“This year’s bike was the first time since the start of the project that we started with a clean piece of paper and the guys did a fantastic job,” says KTM’s Paul Trevathan, crew chief to Pol Espargaró, who was on course to join Binder on the Brno podium until his collision with Johann Zarco. “The concept of how we put the new bike together has been one of the big things this year, and every department has delivered and got things better.
“Even last year Pol said there wasn’t one thing really missing. We just needed to get everything a bit better. The new bike is a combination of a new engine, with more power, better electronics; plus WP suspension have made a step, we learned things with the carbon swingarm and everything is lighter.
“The biggest improvement for this year is purely the step we’ve taken with the new chassis concept. All of a sudden that brought us into a whole new working range. For the rider the biggest thing was that the bike turned better. We still had the same strong points, plus we’d found good turning and race-distance consistency with the rear tyre. Whether the tyre consistency is purely because the bike turns better, so the rider can use the rear tyre in a better way, or it’s something else is still up for debate.”
Binder’s RC16 with all-new chassis during preseason testing at Sepang
KTM worked itself through innumerable different frame configurations during 2017, 2018 and 2019, with riders sometimes trying two or three different specs in one race weekend. And at last May’s French GP the team introduced a carbon-fibre swingarm. No one knows exactly how many iterations were used, but each spec is designated with a letter and KTM ran through the entire alphabet, with some letters going through two or three additional versions. However, KTM never gave up faith with steel.
“It wasn’t so much about the material, it was more about trying to learn what roadracing needed,” Trevathan continues. “KTM always stuck by steel chassis in motocross, while everyone else when to aluminium, but they kept dominating there too. So steel isn’t something we were ever scared of because we understand the structure of how it works and so on. It was just a case of, ‘What does MGP need?’ I think the MGP project gave the race department the chance to learn. That was always the company philosophy.
“If you remember, Ducati won their only title with a steel frame. For us to go away from steel would’ve been more dangerous than trying to get the best out of what we already know. Going to aluminium would’ve been an even harder learning project.
“A lot of thought and a lot of different ideas went into how we do this kind of thing. 3D printing has been another beautiful thing we’ve worked with – it’s helped us a lot, because we can move things around in different ways that you could never do before.”
The RC16’s strongest point has always been its front end, which gives awesome braking and initial corner-entry performance, something that Binder showcased on Sunday.
“That front end has been something that’s always been there – it was like that from the beginning. When Pol first got on the bike he was amazed by the front end and the stopping power. It’s something we’ve managed to keep even when we’ve changed various things. Dani [Pedrosa, KTM’s chief test rider] hasn’t always thought we need to be that good in the front, so he’s always trying to make a bike that’s a very rounded package, but Pol always wanted to keep the front-end advantage. The problem is that you have to pass and you have to defend. When we struggled in other areas the only way we could do that was by being strong in the front.
“It could be something in the concept, or how KTM put it all together, or the welds, or the structure of that part of the bike, but I think it’s just the DNA of the bike. Also we worked very hard on the front with WP suspension. Having them in-house at KTM is great because we can push them to work in a really quick way.”
Last year’s KTM RC16, with steel trellis frame
The KTM’s engine is a 90-degree V4, the same layout used by Ducati, Honda and Aprilia. It’s also been through numerous iterations since 2017, most importantly the switch to reverse-rotating crankshaft and big-bang firing order during 2018.
“We understood we needed to make the heart of the motorcycle better to make life easier for the electronics,” Trevathan explains. “Kurt [Trieb, KTM engine designer who also created the company’s original MotoGP V4 in 2005] and all the guys have done a fantastic job on the engine, with a constant gain in horsepower and rideability.”
KTM has also made huge progress with its use of MotoGP’s spec Magneti Marelli electronics, without hiring former Magneti staff, as most other factories have done.
“We stumbled across a couple of geniuses at the beginning and those guys are super hard-working. They got the thing together for us, they’ve taught themselves and they’ve learned by themselves. We’ve had another couple of people come in bringing new ideas and just being openminded and not scared to try stuff.
“Electronics are a massive part of the project. The main guy we got at the beginning was Dan Goodwin, from McLaren, and then we got Jenny Anderson, who also came from cars. Those two were the backbone of getting the bike up and running and Luca Faso has been the brainpower behind the strategies.”
KTM’s first victory makes it the 17th manufacturer to win a premier class race, after (in order of success) Honda, Yamaha, MV Agusta, Suzuki, Ducati, Gilera, Norton, AJS, Cagiva, Matchless, Moto Guzzi, Kawasaki, Jawa-CZ, Konig, Linto and Sanvenero. It also completed a full house of victories, after wins in 125s, 250s, Moto3 and Moto2, as well as just about everything in the off-road world, from Supercross to the Dakar.
Also significant, the win brings KTM to the brink of losing the concessions that allow it to do more testing and use more engines than the established manufacturers.
Sunday was also a great day for KTM-owned WP suspension, which won its first premier-class victory. This was the first non-Öhlins win since Dani Petrosa won the 2009 Valencia GP with Showa.
New Michelin has changed MotoGP’s balance of power
Michelin’s new rear slick isn’t working for Dovizioso and Miller
You have to feel for Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati. Over the past three years the only thing that stopped them winning the MotoGP title was Marc Márquez. And now that Márquez is out of the equation (barring miracles) their hopes are being ruined by a rear tyre that’s got them in a spin.
At the same time Yamaha is back in the game. Over three races its YZR-M1 has used Michelin’s 2020 rear slick better than any other of the bikes, either through luck or judgement. Yamaha has had six riders on the podium on three Sundays, the first time the company has managed that since the days of Bridgestone tyres. No doubt about it, the new Michelin has changed MotoGP’s balance of power in MotoGP.
The new rear slick – with softer construction which gives a bigger contact patch for more grip – was designed to make everyone faster, but as is often the case with spec rubber the tyre seems to favour some bikes more than others. Perhaps the previous rear slick favoured the V4s over the inline-fours, but we just never looked at it like that?
More rear grip isn’t necessarily a good thing, because the previous rear slick already over-powered Michelin’s front slick, so the 2020 rear exacerbates that problem.