Bradley Smith has taken plenty of confidence from the first official MotoGP test of the year at Sepang, where the Red Bull KTM rider was impressed with the 2017 chassis.
Smith ended the three-day test 1.9 seconds down on pacesetter Maverick Vinales and says it has been a positive start for the factory team, with chassis performance the main focal point for the British rider in Malaysia.
“To be less than two seconds off, that's definitely a good working area and from a chassis point of view; from what I've seen out there on the race track, we're in a good place,” Smith said.
“The long straights [at Sepang] from an engine point of view are hindering us a little bit and we need to continue to work on that, but our reliability is paramount at the moment, so doing laps is critical so we can turn up the speed when we need to. At the moment, working on straight-line speed is not as important as the chassis and I'm really pleased with what we have done with the chassis so far. We've got some things in our pocket [to improve speed] and when the time is right we will introduce it.
“I felt that we made some turning improvements with the bike and both riders, myself and Pol [Espargaro], worked in a quite similar direction. With the same bike, we're doing a similar lap time, which obviously helps with development,” added Smith, who was 21st fastest with a lap in 2m 01.388s compared to Espargaro, who clocked 2m 01.506s as he finished 23rd quickest.
“I think we can take a lot of positives from the work that we have done and to be only 1.9 seconds off the fastest guy here – at Sepang, one of the longest tracks and at our first test of 2017 – I think KTM has done a great job.”
Smith's new role as a fully-fledged factory rider for the first time brings with it an additional workload, but the 26-year-old is already seeing the fruits of his labour.
“It's more complicated [to be a factory rider] and better – I think they go hand-in-hand. The days are longer and that is quite different to what I'm used to. There are a lot of debriefs and talks about data to try and learn and understand,” he said.
“But also, you might spend an hour on a debrief and then the next day you gain a second, so that's the type of thing I've always wondered about, how they do it, so now I have it in my team and that's nice. So far, the information that myself and Pol are giving and the way that the guys are interpreting that is working hand-in-hand and making us faster, so long may that continue.”
Smith tested the third chassis, the 2017 version at Sepang, and will now continue to work with the latest upgrade at the next test at Phillip Island in Australia.
“We got to the third chassis after testing the others back-to-back and for me, the '17 is the way forward and I'm happy with that: I want to continue in that direction, so I don't have to worry about the other two any more. Our plan is to turn up in Phillip Island with the '17 and continue moving forward.
“We had a swinging arm to test as well and more ideas to try, and one in particular was a step in the right direction. I wouldn't say it had more rear grip and for us we are always looking for turning – that's the main thing for us at the moment, to find a bike that can turn in the shortest time possible. We're continuing to work in that direction until we find the limit and that's what we are trying to achieve,” added Smith.
“The bike certainly needs a more physical riding style but I don't feel it is more physical – let's say you can attack it more. You can actually force this bike a little bit more and it responds well and the lap times come. It's just about finding that balance.”