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Subscriber Interview: Mike Leitner, Part 2 - On Bradley Smith, MotoGP As The Champions League, And Signing A Top Rider

KTM's MotoGP project has made remarkably rapid progress in the short period since it started. All three of the Austrian factory's riders – factory men Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, and test rider Mika Kallio – have already scored top ten finishes, and the gap to the leading bikes has been cut from three seconds a lap to three quarters of a second.

I sat down with KTM team manager Mike Leitner to discuss the progress. In the first part of the interview, published yesterday, Leitner talked about the technical concepts behind the machine, why the steel trellis frame is here to stay, and the advantage of using suspension supplied by WP, the company owned by Red Bull. Leitner also talked about just how important a role Mika Kallio has played in the development of the bike.

In the second half of the interview, Leitner discusses the issues Bradley Smith has faced in adapting to the bike, and how KTM has been trying to address them. He also talks about the long-term future of the project, and whether KTM will be going after a top-level rider like Marc Márquez, with all of the top riders being out of contract at the end of 2018.

Q: I wanted to ask about the difference between Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. Pol is totally adapted to the bike. Bradley seems to struggle a lot more. Do you have an explanation for why that is?

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - What is Bradley Smith’s problem?

Bradley Smith has struggled since the start of 2016 – this is what has wrongfooted the Briton

Changing tyre brands can make or break bike racers. There’s a long history of top riders riding the crest of a wave, changing tyre brands, then disappearing without trace.

In 1998 Simon Crafar was riding high on 500s. This was the New Zealander’s rookie 500 season and yet by Assen he was already hassling Mick Doohan, then at the peak of his towering career. Next time out at Donington Park, Crafar left Doohan trailing, beating the reigning champion by 11 seconds. It was probably the biggest defeat ever inflicted on Mighty Mick.

Crafar nearly did it again at Phillip Island, Doohan’s home race, breaking the lap record and crossing the line eight-tenths behind the Aussie hero. No doubt about it, Crafar was the Next Big Thing. His Red Bull Yamaha team believed it could challenge for the title in 1999, so long as it changed to Michelin, then the dominant force in 500 GPs. Michelin also wanted Crafar on its side, so the team switched from Dunlop.

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Ducati Superbike Boss Ernesto Marinelli To Leave Ducati At End Of 2017

A major surprise out of Borgo Panigale this afternoon. Ernesto Marinelli, the man behind so much of Ducati's World Superbike success, is to leave the company at the end of 2017 for pastures new.

Marinelli has been a lynchpin in Ducati's WSBK operation, working with the company for 22 years. He started as a track engineer, working with both Carl Fogarty and Neil Hodgson, but soon took on a major role in Ducati's racing operations. The Italian led Ducati's AMA racing program at the end of last century, working with such legendary riders as Troy Bayliss, Ben Bostron, Anthony Gobert, and John Kocinski. After returning to Europe, he took over the role of technical director, then project manager of Ducati's WorldSBK project.

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Subscriber Interview: KTM Team Boss Mike Leitner, Part 1- On Progress, Trellis Frames, And Mika Kallio

The announcement that KTM would be building a bike to compete in MotoGP was met with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism. The addition of another manufacturer to the grid was a cause for celebration, especially one with such a stellar record in other disciplines. The question was, with MotoGP technology at such an already high level, would KTM be able to competitive quickly enough before the board loses interest? And would KTM's insistence on a steel trellis frame mean it could be competitive, when everyone else had moved on to an aluminium beam frame?

With 14 races in the books, the answer to those questions appears to be yes. Before the race at Aragon, Mika Kallio, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith had already scored a string of top 10 finishes. In the race at the Motorland Aragon circuit, Espargaro finished 10th and Kallio 11th, the Spaniard finishing 14 seconds behind the winner. The bike is making remarkable progress.

On Thursday evening at Aragon, before Sunday's outstanding results, I spoke to KTM MotoGP team manager Mike Leitner, about the progress the team has made. In the first part of this two-part interview, the Austrian team boss talks about the technical choices the team has made, how the project has lived up to expectations, and the role test rider Mika Kallio has played in the factory's success. In the second part, to be published later this week, Leitner talks about the difference between Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, and what the future holds for KTM.

Q: First of all, to me it seems like there’s been much more progress this year than maybe we had any right to expect because it’s taken other factories much longer to get up to speed?

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Jack Miller Breaks Leg In Training Accident, To Miss Motegi

The 2017 season has claimed another training victim. This time, Jack Miller is the victim of misfortune, the Australian breaking his right leg while out trials riding in Andorra.

Miller was relatively fortunate, in that he suffered the injury at very low speed, putting his foot down trying to save the front end from washing out. However, his foot got stuck, causing the tibia to fracture just below the knee. He was taken to the Dexeus Institut in Barcelona, where a plate and eight screws were fitted, to pin the bone fragments back together again.

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