KTM made it’s long-awaited debut in the premier MotoGP class, and in stark contrast to Yamaha, the Austrian firm finished at the back. Here, KTM recaps its Qatar weekend, including its much more successful season debuts in both Moto2 and Moto3.
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The Red Bull KTM MotoGP Factory Racing Team on Sunday night completed a successful debut ride in the premiere MotoGP class of the World Championship in a night race at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit with both Pol Espargro and Bradley Smith finishing their first race on the KTM RC16.
KTM’s two factory riders, Pol Espargaro (ESP) and Bradley Smith (GBR) brought the brand new KTM RC16 machine home in 16-17th place in a race that represented another important step in the Austrian brand’s impressive, and still relatively short development program. Smith also improved his lap time (1:57:365) in the race compared to his 1:57.654 in the third free practice session.
Espargaro: “We always want more and more but it’s the first race and we need to know what is our position, and where we are right now. We need to understand that the 33 seconds (off the lead time) we were today is good. Honestly, we need to be happy because we did a good job and for sure this track was tough for us. During the pre-season, we were at other circuits and this was the hardest of them all for us.”
Smith: “The lap times and the gap to the front guys were better than we expected, and in those conditions, we saw a lot of guys making mistakes so we’re very pleased with what we were able to do today. In general, we did the best we could, and a big thanks to the KTM and we’ll see what happens in Argentina.” Smith also underlined that the weekend had produced a lot of important data for the team and this would be studied intensively and used to make improvements before the next race.
Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsport Director), speaking to the team after the race said it had been a historic moment for the company: “Today we are here in three classes. We participated in MotoGP with two riders and it was such a unique moment for our company. This team is so amazing. We have been together for such a short time. We started from zero, with a blank piece of paper, and everyone has done an amazing job.”
Mike Leitner (KTM MotoGP Team Manager): “We are super happy. It was very important that both riders finished this race. We showed what a big step this is for our company. Everyone has been working very hard and this is the result. We had no technical problems or issues in any of the sessions, or in the race and this is super good. The lap times in the race were really impressive and we didn’t expect that.” Leitner said the team would now work hard ahead of the next two races in Argentina and Austin, Texas, which were two new circuits for them. “We can only do our best and as long as everyone sticks to the plan, sooner or later we will be getting the points,” he added.
The MotoGP race went to Maverick Vinales with Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi picking up the minor podium places.
Moto2 – Miguel Oliveira fourth in KTM’s first ever race
Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Miguel Oliveira (POR) gave the factory team a strong fourth place in its first ever Moto2 race to finish behind Franco Morbidelli, Tom Luthi and Takaaki Nakagami in the season opener. Oliveira got away at seventh at the start and quickly advanced two places in the early laps on his KTM Moto2. As the race progressed he settled into a two-way battle with Nakagami when Alex Marquez dropped out of contention. As riders went into the final laps Oliveira close down on the Japanese rider in a bid to take a podium place but was unable to get close enough to make the pass. KTM factory teammate Brad Binder, the 2016 Moto3 world champion continued his learning experience in the new class, rode out the race at around 20th. Oliveira and the team can leave confident that their first race in the class has positioned Oliveira as a podium contender in 2017.
Oliveira: “It was a very tough race. My start was not very good, but when I started to overtake riders I found a good pace. As the race progressed, I was prepared to follow Nakagami, and sometimes I felt stronger than him, but I knew that if I tried to overtake him, we would lose Tom Luthi and I preferred to wait until later. On the last laps I gave everything, but it was difficult because Nakagami defended very well. We would not have imagined that working with this brand new KTM, with all the team gaining experience, we would be prepared to be fighting for the podium here in Qatar at the first event of the year. I am very happy to have achieved this, and I want to thank the team for the opportunity they have given me to return to this structure. Also I thank Red Bull, KTM and the whole Ajo Motorsport team for the work they have done this weekend.”
Moto3 – KTM riders finish 6-7 in season opener
Moto3 riders launched their season at Qatar in a tight race that saw Joan Mir (ESP), John McPhee (GBR) and Jorge Martin (ESP) take the prizes. Top KTM rider was Andrea Migno (ITA) of Sky Racing Team VR46 in sixth with Red Bull KTM Ajo’s new recruit Niccolo Antonelli (ITA) in seventh place. Both Migno and Antonelli were major players in the first half of the race where 13 riders duked it out in a tight group. The top eight riders were separated by just eight tenths of a second at the flag. Unlucky on the night was Red Bull KTM rider Bo Bendsneyder (NED) who had a strong start but was tagged by another rider in lap three and was finally classified at 26th.
Antonelli: “I remained in the front group throughout the race, but I wasn’t able to get into the battle for the podium. In some moments of the race I didn’t feel completely comfortable with the front end, and on more than one occasion I had a scare. But I gave my all and in the end we were competitive, taking seventh place and the first points of the season. Personally, this race has been important because I had not ridden in the front group since the first half of last season. It was not easy. We will do our best to be among the best riders at the next race.”
Rain at the circuit over the weekend led to the cancelation of qualifying on Saturday and Sunday’s grid order was decided according to the results of the free practice sessions. While the Moto3 and Moto2 races got away according to schedule on Sunday night, the MotoGP race was delayed by more than an hour due to more rain.
Next Race: April 9, 2017 – Termas de Río Hondo (ARG)
Results/Standings MotoGP Losail International Circuit 2017 after 1 of 18 rounds
1. Maverick Viñales (ESP), Yamaha, 38:59.999 min, 25 points (20 laps)
2. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA), Ducati, +0.461 sec, 20
3. Valentino Rossi (ITA), Yamaha, +1.928, 16
4. Marc Marquez (ESP), Honda, +6.745, 13
5. Dani Pedrosa (ESP), Honda, +7.128, 11
16. Pol Espargaro (ESP), KTM, +33.601
17. Bradley Smith (GBR), KTM, +39.704
Results/Standings Moto2 Losail International Circuit 2017 after 1 of 18
1. Franco Morbidelli (ITA), Kalex, 40:18.480 min, 25 points (20 laps)
2. Thomas Luthi (SUI), Kalex, +2.681 sec, 20
3. Takaaki Nakagami (JPN), Kalex, +3.304, 16
4. Miguel Oliveira (POR), KTM, +3.584, 13
5. Alex Marquez (ESP), Kalex, +11.226, 11
20. Brad Binder (RSA), KTM, +34.046
Results/Standings Moto3 Losail International Circuit 2017 after 1 of 18 rounds
1. Joan Mir (ESP), Honda, 38:27.364 min, 25 points (18 laps)
2. John Mcphee (GBR), Honda, +0.135 sec, 20
3. Jorge Martin (ESP), Honda, +0.218, 16
4. Aron Canet (ESP), Honda, +0.252, 13
5. Romano Fenati (ITA), Honda, +0.453, 11
6. Andrea Migno (ITA), KTM, +0.579, 10
7. Niccolo Antonelli (ITA), KTM, +0.661, 9
9. Marcos Ramirez (ESP), KTM, +1.693, 7
26. Bo Bendsneyder (NED), KTM, +1:09.769 min