I think I’ll be speaking for every MotoGP fan when I say what an exciting prospect the Red Bull KTM bike is, especially with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith spear heading the Austrian factory outfit. The pair have proven top six credentials and one can only imagine the two creeping further and further up the points as the season progresses.
So what can we expect from the two riders this year? Smith first entered the Grand Prix stage 11 years ago, amazing to think considering how young the Briton still is. Talking in his blog, the 26 year old is expecting the opening rounds to be particularly tough. After an outstanding 2015, where he finished the season as top independent team rider in 6th, Smith had one of the most difficult years of his career last season. Now recovered from his freak accident at Oschersleben in an endurance race, both he and his Spanish team mate will be aiming to penetrate the top 15 in the opening rounds. Once more, Bradley is one of the most technically gifted riders in the current MotoGP field. He knows exactly what he wants and by the time we get to the end of the year, we (as Brits) will want Bradders to be somewhere near the top 10.
Pol Espargaro joins KTM after a stellar year on board the Tech 3 bike, only losing out on the top independent rider honours to double race winner Cal Crutchlow. The former Moto2 world champion now enters his 11th year of Grand Prix racing, and despite never tasting the champagne in the premier class, there is no doubting the young Spaniard has the ability to ruffle some feathers as he gets to grips with his new machine. The KTM has however proven difficult to ride, as Pol has already said the bike is rather violent with its power. Once more though, Pol – like Bradley – brings a wealth of experience into the team, from Moto2 and MotoGP. Both riders both coming from the same team may also enhance KTM’s understanding of where their own bike may need to improve but also where it is just fine.
In terms of out and out speed, the RC16 isn’t a million miles away from being a competitive bike. Since Mika Kallio’s wildcard in Valencia, both Espargaro and Smith have lapped within 1.3 and 1.4 seconds of Maverick Vinales at the Phillip Island test, a sign of how far the bike has progressed since the project started 15 months ago. One indicator to measure how quickly the bike is developing is by observing the distance between the bike and the front riders from the start of the weekend. It’s not so much lap time that matters but more of how big the gap is to the leaders. They may also want to use Aprilia and Suzuki’s comeback season as a benchmark – although reliability and validity would be questioned, seeing as there was open class concessions for tyres and engines and also a different tyre supplier, with Bridgestone.
What circuits have previously benefitted KTM then? Unfortunately there’s little evidence to go on seeing as their only point in the premier class was at Laguna Seca, with Shane Byrne in 2005. The Ricardo Tormo circuit was where the bike made its debut so it may make a more notable improvement in comparison to other circuits. However, the three day tests in Qatar, Malaysia and Australia would’ve done no harm in finding a base setting for when the tracks are used for racing.
For the team to be aiming for points in their second ever race is a sign of Red Bull KTM’s mind-set, so let’s not expect them to be at the back of the field for long. After all, with big money sponsorship, two incredibly technically-talented riders and a determined workforce, they could be something a little bit special in what is now considered the “Golden Age” of MotoGP.
Eliott York @journoyork