I wanted to be in the top ten, I was very close at the beginning of the race, but then I couldn’t follow the pace. That’s a shame. Pol did something fantastic this weekend and especially on the Sunday, that’s great for KTM and him. And yes, we need to work because it proves the work brings you somewhere.”
It’s not been the start to his KTM career that the double Moto2™ World Champion will have been hoping for, but Espargaro’s performances give Zarco that extra little bit of confidence that in time, he’ll get to where he and KTM want to be every weekend.
In 15 mins: French Grand Prix MotoGP™ highlights
“I hope it will be positive for me. I say I need time from the beginning of the season, yesterday, Saturday, I said that I felt quality on my bike so it’s better than nothing. Today in the race, have a good control and be ready in my mind to fight. I did it at the beginning, just during the race has been complicated so things to work on but I repeat, in the hardest time I got something so this is the way to leave France with a little bit of a smile.”
In addition, KTM was the only manufacturer to get all of their bikes in the points on Sunday, with Red Bull KTM Tech 3 teammates Hafizh Syahrin and Miguel Oliveira crossing the line in 14th and 15th respectively. This 14th was Syahrin’s first points of the season.
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