The announcement that KTM would be building a bike to compete in MotoGP was met with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism. The addition of another manufacturer to the grid was a cause for celebration, especially one with such a stellar record in other disciplines. The question was, with MotoGP technology at such an already high level, would KTM be able to competitive quickly enough before the board loses interest? And would KTM's insistence on a steel trellis frame mean it could be competitive, when everyone else had moved on to an aluminium beam frame?
With 14 races in the books, the answer to those questions appears to be yes. Before the race at Aragon, Mika Kallio, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith had already scored a string of top 10 finishes. In the race at the Motorland Aragon circuit, Espargaro finished 10th and Kallio 11th, the Spaniard finishing 14 seconds behind the winner. The bike is making remarkable progress.
On Thursday evening at Aragon, before Sunday's outstanding results, I spoke to KTM MotoGP team manager Mike Leitner, about the progress the team has made. In the first part of this two-part interview, the Austrian team boss talks about the technical choices the team has made, how the project has lived up to expectations, and the role test rider Mika Kallio has played in the factory's success. In the second part, to be published later this week, Leitner talks about the difference between Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, and what the future holds for KTM.
Q: First of all, to me it seems like there’s been much more progress this year than maybe we had any right to expect because it’s taken other factories much longer to get up to speed?
ML: This is clear. If you would ask me last year, where do I see us in this stage of the season, I would not think that we are able to really sometimes fight for top ten position.
Q: The KTM looks like it’s basically capable of around ninth, tenth, eleventh. That’s where it is right now. You would not expect it to be so far forward
ML: First of all, the good thing is I don’t expect things in general, because racing will show you anyway. You can expect changes and they don’t happen so you can do nothing about it. You don’t expect things, and then they happen, also you are happy about it. This is clear. We are very happy.
But okay, we are quite different in our concept to other bike manufacturers. For me it was a big question mark how we can improve the frame, how we will work with the suspension. But to be fair, we did really good logical steps and the riders felt the steps. And we did this in a good way I think.
Q: Could you talk about the different concepts? Obviously you have the steel trellis frame. Does that make development easier, faster? Is it easier to change or is it just KTM?
ML: No, this is KTM, this is the KTM way. There was never a question mark behind this decision because this was a must, a must to make the bike this way. The DNA of KTM is tube frame. That’s it. We use it in all our racing activities and we use it in production bikes. This was clear from the boss [Stefan Pierer]. So, if we go racing, we go with our bikes, not copy the other bikes.
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