Ducati designers are not the only ones targeting an improvement in turning ability for their 2018 MotoGP prototype.

KTM has also been working feverishly to raise cornering quality on the new RC16.

The verdict after the opening test at Sepang was that chassis changes have definitely helped... The bad news is they’ve lost out in other areas.

Factory test rider Mika Kallio was on track in Malaysia for both the private and official tests, where he also took on Pol Espargaro's schedule after the Spaniard was injured on day two.

"Unfortunately, Pol couldn't ride. But on the other side that was good because I could take his bike and had a clearer comparison between the old bike and the new bike, what are the differences," Kallio explained.

The Finn - who spent two seasons as a MotoGP rider, either side of title challenges in the 250cc and Moto2 categories - didn’t sugar-coat the fact that KTM riders were only 17th,18th and 19th on the timesheet, behind at least one bike from every other manufacturer.

"Basically if you see our level of lap time for all three riders - Pol, Bradley and me were really close on lap times - it is one and half seconds from the top," Kallio said.

"I'm not satisfied with that. We should be able to be faster.

"The reason why we are not is too early to say, but we could see some things on the new bike that are maybe not on the same level as the old bike."

Kallio explained: "Most of the time last year, I guess all our riders were looking for more turning for the bike. This was the biggest issue that we were struggling with and the direction where we would like to go [for 2018] - to have more turning.

"It seems we found something for this with the new chassis. It's a little bit lighter for riding, a little bit less physical. So it's a good direction, but [now] we are missing something also.

"It's quite normal that when you gain something, but you lose somewhere else.

"So there were positive and negative things. Now we need to sort out the negative points and, if we can do that, we'll be better at the next tests."

The most illuminating moment came when Kallio took advantage of a chance track encounter with Honda's reigning world champion Marc Marquez.

Could you clearly see where the KTM is missing compared to the Honda?

"It was quite clear, but I don’t like to say [what]!" Kallio replied.

"Sometimes it's good to be able to follow someone. We didn't really look for that, but sometimes when you go on the track you find some guys and I found Marc.

"Of course, I used that opportunity to see how he is riding, how his bike is behaving and which is the place where we are losing or where we are gaining.

"It was, I would say, really important laps for me to understand more 'this is definitely the weak point of our bike'. It was really clear for me, but I don't like to say exactly what [is it]!"

Kallio's final day of testing was complicated by two falls, the same number as he suffered throughout all of 2017.

"The morning was a disaster for me because I crashed twice and this is not usual for me. I think last year in total I crashed two or three times. So now I made in one day the same number!" he said.

"It was a little bit weird. Basically I lost the front. The first crash was in the first corner and the last one was in last corner! Both are similar kind of corners: Hard braking, going down to second gear and then suddenly I locked the front in the last part of braking.

"This kind of thing can happen, but why it happened is not completely clear. We need to analyse everything really carefully and see how we can improve that area."

Could it be a consequence of the changes made to improve the turning of the bike?

"Might be. Everything is related for all those things. If you change something, doesn't matter if it is the setting for the front forks or rear suspension, you change the balance of the bike. You find something, but you lose in other points.

"It's always a compromise and you need to find the best compromise.

"At the moment we are going in the direction we are looking for about the turning, but yes we are still missing something. So that why like I said the gap to the front is too big at the moment. So we need to definitely improve."

Kallio will attend the second pre-season test in Thailand from February 16-18, where he will be on standby in case Espargaro has any lingering issues from his ankle injuries and also provide some trackside analysis.

"I will go, but for now the plan is that I don’t make any laps," he said.

"I will be like a 'spare rider' and also I would like to the race track. It will be important anyway for me to see how our guys and the other guys are riding and how the different bikes behave around the track.

"I will be standing somewhere close to the corners, so maybe I can get some info for the team…"

KTM is pushing to continue the momentum from an impressive debut MotoGP season, in which they progressed from being outside the points at round one to scoring seven top-ten finishes and beating Aprilia in the constructors' championship.

A year ago, KTM left Sepang with Espargaro and Smith 21st and 22nd fastest, on exactly the same lap time, 1.970s from the top.


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