Ever since Jerez, when the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team debuted a new engine with a counter-rotating crankshaft, fans and journalists have been asking when factory riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith would be able to use the new engine on a race weekend. KTM test rider Mika Kallio had been very positive about the engine during the Jerez weekend, and Smith and Espargaro had spoken in glowing terms about it after the Jerez test.
KTM's response was always that it would not be ready until at least after the summer break. Reversing the direction of crankshaft rotation is not as simple as sticking an intermediate gear between the crank and the clutch, to allow the crank to spin in the opposite direction while maintaining forward thrust. Reversing the crankshaft means that the stresses in the engine are very different, and require careful testing to ensure it will operate reliably.
At Brno, it was evident that Bradley Smith finally had the new engine at his disposal. The difference is visible, if you look very carefully, from the torque reaction and other clues. When Smith was asked whether he had the new engine, he refused to give a straight answer, telling reporters, "If you have any questions, [KTM MotoGP project leader] Sebastian Risse is the person to speak to." When we pointed out that we would see whether they had introduced the new engine once Dorna published the official engine usage lists, Smith replied, "I suppose you will."
Dorna has now published those lists, and it is obvious that Smith has indeed been given two new engines for use at Brno. Though the engine lists do not show the engine specification, only whether it is unused or not, it is unusual to introduce two new engines at the same time, unless they are a different spec. Riders need engines with the same specification during practice to allow them to work reliably on set up.
The bad news for KTM is that they are still having reliability problems. Smith suffered four different technical issues this weekend, forced to leave the bike at the side of the track a couple of times, and pulling into the pits earlier than expected on both Friday and Saturday. So KTM have decided to take the precaution of going back to the old engine for the race, with the forward rotating crankshaft. That engine is a known quantity, and should under normal circumstances last until the end of the race.
There was more bad news for KTM during the morning warm up on Sunday, however. Pol Espargaro crashed heavily just before Turn 3, and fractured his left collarbone in the crash. Espargaro will miss the race at Brno, but more importantly, he will also miss the official MotoGP test here on Monday. With Mika Kallio out for the long term with ligament damage in his knee picked up in the crash at the Sachsenring, the testing work will fall squarely on the shoulders of Bradley Smith.
It is still uncertain whether Espargaro will be fit in time for KTM's home race, the Austrian round of MotoGP at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg.