Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - What KTM’s RC16 needs to run at the front of MotoGP again

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.


What KTM’s RC16 needs to run at the front of MotoGP again

KTM was the hero of the 2020 MotoGP season, then struggled in 2021. Team engineers tell us they need to improve qualifying speed and corner-exit performance to get back to the front in 2022

KTM goes into the 2022 MotoGP world championship following two seasons of weirdly contrasting fortunes.

In 2020, following KTM’s first complete redesign of the RC16 since the bike’s debut, the Austrian factory had a breakthrough year, claiming its first victories and missing a podium place in the constructors championship by just two points.

KTM had arrived.

But not for long. The RC16 disappeared without a trace at the start of last season, until mid-season when the bike started winning again, only to disappear once again.

So, what explains the RC16’s strangely up-and-down 2021 and how are KTM engineers fixing the bike for 2022?

Many of KTM’s problems can be attributed to one factor: the RC16 works in a narrow window of opportunity, like Yamaha’s 2020 YZR-M1, so its performance is determined by the racetrack and the conditions.

“We need to bring a wider base to the track, a wider window, because if the temperature isn’t right, or the rider isn’t riding perfect, we miss the window,” says KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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First, a good point we haven't really been discussing. 2020 was a skewed/rosy picture for Orange. Why? They were only at a very small number of tracks and most of them suited the bike! There were only 9, remember?

"We are in a window that’s quite small, which is quite scary,” (Paul Trevathan, crew chief to Oliveira) “When the tyre allocation doesn’t quite fit us or the track’s a bit cooler or hotter then we’re in trouble, so we need to make the window wider to be competitive all season."

“We didn’t visit so many racetracks in 2020, so maybe things looked rosier than they were in reality.”

Really good point. Then as we have all discussed a bunch, the front tire option that worked for them went away. They have similar needs to Honda. Binder in particular, he's a brake bomber. 

Great concise detail of their process though..."The front tyre was a shock – we thought Holy Christ, what are we going to do to get around this?’” adds Trevathan. “The first part of the year we were trying to understand how to work around the tyre. We went out of our comfort zone with fork settings – damping, spring preloads, oil levels and so on – to take the stress out of the tyre, but that didn’t make us faster, it just allowed us to at least use the tire."

"The tyre was an issue because we make the lap time by attacking the braking zones and flicking the bike very quickly. So when you don’t have the support from the front tyre, the tyre feels like it goes square, so then you have to take all the speed out of the bike before you can release the pressure off the tyre and turn.”

These front tire problems had a halting effect on overall development, causing KTM to lose its way, as per RC16 project leader Sebastian Risse.

Good brass interview bits! Then came a good turn, no specifics other than a minor update to the chassis, and 3 podiums in a row for Oliveira. 

"It all fell together, the chassis wasn’t a massive thing, but Miguel could ride the bike slightly differently, which brought us back into that good area,” (Trevathan).

Then? Oliveira went down and broke his wrist, ending their brief rise in form. Binder's side of the garage was going in a different set up direction and it hadn't quite clicked yet (get it? Clicked? Is this thing on?).

So, riders weren't pushing and motivating each other either, "and then when you’re in a hole you’re chasing your tail and you start throwing parts at the bike.” And, didn't have concessions help there for 2021 either. 

So now what? Chassis development to get the bike coming through corners better such that they can "Pedrosa" the bike up and on the fat part of the tire and on the gas better. And in a wider set of conditions. 

This sounds a bit like Yamaha 2020?

BUT, here comes a note of concern perhaps - brass says "only part of from engineering, the riders need to adapt." And, be motivated. 

But the RIDERS say..."We lose a lot of stability out of the corners,” (Oliveira) “The tyre is moving quite a lot, so there’s a lot of wasted potential to the ground.”

(Binder) “We’re losing time in places where we’re at full throttle because we’re not hooking up the way we should."

Uh oh?

Lastly, more good specifics from brass about their concern of good Q performance. "Sometimes during a time attack it helps to get the tyres into the correct temperature earlier, so the rider can attack half a lap earlier, so he can make two proper time-attack laps instead of one, which will up the pace more than what you can do in terms of producing maximum grip and stopping from the bike."

“Other times it’s about making a more radical package to squeeze more out of the tyre."

The first real qualifying session is the last minutes of FP3 and you can’t do any big magic with the bike there because you need both bikes ready to make a normal session. You can push some buttons to do something with the electronics and you can change spring preload or ride height a bit, but not much more.

“If you make it directly through to Q2 you may think about doing something fancy but you don’t know that you’re through until the end of FP3. If you do go straight to Q2 you might change something more, like the weight distribution, or something that indirectly affects the aero, like the geometry.

“If you don’t go straight to Q2 the weekend becomes difficult because you have to spend more energy and take more risks.”

"Qualifying is something we must improve but part of it is also rider philosophy,” explains Risse. “Every rider has his way and you saw what Pol [2017 to 2020] could do with our bike in qualifying [the Spaniard scored two pole positions with the RC16 in 2020] and you see what Brad produces in races."

Cheers folks

Question - is anyone reading this? It takes time, don't want to waste it if no. Thanks!

Thanks Motoshrink I am reading your comments. Hoping for an improvement at KTM.

For Remy's sake.

"We’re losing time in places where we’re at full throttle because we’re not hooking up" So they need to find grip, drive grip, not power as such. KTM have what they need to do that. We will see.

Starting tomorrow at Sepang.

A good base setting that works seems to be a large key to having a good weekend. A tweak here a tweak there but overall the same bike, fine tuning, maybe pointless but helps the rider (imagine) feel better. How many times we have heard Fabio's side of the garage talk about not changing anything ? Same bike, rider adapts. If a team/rider is in the position of making big changes during the weekend they are already on the back foot and are learning and adapting to a different bike each time out of the pits. Sometimes produces gold but mostly not. The situation KTM found themselves in with the front tyre forced this issue. Catalunya gold, mostly not. Talking of 2020, look at Ducati's trouble with the rear tyre...one year on they are turning up at tracks with better understanding as the starting point. Worked quite well.

Always appreciate your words even when I disagree.

Unrelated but also wish to offer thanks for your keeping the links and entertainment going these last couple of winters (summers here). Chapeau. Grazie mille. Onya.

But the way I see it this year Miguel and Brad will develop the bike and not quite match their potential, while Remy and Raul learn to ride it to the max and race hardcore like they like to do  . . . and smash their way into the Factory team knowing that their pesky mate Pedro is keen to get in on the action. 

I'm surely biased towards KTM for minor patriotic reasons and much more for their approach to go with differing technical solutions. I think they ran into a dead end in terms of management and technical developement in 2021, with losing concessions and dealing with much more races and tracks in 2021. Some german and austrian media outlets spread the rumors that one of the reasons Mike Leitner was booted was that he interfered in the engineers work on race weekends on numerous occasions. For sure he was an integral part in KTM's MotoGP effort with his deep ties into HRC - to poach away people - and his knowledge to setup a razorsharp V4 in the first place, but maybe it is now the right time to move on with new guys.

With still financial deep pockets and their willingness to find new solutions and if they got the management right, it should be possible to find substantial increases in performance.

The Raul thing:

Speedweek - the motorsport news outlet ran by Red Bull - had a chat with Pit Beirer about how they dealt with Fernandez. He is for sure insanely talented and i placed him on the Rookie spot for 2022, but he seems to be a spoiled brat. The negotiations for 2022 were a back and forth from staying in Moto2 to demanding a seat on the factory bike. There were his father a lawyer and four managers that negotiated the contracts...well lets's see how this relation works until 2023!

 

 

Sincere praise for your 2nd language! Raul is what could be called a rumpa skitätare. Fully supportive of Orange, the likes of us aren't easy to know what is best there, but wishing them lycka till. Binder is FAST, Oliveira is leaving, and they have ALL the fast youth. Raul is an anus. Same word in English and Austrian!

Viva Orange!

is maybe the correct wording for Raul - at least in Austria, to be a sly guy behaving like a rascal... ;)

Or he is a genuinly nice guy and his management is trying to maximize their profits...