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It has been over four years since Leon Camier last stood on the WorldSBK podium, but since Silverstone 2013 the Englishman has been able to do something remarkable; rebuild his reputation without having the silverware to show for it.
Having raced for Aprilia and Suzuki following his 2009 British Superbike title success, Camier was left high and dry for 2014 and had to take on the role of super sub for the season. It must have been a humbling experience for Camier but it has certainly made him a stronger and more rounded racer and since joining MV Augusta in 2015 he been the focal point of their WorldSBK program.
"The bike has evolved from when I first rode it," said Camier. "It was not a very good race bike at the start, and now it is really quite competitive. A lot of that is down to the technicians that we have and obviously from my feedback and being able to tell the team exactly what I want from a bike. I have to understand how the bike works, how the team works and how exact I have to be with my feedback. It's not enough to say, 'I need a smoother throttle.' I have to be in depth about what's going on and the knock-on effect that any change can have on other parts of the bike too."
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?
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?
Why do manufacturers go racing? That is a question which has intrigued me for years, and to which I have spent many years trying to get a straight answer. All of my attempts to get factory bosses to quantify exactly what the returns are, and in what areas, have fallen on barren ground.
The simple answer, of course, is that there are three reasons why manufacturers go racing. In no particular order, they are: as a platform for engineering research and development; as a platform for marketing and brand positioning; and as a training ground for engineers. The relative value for each of these remains a mystery, which the factories are either unwilling, or unable to specify.
At the launch of Ducati's Desmosedici Stradale V4 engine, presented to the media at the Misano round of MotoGP, I got a chance to ask Gigi Dall'Igna, the boss of Ducati Corse about the value of MotoGP in developing engines for the street. Much was made by Ducati of the Stradale's heritage, as a direct descendant of the Desmosedici GP15 bike. The engine shares a layout with the GP15, as well as the same bore. (The stroke is longer, to give the engine more torque at lower revs, and make it more ridable.)
Imagine you are Lin Jarvis, boss of Yamaha. It is Thursday evening, and you are in the car, driving home from Yamaha Motor Racing's headquarters in Monza. Your phone goes, and you answer it. It's someone from Valentino Rossi's entourage, calling to tell you that Rossi has crashed his enduro bike out training, and has been taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg. What do you do?
Well, first you call William Favero, Yamaha's communications manager, and sort out the communications process. But after that, and once you get confirmation that Rossi's leg really is broken – a double break, tibia and fibula – then you start to think about whether you will have to field a substitute rider for the upcoming races. Who do you call?
A lot of people have been playing this game since late on Thursday evening, when news of Rossi's injury broke, but very few have been able to put themselves into the position of Lin Jarvis. Instead, the suggestions offered have been made from the perspective of possible future configurations of the Yamaha MotoGP team, or riders who deserve a chance in MotoGP, or just a particular fan's favorite rider, who they would like to see get a ride somewhere. So who are the candidates? Who will get the call? And more importantly, what motivates the decision that Lin Jarvis will eventually have to make?
The announcement by MegaRide, an Italian vehicle dynamics start up, that they had signed a collaboration agreement with Ducati Corse to supply and develop tire simulation software set the motorcycle racing rumor mill alight. The wording of the press release, combined with a general lack of knowledge among many MotoGP fans and journalists about exactly how the spec Magneti Marelli operates, left many questions about the exact nature of the software, and how Ducati were using it.
Fans and journalists interpreted the collaboration to mean that Ducati were already using the MegaRide software to extract greater performance from the Michelin tires. The fact that Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo would regularly be able to use the softer compounds Michelin brought to races was seen as proof of this.