Interview: Mika Kallio On The KTM MotoGP RC16 - "The Bike Is Already In Good Shape"

There is a lot to look forward to in MotoGP during the next couple of seasons. New tires, and new spec electronics for 2016, and for 2017, the arrival of a new manufacturer, with KTM due to join the show. The arrival of KTM has generated much excitement, the Austrian factory having succeeded beyond everyone's expectations in every racing class they have entered, with the exception of MotoGP. This time, they have taken the development of the bike completely in-house, a powerful V4 engine being housed in a trellis frame, the company's trademark in racing.

The bike has already made its debut on track, with Alex Hofmann having given the bike a shakedown test at the Red Bull Ring in Austria in October. A few weeks later, the bike got its first proper test in the hands of newly signed test rider Mika Kallio, the man who was Moto2 runner up in 2014.

Kallio was present in Barcelona for the Superprestigio event, where he had been scheduled to race. However, a crash on Friday morning saw the Finnish rider break his leg, and meant he could not actually participate in the event. Kallio was present, however, and got the chance to talk to him about the state of the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike, his first impressions of the machine, and his hopes and expectations for testing in 2016, and racing in 2017.

First, though, we asked Kallio about the crash which ruled him out of the Superprestigio:

Mika Kallio: We had a bit of bad luck yesterday. We went to practice mainly to try to improve the starts. I crashed on the first corner, but nothing happened. That's usual, the speed is quite low in this type of race track, so you just slide on the side of the track. Then I tried to pick my bike up, and one guy behind me crashed after me. I didn't see it, because I was looking at my bike, and he slid right into my leg, and my leg was between his bike and my bike, and it got crushed.

KTM Testing? Will this affect your testing? When was your next test planned for?

I hope that we can do another operation already Monday (14th December). So I believe it will be OK for the next test. The first one next year will be in February, around the middle of February, in Europe. I think we go to Jerez and then Valencia. The first ones are in Spain. Basically, we are testing more in Europe, but there are also some plans to go to Malaysia, for example, to test in different conditions.

The bike isn't ready to be testing along with the other MotoGP bikes?

The bike already now is in quite good shape. I did just one day in Valencia, but the feeling is quite good. We were a little bit surprised that everything worked so well, there were no technical problems, and that was the main thing to check. To make a lot of laps and to see that the engine is working and there were no problems. That was the really positive thing. Of course, there is a lot of things to do, especially on the electronics, but also on the chassis and suspension side. Basically, the bike has just been built now on the computer and they put all the parts together, and we went to see how it was. Now we need to concentrate, first of all to make the electronics work, and then after that the chassis.

You're using the spec electronics?

Yes. But still, even if the standard electronics are let's say much easier to understand than the electronics that the factory riders were using last year, it's easier to understand, but still, this is the main thing where you need to concentrate. Now all the engines have so much power, so you need to find a way to use the power and get the power to the rear tire. This is important for sure.

Strong and weak points of the bike? The engine is quite powerful already?

It seems so. Of course, we don't really have a reference at the moment, with none of the other guys at Valencia. But it seems that the engine is powerful, and also how the power comes, it's quite smooth. I really like it, how the engine is. But like I said, we still need to adapt the electronics for the engine, and this is the difficult part always.

For me there were not really any weak points, but if I need to say something, what we need to improve is mainly how the front is working, the front part of the frame, this is something that it seems we need to do some modification there.

Like always when you build up the bike from zero and you go out for the first time, for sure you always feel some area you need to improve, to have a better feeling. And it seems that with that bike it was the front end, to have more information from the front tire on corner entry. But these are the basic things.

Was the feeling from the front more from the Michelins or in the bike?

For us at the moment, everything is quite complicated, because we don't have any kind of reference with the other tires or the other type of bike or other parts. This was just the base we started with. So we need to work much more to understand where the problems come, or if I have some problems on the front, whether it is the tire, we don't know exactly where it is coming from. We were just out for one day this time. We need more time, but for me, the tires are OK. I felt quite good with the tires, this is not the real problem. Just what the Michelin has to find a solution for is that I believe with my experience, the problem they have on the front is coming from the rear. The rear has a lot of grip there and in some places, the front couldn't handle the pushing from the rear. So the balance is not exactly correct at the moment. But I believe they will find a solution for that.

You only ever used Bridgestones when you were in MotoGP?

Yes, but I did some testing for Michelin two years ago and also this year, when they developed the tires for MotoGP.

Have they made a big step since then?

I would say they did a step, but you know, when I was testing the tires, I used a Honda Superbike, so it is a different story using a Superbike to a MotoGP bike. It's a big difference. You can't feel all the same things you can on a MotoGP.

Your own objective is to be racing for KTM in 2017 when they join MotoGP?

Absolutely. That's my wish. I hope that I can demonstrate to the KTM guys that I'm a good rider. Now I have one year to show them.

It's easy to lose the sharpness when you are not racing, what will you do to maintain your speed? Will you be racing somewhere?

This is the big question! Of course we are quite busy with the testing schedule and everything, but it seems that if I would like to race something, KTM would let me do it. So I'm free to go racing. And also on the other side, it would be good to do something. One year without competition is never really good. So let's see. I have already some offers to do some races, but first of all I need to see the real testing schedule, and after that, I need to see how much time I have to go racing.

The only other championships KTM race in as a factory are all off road...

Yes, that's true, but even if I ride a bike from another manufacturer, they will let me go racing. It's also good for them, to keep me in better shape.

So you have a lot of work to do...

Yes, it seems that way. I thought that a year without real competition and just testing, I would have a little bit more time to stay at home, but it seems that maybe I will be even more busy! Let's see.

I think that how we started with the bike now, and how it will be after one season before we enter the races, the bike will be completely different. Step by step it's getting better.

But it's a good base to start from?

Yes, for me, I was surprised and really satisfied with the level that they are. KTM are really serious with this project.

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KTM back at the crease. A racing company that must want to put right their last disastrous foray into MotoGP, I remember Shakey Byrne parking the smoking machine in front of our grandstand at Jerez in 2005, the feeling then was that, at this level, KTM were out of their depth, especially financially as Pit Bierer did eventually concede. I did think it would bolster KR's effort, a fast engine needing development allied to one hell of a chassis-building outfit but again finances weren't available.
I'm not getting too exited but with 2016 promising to be so unpredictable and hopefully being enjoyable for that and maybe Aprilia progressing we'll then have what should surely be a potent Austrian bike joining the party in 2017.

'The future's bright, the future's orange' !

All we need now is the return of Moto Guzzi....

When was KTM ever in the motogp class? Didn't shakey race a KR Proton in '05!? Unless Proton was a "re-badged" KTM......

Re this KTM happy to see a trellis frame back on the grid as a welcome formula change from the rest. Byrne was clear in 2005 that he was underwhelmed by that bike he was on btw. What a coup it was for KJ to score Honda 5cyl monsters for their creation. Who made that frame for them? Any personnel from the KR team still about racing paddocks these days?

I don't see Kallio back in the big show, as strong a 600 rider as he may be. A young eager "about to blossom" rider seems more likely. And then a more seasoned current GP rider. While I doubt seeing him on either the KTM or Aprilia a hope for me would be a DP26 on anything but a Honda that silly season. KTM would do well to grab a Vinales equivalent. There are a few that would fill the boots.

Speaking of Vinales, Aoki just had good things to say about the all new Suzuki. He was more happy with his first taste of a seamless gearbox than anything else. That must feel really good - not long ago I got my first quick shifter and even that subtle change offers a tighter continuity of feel and confidence. No wonder he was smiling. He did not however say ANYTHING about the amount of power of the new engine. Hopefully that is just "yet..." please Suzuki, get a Yamaha - like bump in the grunt dept! I am Buddhist, but perhaps for Christmas? With Honda getting lots wrong, the Gigi Ducati making great gains including with the new electronics, Yamaha getting lots right, the demise of the CRT, AND three new manufacturers how can we not already be content with what is under the tree? Just 20 more usable HP please. And Iannone's shoulder. And...

Wait, does that red package right there say "from #27" ?

Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery. That sounds like a nasty injury, and so unlucky. He has a huge talent and I hope we see him in MGP on a decent bike. He and Bradl (or Smith perhaps) could be a strong team (although RB may finance someone like Iannone, who must be on a number of target lists - shoulder permitting).

My understanding was that KTM was not planning to race as a factory in 2017. Rather, they were going to try and sell their bike to teams as customer bikes. Is that still the plan or are they planning to enter as a factory? (I've been out of the loop for a couple of weeks so maybe I've missed something in that regard)