KTM’s first experience of running against its new MotoGP rivals in a race environment felt like a mountain had been placed in front of it, crew chief Paul Trevathan admits.
After a year-long test programme ahead of its 2017 entry, KTM made its premier class debut in November’s season finale at Valencia, with primary test rider Mika Kallio at the helm.
The Austrian manufacturer had shared the track with other MotoGP teams during that year, namely in a mid-year test at the Red Bull Ring, but found doing so in a competitive environment a whole new ballgame.
Kallio was 3.111 seconds off the pace on Friday, and got down to a 1m32.092s lap in qualifying to finish 2.691s adrift of Jorge Lorenzo, with his best race lap before retiring then 2.037s off Lorenzo’s fastest.
“We’d done the MotoGP test so we knew some parts where we were ‘with’ the others,” Trevathan said.
“But we did not see that extra 10% or even 20% that comes out at a race. It was like ‘whoah, here’s a mountain’.
“It was also the end of the season so they were all going strong in their final rides and with not much too lose.
“We had a fair idea of what we were missing and it wasn’t all that bad.
“There were some surprises and some solutions that we found through the weekend. For the team and the technical package I thought that 1m32s lap time we did was very positive.
“The race was the negative, maybe not so much for us but more for Mika. I was disappointed for him because that was his chance to go racing with the guys again.
“We’d done so many race simulations and we never stopped or had a technical issue in one of them, so the timing was terrible.”
New race riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro then tested the bike for the first time after the race, with Smith and Kallio testing again at Jerez the following week.
Nine days of pre-season running across three venues starts at Sepang on January 30.
Trevathan believes KTM is equipped to grow quickly when it makes its full-time debut at Qatar next March, after dealing with the slog of testing this year.
“I really believe we will get to a satisfactory level by then because the boys have done it so many times already this year so hats off to them,” he said.
“I’ve looked into the eyes of some of them at times and they have been empty but we’ve still got done what we needed to do.
“You also have Pit [Beirer, KTM motorsport director] there. If you say ‘Pit, we really need this’, then he is able to pick up the phone and a decision is made there and then and we go.
“There isn’t a set of meetings or a board meeting. It is very clear and it’s KTM’s advantage.”