MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Will KTM make it in MotoGP?
Austrian factory KTM chose a unique path when it entered MotoGP three years ago, so will the RC16’s differences help it succeed or make it fail?
Two weeks is a long time in MotoGP. Sunday night at Jerez wasn’t a good time to hang around outside the Red Bull KTM garage. The factory had had a horrible weekend, its fastest rider finishing 20 seconds behind the race winner and its prize signing throwing his toys out of the pram in front of a TV crew.
The Jerez sufferings of Pol Espargaró and Johann Zarco made headlines – many of which insisted that KTM’s three-year-old MotoGP project is doomed to failure until the factory bins the RC16’s tubular-steel frame and its WP suspension.
Then everything changed at Le Mans, for Espargaró at least. He finished sixth, KTM’s best dry-weather result. In fact finishing positions don’t matter too much at this stage of a project; what does count the gap to the winner, the only realistic judge of progress. Espargaró crossed the line just 5.9sec behind Marc Márquez, a difference of 0.2 seconds a lap, compared to a 0.8sec deficit at Jerez.
There were several reasons for Espargaró’s dramatic improvement. Firstly and secondly, the rider and the track. The former Moto2 world champion is a super-aggressive rider who needs a lot of grip to go fast. And Le Mans is the kind of track that needs to be attacked aggressively and the asphalt is very grippy. Thirdly, His RC16 used a brand-new carbon-fibre swingarm, which KTM had tested in secret the previous Wednesday at Jerez.
“At the tests Pol said, bloody hell, I need this for the next race, if I can have it,” says his crew chief Paul Trevathan. “For Pol it’s all about traction and consistency of lap times. He can always drag the bike around for a lap time, but when he goes into a race, when there’s a bit less grip [most likely due to Moto2 rubber on the track], he struggles a bit more. Now we’ve found something that allows him to do the lap time and stay on that lap time, because if he loses grip and edge grip he can find another way to make the lap time.”
KTM is the third factory to use a carbon-fibre swingarm, after Ducati and Honda, so where is the magic in this component?
Carbon-fibre is the perfect material for racing. It’s light and it’s strong, but most significantly for motorcycle racing its flex character can be tuned more accurately than any metal. Different fibre weaves can be used and laid-up differently to create an exact mix of longitudinal, torsional and lateral flex. This should deliver some softness for the best edge grip through the corner and the best drive grip out of the corner, plus excellent rigidity for braking stability and rapid changes of direction.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.