KTM pulled the unofficial wraps off their RC16 MotoGP project at the Red Bull Ring MotoGP, appropriate considering it is their home track and their sponsor is the same sugary caffeine beverage that owns the circuit.
The team will race with Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro next season while retaining icy Finn Mika Kallio as test rider. The shebang is overseen by former motocross ace Pit Beirer while ex-Dani Pedrosa crew Mike Leitner is the uber-spanner.
Leitner has been with the project almost the day after he ‘left’ the HRC garage and has seen the RC grow and grow under the firm’s ‘ready to race’ banner. What are his and the team’s expectations going into their debut season.
“This is so difficult. If you would have asked me this question a year ago when the bike only existed on paper, I would not have been able to tell you that one year later we would have a bike with an engine that can do more than four laps,” he said.
“But I see from this piece of paper we have something that has now been on the track many times, can achieve a certain lap time, stays together and the riders can ride the bike; so we have achieved something. But to be at a competitive level with the best MotoGP bikes and riders is another massive step. And this next step is as big again as going from a bike on a piece of paper to what we have now. This is clear.”
Although no official lap times been forthcoming in testing, it is believes the bike is less than 1.5s off the pace of the top factory teams even though KTM say it is nearer two, not bad for a bike that is more-or-less produced in-house.
“I have complete belief and faith in this project. I cannot tell you if this will happen in one, two or three years, but I think that at the end we have the correct people onboard to make it,” he continued.
“To be fair, this is my first time in a project like this so have nothing to compare it with. When you work with a manufacturer who have 20-30 years’ experience in Grand Prix racing, it’s a different situation. The air gets thin on that level when you are always in the fight for victories and titles. It gets super hard. But if you are happy with position 12th, 10th or eighth, then it’s different than when you are only happy with first position.
“With second, you can accept the defeat a little, but in third place everyone has a long face in the garage. So this is a completely different style of working. So the target is to arrive at the point when our guys in the garage get a long face when finishing third.”
November was the first time KTM went out in public with the RC16 but Leitner says it isn’t a vastly-different bike than the one Kallio will race at Valencia at the end of this season.
“It has changed of course, but it’s not a completely different bike from the one we started with. The original concept of frame and engine was not so bad. We saw in the Red Bull Ring test in July we are around two seconds from the very best bikes that have a lot of experience underneath them.