KTM MotoGP Tech Director Sebastian Risse Interview, Part 1: On Progress, And Building A Bike For Different Riding Styles

KTM came into MotoGP with big ambitions. At the presentation of their MotoGP project at their home Grand Prix in Austria in 2016, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer was clear: "For sure we will face a learning curve when we go into a segment but we will reach the podium and the dream of my life is to be world champion in MotoGP." The learning curve has been steep indeed, but in two-and-a-half seasons, the KTM RC16 has gone from the back of the grid to closing in on the top five.

Is that fast enough for KTM? At Silverstone, I spoke to Sebastian Risse, KTM's MotoGP Technical Director, about the progress of the project and the lessons learned along the way. He was open about the toughness of the challenge, the highs and lows along the way, and the development trajectory of the bike.

The interview covered a lot of ground, including the benefits of having four riders in stead of two, the role played by Dani Pedrosa, and the process by which the feedback from riders is turned into a MotoGP machine.

The interview is in two parts. To kick off the first part of the interview, I wanted to get an old question out of the way which has been discussed many times. Would KTM be sticking with a steel trellis frame and WP suspension?

Sebastian Risse: Basically this is something outstanding, something different compared to our competitors. Historically we have a lot of experience with steel frames. Every class we conquered as KTM. Basically we finally conquered with the steel frame. So we learned how to use it for various very different applications, how to achieve different targets. We don’t see any point at the moment where we restrict ourselves in using it. In the other hand, we want to use it as our strong point because we know how to handle this material. We have the process. We are quick in making, modifying, updating. We would also give up on this if we would start something with a different material.

Q: Yeah, because you’d have to start from scratch again?

SR: Exactly. From scratch or work more close with suppliers. Things become more complicated. You have really everything next door. It’s a great structure that we have built up and we want to use that structure.

Q: Two and a half years, are you where you thought you would be?

SR: Of course, expectations always need to be adjusted depending on the situation. What the other guys are doing, how much they have gone forward, and they are going forward very quick in this class - it’s something that you don’t see as much from outside as you realize when you are competing there. Because you bring the same bike, and three races later this is not enough. You notice that you have to really make quite quick progress even to stand still in terms of results. So from this point of view I think in the beginning it was hard to really make an expectation for a longer time - one, two, three years. It was much easier to understand, okay, now we are here and in three months we will have these updates and hope with that we can achieve this.

This happened to a great extent in the first year. In the second year, we had our dark moments. That’s clear. I don’t want to blame this on any outside situation. Of course it was difficult with injuries from Pol, with the injury for Mika, with the situation we had from these wildcard also that creates that kind of tension more easily. It was a learning process. We decided it this way. Injuries can also always happen. We have learned from it. It still can happen but the chance is now a little bit lower. Luckily we had a very constant and healthy season up to now with our riders, and I think this also made a big step comparing to last year. So the results are not just due to the technical progress, but of course you also need the bike to get a result, especially when it’s normal conditions. There’s no magic.

Actually we wanted to do a quite big step during the last year which was delayed due to this circumstance. Finally we could just take this package racing in the overseas races, that was then quite a step forward. First you didn’t see it in the results, because we were a little bit unlucky here. Conditions are difficult there, and at the overseas races, this is still something where you see I think even more than on the European tracks, when you’re perfectly set and you don’t need to worry about anything else except for understanding the tires and the conditions, this makes a bigger difference than when you go to a track where you have been testing recently and maybe you know the tire allocation already and you have time to tune the bike. But we internally saw quite clear the step already there. Then okay, Valencia race was an outstanding example with wet conditions. I didn’t take this too much as a general trend.

Q: It’s nice, but it’s not a real indication of where the bike is?

SR: Exactly, yes. It shows what it can do, but not what it will do.

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