KTM ended a busy pre-season after three evenings of laps and testing at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar and can now set their sights on the first round of the 2019 MotoGP season at the same track on March 10th. Today Pol Espargaro further improved his pace to classify just half a second away from the fastest lap.
Day three of the second and last IRTA test of the 2019 MotoGP pre-season took place in windy and cool conditions at Losail. The climate permitted around four hours of work and laps as the grid took the final opportunities to try ideas and race set-up adjustments with one eye on the fifteenth Grand Prix of Qatar.
Red Bull KTM’s Pol Espargaro again made qualitative gains with the KTM RC16 and ran consistently among the leaders through the timed period. His 27th lap (of 37 in total) was his best of the test at 1min 54.770 and the former world champion capped a decent month of work by sitting just half a second away from countryman Maverick Viñales. Pol’s lap was also a second faster than his best at the same test twelve months earlier.
Teammate Johann Zarco’s evening was effectively halted by a crash at Turn 2. The Frenchman was one of many riders to slide into the Losail gravel as the temperatures dropped below 20 degrees. Zarco (who finished the session down in 19th) continues his quest to find more corner speed but was also pleased with his ability to post regular lap-times.
Red Bull KTM Tech3’s Miguel Oliveira (20th) was another to go even faster but also fell while Hafizh Syahrin posted 42 laps and tried a race simulation to further acclimatise to the RC16 for what will be just his second term in the premier class of Grand Prix.
Three days in Qatar completed 2019 tests that also included five days at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia earlier this month. In just over a week the KTM teams will be travelling back to Doha and to Losail to launch the 2019 season for the first race of nineteen.
Pol Espargaro: “I’m impressed by the potential of our bike and what we have done here. This is normally a track where we have struggled the last two years but to see us just half a second away is great. We did a good job, a good lap and a good rhythm. The conditions can change for the race but we can take a positive feeling from this test and have a good target for the GP. We still need to work carefully and concentrate on what we are doing. The conditions at the end were tough with the humidity going up and the temperatures dropping. There were a lot of crashes. Anyway, I think we can think big, and we have to do the best we can in the race but also be safe to not lose those first points of the season.”
Johann Zarco: “A bit sad with the crash. It was colder and the Medium tyre was not good enough for me so I could not improve my performance. It was a shame because it was then hard to make another step. Anyway, I got more information and experience and maybe we found a limit, so we need to work more and move that onwards. I’m too slow at the moment – for the final day here anyway – but in consistency I am not too bad and we’ll see where I can be for the race weekend. I’m quite impressed by Pol’s performance today and I’m happy for him.”
Miguel Oliveira: “Today we definitely found harder conditions than the two previous days because of the wind. We started a bit slow in terms of lap time but then I was picking up the pace and riding quite good. Unfortunately, a crash ended the test, but I felt I was coming stronger and also the team made quite a few changes to the bike, with which I was very satisfied.”
Hafizh Syahrin: “I’m very happy to improve my lap time and as well about the work on the last day with the team. We know, that we are still very far, although we were quicker. I started to understand a little bit how to adapt to the bike. We tried a race simulation, which was not really bad, but also not very fast, as we needed to understand the bike. At the same time, I did a race distance for the very first time with the KTM. We need to push harder during the race weekend, this is sure. Let’s see what we can do there.”
Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “I think we did a great job over these six test days in total. It was tough for the riders and also the company to deliver all the parts and suggestions we wanted but everyone was pushing hard and there were not many runs where we used the same bike spec! The last day was about focussing more on race set-up and looking for a good lap-time but Johann still wanted more from our bike so we looked at more ideas. He understands now what he will mix together for the GP. The Tech3 team also did a great job. Losail has not been an easy track for us but we started our project here two years ago and it is really good to see how much closer we are to the fastest lap: before we did not manage anything better than 1.2 or 1.3. It’s still hard for us here and especially for a single fast lap but this shows we made a great improvement. The goal now will be to make better results and to start the season strongly when we come back here.”
Qatar IRTA Test Day Three final times
1. Maverick Viñales (SPA), Yamaha 1:54.208
2. Fabio Quartararo (FRA), Yamaha +0.233
3. Alex Rins (SPA), Suzuki +0.385
4. Marc Marquez (SPA), Honda +0.405
5. Valentino Rossi (ITA), Yamaha +0.443
7. Pol Espargaro (SPA), Red Bull KTM +0.562
19. Johann Zarco (FRA), Red Bull KTM +1.508
20. Miguel Oliveira (POR), Red Bull KTM Tech3 +1.565
23. Hafizh Syarin (MYS), Red Bull KTM Tech3 +2.163