After a sterling start to life in the Moto2 class, Crash.net sat down with Jens Hainbach, the vice president of WP Factory Racing by KTM, before the European season kicked off to discuss how they hit the ground running with the new KTM chassis, hopes for the season ahead and the possibility of increasing their presence in the intermediate category in future seasons.

Crash.net:
Was the move into the Moto2 class something WP and KTM have wanted to do for some time?

Jens Hainbach:
Actually, I'm not 100 percent sure when it all started because I joined the company in July last year, so that was even before I entered this project. But for sure the idea was there before, and it was always something that Mr [Stefan] Pierer [KTM CEO] didn't like, when we made some development with a rider in Moto3 and they were gone. As soon as the MotoGP was started, then there was the idea of, 'Oh, OK, how do we get the riders from Moto3 into MotoGP?' Or even before, from the Rookies Cup to MotoGP? And not losing them on the way up from some other company, some other brand. Then it was pretty clear that we also needed to enter into Moto2 to have a full line up of teams and the riders can follow us from the Rookies Cup into MotoGP. This would be the ideal situation.

Crash.net:
Have you been surprised at how competitive this new chassis has been in such a short space of time?

Jens Hainbach:
For sure, it was quite a surprise to be up there so fast, but the development team in the factory, and also now with Aki Ajo's team, they did a fantastic job. We were hoping for this. No one was really saying it out loud but we are really happy that we achieved our first pole position and our first podium finish so early in the season. It puts a lot of pressure on everybody to continue this, for sure, but we are ready to take that on.

Crash.net:
WP has experience supplying suspension parts to the Moto2 class. Did this give you an overall idea of what was needed to be competitive when putting together your own chassis?

Jens Hainbach:
Maybe not from this experience, but for sure from the Moto3 experience and the general development that was already done at KTM with this technology. But it's so much different from the aluminium frame. We couldn't use the data that was there from the teams before so, this didn't help. Overall, it was a good experience.

Crash.net:
Did the chassis change much from the end of the 2016 season to the beginning of this?

Jens Hainbach:
For sure, the biggest steps were done last season when we were testing with Ricky [Cardus] and also Julian Simon. Also, when Johann Zarco tested the bike [at Aragon, after the race there] we got some feedback there. So from Christmas until now the changes were more or less fine-tuning, and setting up the bike for the new riders. There were no big steps from there.

Crash.net:
How useful was Johann's feedback? I assume having a two-time world champion's judgement must have been a big help.

Jens Hainbach:
That's why we did that test with him after the race in Aragon. We were quite surprised and very happy that he jumped on the bike and was immediately faster than he was in the warm-up the day before on his current bike [Kalex]. So, he gave us some very good feedback. Also, he confirmed the good test results we had before.

Crash.net:
You are in a unique situation in that you're using a steel chassis. Can you tell us about the advantages of using this material?

Jens Hainbach:
First of all, the production is a lot more easy and a more fast than you need to invest in an aluminium frame. For us, it's more easy to make more changes and make some adjustments. If a rider says, 'OK, the bike feels too stiff or too soft, or whatever' then we are pretty fast at making some modifications. For sure this is one of the biggest advantages compared to the other technology. Also, within the KTM structure we have a lot of experience with the steel frames. This was a helpful tool to know about all the material, all of the geometry issues and that stuff. For us, this is the only way to go. We don't have any other options because this is KTM. We make the best out of it.

Crash.net:
It's almost part of the company's philosophy.

Jens Hainbach:
Yes. This is also very unique, that the company has its philosophy and we stick to it no matter what. But, it's kind of easy, but also a kind of difficult situation. As soon as you run into some issues. For the moment we are very happy with this.

Crash.net:
You mentioned running into some issues. What are the disadvantages of this frame? Or what problems do you encounter that you perhaps wouldn't with an aluminium frame?

Jens Hainbach:
I don't know! We haven't tried an aluminium frame. I don't know, we cannot judge this situation. Also, we don't have the option. For us, this is the way to go and we have to handle all of the issues that are coming up. So far, we could solve all of them.

Crash.net:
Do you foresee the current chassis receiving many changes throughout the year? Do you expect each one to be fairly subtle?

Jens Hainbach:
OK, as soon you reach a pole position and a podium finish, you are pretty close to what is possible. I think there will be no big steps coming. The basic set-up should be done. For sure, we always try to improve. We always have some ideas and we will do some tests in the near future to see if we can make another step. For sure, the steps will not be as big as they were last year in the summer or when this project was started.

Crash.net:
Do you find that the information you collect with this chassis in Moto2 is transferrable to tweaks or what is needed in Moto3 or even MotoGP?

Jens Hainbach:
Yes, for sure. OK, it's all scaled upwards but some ideas that work there can also work in other classes as well. For sure, it is very important to have the connection between the different projects.

Crash.net:
And you can grow your database of information.

Jens Hainbach:
Yes. Also, if you run into some issues, you can always check back, 'Hey, maybe we had the same issue a few years back with this project and now we are facing that. Maybe we can try in this direction'. It may not solve the issue there but at least you have some idea of where to go.

Crash.net:
As WP was involved as a suspension supplier to the Moto2 class in recent years, was there any opposition from Kalex when it learned you would be building your own chassis?

Jens Hainbach:
The technology is so different, and the behaviour of the material, the construction is so different. So this would not help too much. For sure, the competitors are not too happy to have some transfer of ideas or data but that's part of the game.

Crash.net:
Looking toward 2018, is it likely that we'll see more KTM chassis on the Moto2 grid?

Jens Hainbach:
For sure, one day we will see more KTMs on the grid, because the pressure on the teams and the requests from the teams, they already started. We already got some requests. We have to be ready and we have to make sure that we can supply the support to the teams. Also, that the bike is on a stable level so we can support all the teams on an equal basis. As soon as we are ready for that, we are open to bringing in more KTMs.
Crash.net:
Could that be next year?

Jens Hainbach:
It's a bit too early too say. We are just starting the project now and, OK, everybody is quite optimistic with the results so far. Everybody will say, 'You are more than ready to go'. But it's also the structure behind all that, it has to be built up and ready to handle all of this. This might take some time.

Crash.net:
Listening to the comments of your riders, what does this chassis do particularly well?

Jens Hainbach:
It looks like it's giving quite good feedback to the riders. They understand what it is doing and it gives them a lot of confidence. This was right from the beginning. That was also pretty helpful for us and it was pretty good to hear that. That's one of the most important things for a rider; to understand what the bike is doing and how it will react; telling the rider where the limit is. This is one of the strong points this chassis is offering.

Crash.net:
Have you found it is quite adaptable?

Jens Hainbach:
I think this is something we need to find out during the season. In testing and development, we tried to go to some different tracks for sure, but not a whole season of different tracks. This is something we will see. So far, it seems to be very universal. It's working on quite different tracks. But we'll see what it will look like for the whole year.

Crash.net:
Had you set a target for this year, your first in the Moto2 class?

Jens Hainbach:
I think first of all it was something like the top ten or the top five. But after the results so far, I'm hoping for a win this season. To challenge for the title, I think, we'll wait for next year. As I said, we are not really sure how the bike will handle during all the races. We need to gather some data to be fully prepared. You have to come to the track and be prepared with the set-up. Up until now, we are not prepared for every track. But this situation will be different for next year.

By Neil Morrison

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