Both Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro expressed surprise at the speed of KTM's new RC16 MotoGP racer which made its public debut alongside the current field at the two-day test in Austria that preceded the summer break.
The current Tech 3 Yamaha line up will switch to the Austrian factory team for 2017. Although keen to stress that the 2.6-mile Red Bull Ring is not the greatest test of a machine's capabilities, the bike's pace was, in Smith's words, “ahead of where I thought they were going to be.”
KTM test riders Mika Kallio and Thomas Luthi put the RC16 through its paces during the two days in July. While they placed 17th and 18th from the 18 riders that posted timed laps, Kallio's fastest time was just one second slower than Valentino Rossi, the first non-Ducati mounted rider in the timesheets.
“The bike was definitely ahead of where I thought they were going to be,” said Smith of the new KTM machine, which features WP suspension and a trellis frame.
“Also, being the ever-realist there are only really eight corners here and the rest are straights. Let's wait until we turn up at Austin, which has 22 corners to see how it fares there. Obviously, I'm pleased to see it competitive.
“To see them there, both Mika and Tom, doing a great job sounds promising. I heard some of the numbers through the speed guns so we seem to have done their homework, which at the end of the day is what I signed up for. I'm not shocked by it. I believe that KTM can do it. We just have to see until I sit on the bike.”
Neither Tech 3 Yamaha rider was present at the test but will have the opportunity to see the RC16 make a handful of demonstration laps on Sunday. Not scheduled to test the machine until the post-race test in Valencia in November, Smith explained his goals for that two-day shakedown.
“My expectation is that if I got on the bike in Valencia and was anywhere near the back of the grid in terms of lap time, I'd be happy. If you're two seconds from the last position I'd be worrying. If we are anywhere near the back I'd be pleased."
Espargaro – the recent winner of the Suzuka 8 Hour race – shared his team-mate's pragmatism, but admitted the test has created a certain level of expectation.
“I'm surprised. I'm happy for it. This is not good! When you generate expectation and the expectation is high this is not good,” joked the 25-year old.
“I was really surprised. OK, this track is their playground. They were one second off the Yamahas and 1.7 seconds off the first Ducati. This is unbelievable. It is just one track on the championship. We have to see KTM at Phillip Island, which is a very demanding track on the chassis.
“I'm really happy because even if this is their playground, to be there and less that one second [from the Yamahas] it's incredible. I'm really happy for them. Even when I spoke to them they told me they have some new pieces and the new bike is coming. They said they could improve. I'm looking forward to arriving with the bike in Valencia.”