Subscriber Interview: Mike Leitner, Part 2 - On Bradley Smith, MotoGP As The Champions League, And Signing A Top Rider

KTM's MotoGP project has made remarkably rapid progress in the short period since it started. All three of the Austrian factory's riders – factory men Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, and test rider Mika Kallio – have already scored top ten finishes, and the gap to the leading bikes has been cut from three seconds a lap to three quarters of a second.

I sat down with KTM team manager Mike Leitner to discuss the progress. In the first part of the interview, published yesterday, Leitner talked about the technical concepts behind the machine, why the steel trellis frame is here to stay, and the advantage of using suspension supplied by WP, the company owned by Red Bull. Leitner also talked about just how important a role Mika Kallio has played in the development of the bike.

In the second half of the interview, Leitner discusses the issues Bradley Smith has faced in adapting to the bike, and how KTM has been trying to address them. He also talks about the long-term future of the project, and whether KTM will be going after a top-level rider like Marc Márquez, with all of the top riders being out of contract at the end of 2018.

Q: I wanted to ask about the difference between Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. Pol is totally adapted to the bike. Bradley seems to struggle a lot more. Do you have an explanation for why that is?

ML: Bradley, to be fair, when Bradley came to us last year in Valencia, his physical condition was very bad after his knee thing, so he was working very hard all the winter in Austria to rebuild himself. This surely cost him energy for the first races. Bradley was not fit in the beginning of the season. He was more struggling to get adapted to our package. For Pol, it looks like there was a moment he understood suddenly, okay, this is not the Yamaha anymore, or whatever. I have to adapt to this bike like it is. Then he started suddenly moving, going fast.

Q: Pol used to complain about the Yamaha all the time because he couldn’t ride it the way that he wanted to.

ML: Exactly. They are two different riders of course, but the good thing is with such a new project like we are, to have two so different characters and riders, how they want use the bike… The things that Bradley could not adapt to in the same way like Pol, that helped us on our technical development also, because we try to help him. In the end, we helped Bradley in some points, but this was helping also Pol.

Q: So, you’re not following one particular direction?

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the difference in professionalism is heartening.

BS is not doing as well as he should be, everyone knows this, but ML is a good manager and great team leader. I hope the obvious confidence ML has in the team around him, the brand he represents and even in his own abilities rubs off on Bradley... as a confident Smith is all that is required to bring him back up fighting with Pol and Mika, with each bringing a different dynamic to the bikes onward and definitely upward trajectory.

So that they end up with a good all round package, rather than something niche, suitable for a too specific style.

Thanks for a great read David. Yourself and Mat Oxley bring the best insights to MotoGP.

The more I think to it , the more I think Dani si THE rider KTM should sign next year.

Leitner was Dani's Crew chief a few years ago, Common Redbull Sponsoring, Point and squirt Bike AND rider, Dani's Huge Experience as a top rider and as a developper. Bringing KTM to the top would be a fantastic project for the best Rider who never won a Championship.

And on top of that, it would be a delight for us to follow this challenge.  :)  

I know Zarco has some strong relationship with KTM as well and JZ5 and KTM have convergent goals (Fighting for the championship asap) . Would be an option as well but I don't know if JZ5 riding style and KTM bike's nature could mesh together.  And I don't know if Redbull would be interested by a french Rider. 

My bet is on those two riders :) 

According to Beirer, RC16 appeared 2 years too late for Zarco. Beirer is viewing the next generation. 

"..We also had very close contact with Maverick Viñales after the Moto3 title win 2013. And afterwards we also had contact with Zarco. But you have to understand both drivers that they could not get involved in the first MotoGP year on our adventure. You would rather have a stable situation. For these two riders we are just two years too late in the MotoGP class. My focus now is on the next Maverick Viñales and on the next Johann Zarco."

and I too would like to see it but my gut tells me that Dani will retire as a Honda rider. When was the last time he raced on a different marque?