MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
KTM: ‘We are at the tip of the iceberg’
KTM has 40 years less experience than Honda in premier-class Grand Prix racing, so what does the Austrian factory need to do to get closer to the front?
KTM had an impressive rookie season in 2017, but last year the Austrian factory stalled. And when prize signing Johann Zarco first tested the RC16 in November he was shell-shocked.
The arrival of Zarco at KTM is supposed to be the factory’s next big step because he is the strongest rider to sit on the RC16. But the Frenchman’s first outings on the bike suggest the gap between KTM and the front of the pack is still huge, so what did KTM learn from 2018 – and what does it need to do in 2019?
The biggest thing KTM learned last year is that riders are fragile. The company’s second season was cursed by injuries: Pol Espargaró had a huge preseason crash, which required spinal surgery, which left him struggling until Mugello, then he broke a collarbone at Brno and again at Aragon. Meanwhile test rider Mika Kallio smashed a knee at the Sachsenring, ending his season.
“It was frustrating because we improved the bike but we were never in a position to show what we’ve got, at least in the dry,” says Espargaró’s crew chief Paul Trevathan. “At one point the injuries forced us to stop chassis development.”
KTM’s big step last year was switching to a reverse-rotating crankshaft, which Kallio used to beat KTM full-timers Espargaró and Bradley Smith at Jerez, but wasn’t ready for full deployment until later in the season.
Changing the direction of crankshaft rotation changes the entire motorcycle because it changes the forces going into the chassis, so KTM effectively had to start all over again.
“When you change the heart of the motorcycle it affects every little thing and you get a different character from the motorcycle,” adds Trevathan. “We are at the tip of the iceberg now – we know this is where we want to go and we see the benefits but it’s going to take time.”
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.