KTM Technical Director Onroad Sebastian Risse on the Development of the KTM RC16 MotoGP Bike

Sebastian Risse is the man behind the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike which was presented on Saturday at the Red Bull Ring. An automotive engineer by training, Risse has been with KTM since 2008. He started out as a crew chief and chassis analyst on KTM's now defunct RC8 Superbike project. When KTM returned to Grand Prix racing in 2012, Risse took charge of the Moto3 project, which has gone on to be the benchmark in the class.

Risse is currently head of all of KTM's roadracing activities, and has overseen and led development of the RC16 MotoGP bike. That machine has both interesting parallels and major differences with the other machines on the MotoGP grid: the bike uses a 1000cc 90° V4 engine housed in a tubular steel trellis frame, and a fairing that looks like an oversize version of the Moto3 bike's, and sits somewhere between the Honda RC213V and Kalex Moto2 designs. The bike will also use WP suspension, though as WP is a wholly owned subsidiary of KTM, it will basically be a dedicated factory suspension effort.

After the KTM RC16 was presented, we spoke to Sebastian Risse about the differences and design choices which went into the bike.

MotoMatters.com: Did you ever consider using aluminum beam frame?

Sebastian Risse: Already in past projects, like Moto3, of course we were considering it. There we also had the experience from 125 and 250. So it was a decision which was really well thought through. We even had some aluminum frames running, but in the end, it was a conscious decision. We know more about the steel frame, we didn't find any disadvantages, we knew our strong points and can use them, and we know also what to work on to reach the similar level to aluminum.

MM: No theoretical disadvantages or weight disadvantages?

SR: For example, the material damping is not the same between aluminum and steel, between those two and carbon fiber, between very different materials, and it's something you need to handle. To say in general, there is an advantage or a disadvantage in weight, this is really hard to say, because the whole bike package depends on this. For example, with a steel frame, it is easier to get the heat away from some areas, where aluminum is closing everything up. So maybe you can save some heat shields and so on. So there are really secondary aspects you can put together.

MM: It's not just about the frame, it's about the whole of the bike as a package?

SR: Exactly, yes. It has to work together. For example, from Moto3, we know we are very weight efficient with respect to the stiffness, and it's for sure not a disadvantage with the steel frame.

MM: Firing order: big bang or screamer?

SR: We are still doing some investigations about this. Especially now with the electronics, there's not just the mechanical firing order, there's more about it, and you can play a lot with it. We will see what we decide at the very end.

MM: Aim is to run without a balance shaft, that also implies certain things for the engine configuration and firing order, or else you have to compensate?

SR: This is true, yes.

MM: Is the aim to be the most powerful bike on the grid?

SR: No. Of course, when you are an engine guy, you always dream of this, and that's clear for everybody. But also to have a good understanding of what the total package has to deliver. Sure, in the beginning, let's say in the first season, we will not be always there. Will have brighter moments and more difficult moments, and then to have a strong engine is for sure not bad. But we know about the total balance, and we see that the strongest bike is not winning the championship for some time now, and this of course has to make everybody think. Basically, you see on some race tracks that 5% of the time, you have all throttle bodies full open, so how much can you gain? You can pass people, but you can't make the lap time with engine power.

MM: Which area still needs the most work on this bike?

SR: Basically, now looking back, it becomes more clear that there were really phases in the project. For example, in the beginning, you have to make the rider feel comfortable, so work on the ergonomics before they can tell you more about the stiffness and the setting. Then of course you have to get the best out of the setting, out of what you have. And then things like turning, handling of the bike, it's a continuous development process.

And also it was very helpful now to see where the others are. Because when you're testing on your own, this becomes more and more blurred, and you dream of something that is out of the normal. But we know now quite well what is normal, what the others are doing, that basically everybody has similar boundaries in some aspects, and now we will improve the aspects that on the one hand we are maybe missing against the others, and on the other hand, the areas where we see we are strong and where know how to do it, of course we can go further. We don't have to make the bike which is in no aspect worse than the others, but we can use our strengths.

MM: Did winglet ban affect you and your plans?

SR: To look into downforce in general is something which I think since 10 or 15 years people were doing. Already in the 1950s, 1960s you saw even on them. But now whenever you go in the wind tunnel or you do simulations, you look at these aspects also, even if there are no winglets on the bike. The rule for next year is there will be no wings, how this wording will be exactly and how people can work with it, we will see. But basically, the rules are the rules, and we try to get the best out of the package inside of the rules, and that means we are looking at the downforce like we always did in conventional ways.

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But a little too short! 

How I wish there was more technical discussion for us engineers out there. Nature of the sport I guess; you can't just go out and talk about your technical developments. 

I think the KTM effort gives hope that we could be entering a phase where new entrants could appear. I'm still waiting for that British World Beater which was promised in the sixties!

"For example, with a steel frame, it is easier to get the heat away from some areas, where aluminum is closing everything up. So maybe you can save some heat shields and so on."

Awesome insights. Thanks for this great piece.

I'm so excited for KTM to come into the championship. Given their work in Moto3 My hope is that they are going to be competitive in a season or two. I love how they are going with their own suspension and frame design because (as David has mentioned many times) it's something totally new for the grid. No one wants to risk doing anything different because well the fastest way to get competitive is to copy what you know works. I mean it totally makes sense to me and i cant blame them. But my hope is that KTM will start shaking up the conventional thinking. If they do perhaps teams will start. Who knows maybe this could be the beginning of some wacky and cool stuff. Maybe even some one will experiment with that crazy motoinno suspension.