MotoGP presents a dilemma for the motorcycle manufacturers. On the one hand, it has never been closer or more exciting, making it a very attractive prospect for factories looking to boost their profile and push the limits of their engineering prowess. On the other hand, when the top ten is so close and there are so many competitive bikes on the grid, it becomes much more difficult to make a mark on the championship. When there are perhaps 14 bikes capable of getting on the podium, the margin between success and failure is razor thin.
KTM is learning this lesson the hard way. In their third year competing in the championship, the Austrian factory is only now starting to make regular inroads into the top ten. Much of that success is down to Pol Espargaro, the stable factor in KTM's line up in its third season. Since the beginning, Espargaro has been working with crew chief Paul Trevathan, and that pairing has proven to be an ideal combination. Both lively, enthusiastic, with a keen sense of humor, and both absolutely dedicated to pushing above and beyond in pursuit of success.
At Barcelona, I sat down with Paul Trevathan to talk about KTM's MotoGP project, and working with Pol Espargaro. We covered a lot of ground in the 25 minutes or so we spoke for, talking about everything from applying lessons learned in motocross to MotoGP, how the progress KTM have made mean there is a little bit less testing and a little bit more concentrating on race pace, the benefits of using the right approach to testing, why Espargaro is currently really the only rider to get everything out of the KTM, and much more.
To make it all a little easier to digest, the interview has been split into two parts. Here is part 1, part 2 will follow:
Q: Adam Wheeler of On-Track Off-Road told me you started off working in motocross. How does this compare to working for Molson Kawasaki in MXGP?
Paul Trevathan: Yeah, exactly. That's a difference, hey? To be honest, motocross, I started working with Jan de Groot in Holland. Did motocross world championship for eleven years. It was quite an experience also.
Q: I had a conversation with Christian Gabarrini once about MXGP and Enduro, and he said the biggest parallel between circuit and off-road racing was that it all comes down to traction. How much of your work is about creating traction? Is there anything you’ve brought over from MXGP? Is there anything you learned there?
PT: It’s such a different sport. I think the one advantage maybe that I find coming from the motocross world is that you don’t have data there. So you’re having to listen and interpret what the riders are saying, and things like this. So I think this is the gift, if you like, of coming from motocross. I think this has helped me a lot to be able to understand - especially when you’re doing track support for Ohlins and stuff like this. You’re traveling from place to place and trying to get a quick idea of what’s going on because you have to go and run from one box to the other, or so forth. So this was something that really kind of helped, I think, more than probably bike setup or things like this.
Q: Learning to think on your feet, learning to understand quickly?
PT: Yes, exactly. Not being afraid to make changes without having all the information. This is also part of the key. For me, the information is on the track, so the longer you spend inside the box, the less you’re going to learn. That data we can all look at later, but at the moment get the boys back out on the bike and get them out there trying to find information.
Q: Is that the same with testing?
PT: Yeah, 100%. Our testing, we’ve got so much stuff going on all the time that you’re basically flat out just to get through the information. So of course there’s some things that happen where you think, whoa, let’s stop for a second. Let’s take a bit of a look. We’ve got a good team and good guys behind you always constantly looking at stuff anyway, so in a testing situation through the day you’ll get a “Hey, Paul, maybe you should revisit this, or you should check this out because this is something a bit interesting going on here.”
Q: So it helps because it’s not all on your shoulders. You have people behind going through the data and picking out things like, that was interesting.
PT: You get the feeling when the rider comes in. You look him in the eyes. You know if something’s interesting already. Pol was also one of the riders who he doesn’t want to just justify it on feeling. He wants to justify it by a lap time. So there’s been times when he’s had a great feeling on his ass, for example, and he’s gone, “Wow, this is unbelievable.” Then he looks at the watch and he goes, “Huh?” Then he’ll stay out there a few more laps and try to understand it and figure it out, "I love the feeling, but I can’t make a lap time". Then he’ll put that in the bin. It’s again just put that on the side and try to understand what’s going on here.
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