His rider was absent in Thailand through injury, but Paul Trevathan, crew chief to Pol Espargaro, was still on site to navigate stand-in Mika Kallio through the three-day test and attempt to maintain the rapidly-gained momentum that has seen KTM become contenders for MotoGP’s top ten in just over 18 months.

On the final morning of the outing at the Chang International Circuit, Trevathan spoke to Crash.net on a variety of issues, including changes to the 2018 RC16, smoothing out (but maintaining) its character, the added pressure that comes with bettering last season’s results, and the strengths of his rider.

Crash.net:
Speaking to Bradley Smith, his first impressions of the 2018 RC16 at Sepang were that it had sacrificed the bike’s performance on corner entry, one of last year’s strengths, for gains elsewhere Has that been rectified in Thailand?

Paul Trevathan:
Yeah, they [Bradley Smith and Mika Kallio] felt it more than Pol. Pol felt that everything was better. He was in good shape there. He came out and he was fine. I think because we had touched some of the points that he wanted improved, maybe that was his focus then. He was like, ‘Woah! This is better!’ If we had done another day, maybe we would have found it also. It’s just trying to go forward and trying to understand. Here, it looks like we’ve found some of the solutions so this has been good, for sure.

Crash.net:
How is the bike different to what the guys raced at Valencia last year? Has everything slightly evolved?

Paul Trevathan:
Yeah, slightly evolved. We had done so many big steps, and we realised that we are getting quite close. We really needed to understand where we are and then do it in a more normal way, if you like. It’s OK, it’s been good.

Crash.net:
A more normal way, as in smaller steps here and there, rather than giant strides with one part, one component?

Paul Trevathan:
Yes. Just evolutions. Asking, ‘What is the weak point? OK, let’s try that and work in the standard system.

Crash.net:
At the end of last November’s Valencia test, Pol said you had found around 0.4-0.5s per lap. Is that where KTM is at right now in terms of pace?

Paul Trevathan:
I think we didn’t improve the overall lap time. But we improved the consistency. Then when we went to Jerez [at the end of last November] this was also evident there. That was something that we really wanted to work on. Also it was something I wanted Pol to work on as a rider. This is the big thing that we found. I think if you even look at what Bradley is doing here, this is the best that I’ve seen him ride the bike. His consistency here is massively better than what he’s been doing. I guess this is something that we have found and it’s really important.

We quickly got to a point last year where the lap time overall was not so bad, you know when you’re doing the flying lap. But we saw the race distance thing was more difficult for us. Then we found some things at the end of the year, and then after Valencia we found something else. This is really a big point that we have to improve. You also need this in a race. This is something that is a focus of ours.

Crash.net:
Are we talking the last five laps of a race? The last ten laps?

Paul Trevathan:
The whole thing. If you’ve got the confidence that you can be there at the end, then you push better at the beginning. If the whole thing is working better, you’re just in a better place. I think this is the key. Of course, the end of the race is always more difficult. But if you’re in the heat of the battle, you find a way to deal with this. Every rider has to work the problems you get in a race: the grip is always dropping; the fuel load is changing; the balance of the bike is changing. You have to be there. If you have all these problems and you can’t see anyone around you, this is a disaster.

Crash.net:
At one point last year, Bradley said that from a development point of view, some race weekends were almost irrelevant, due to the tyres being so different from track to track.

Paul Trevathan:
It wasn’t just us, you know? The Yamahas and… I think what we had at the end of the year was maybe one of the most consistent packages. We are always in that nine-to-eleven [9th to 11th]. Some days we beat Petrucci or Dovizioso. Some days Maverick was with us. I guess everyone was having their issues.

To be honest at the beginning of the year it was harder. I would say from the Sachsenring onwards we were actually quite consistent. We weren’t great, but we weren’t bad either. We didn’t have those big ups and downs. Bradley maybe had more troubles than Pol in this point. Why we were never really sure. After we went overseas [to the flyaway’s] he really improved a lot. Of course the bike was improving, and we found something that ticked the box for him and he could be more consistent.

I mean, the tyre thing, yeah. It’s unbelievable. Some days you go with exactly the same spec and it’s like, ‘What the hell?’ If there’s one point that Michelin could improve on, it’s the consistency of the tyre. For example, you get five in a weekend and one of them just won’t work. By not working, it’s that big a step down the bike is just completely different. We don’t understand. This we had like everyone else. This they can work on, in my opinion.

Crash.net:
From your point of view, is it a big help that Michelin isn’t going to change the profile of the front tyre this year?

Paul Trevathan:
100 percent. That changes your basic bike set-up massively, you know? Like the bike balance, the rider’s feeling, it’s a big one. For the rider to adapt to that during the season is really, really tricky as well. I think this will make things a lot better for everybody.

Crash.net:
After the second day of testing in Thailand, Bradley said he feels the first race or two may be about re-establishing where you finished (the top twelve) at the end of 2017. Do you feel the same?

Paul Trevathan:
It’s difficult. What we see in this class at the moment is phenomenal. It’s like a Moto3 class at the moment. The big thing in testing is you get three days to make a lap time. Everyone can pull out a lap time in three days. You have to look deeper and go into the pace of things, stuff like that, and what the race pace is. The boys are good, but everyone’s good. We have to see. Our target is to be top ten from the start. I’m not saying top five. Around the top ten is absolutely our target and we’ll do our best to be there. It’ll be a fight. I’m not scared of an extra GP16, let’s put it that way. But that’s not the point. We need to do the best job at every race. Again, during three days it’s easy to find the setting. In 45-minute sessions, it ain’t easy, especially if you have a tyre thing going on. It’s so easy to get confused. If you start badly, to get out of that hole is bloody tough. This is something that I really like with Pol. His attitude after a bad session or a good session is really good. He doesn’t go down. This, I really respect.

Crash.net:
Have you seen Pol grow and improve as a rider during his time with KTM under your guidance?

Paul Trevathan:
I’m not sure whether it’s due to my guidance! He’s been fundamental to the project. Again, it’s his attitude and the way he went about it. He knew we were going to be in a bad situation at the beginning. But this guy just fought for us. Knowing him now after speaking more and more, he never wanted to lose that ability to push. He said if you settle, to get that back again is really tough. He said to his mind, ‘Go out and do everything that you can.’ That helped us immensely. It helped the attitude in the garage. It helped everything. I think he’s improved and we’re going to see him improve again. He wants to learn and get better. He doesn’t think he’s a ‘tenth place guy.’ We have to give him the tools and to keep that motivation.

I think one of the key points was the Jerez race. We brought the new engine and he crashed in the race. The only thing he was so disappointed about was that he couldn’t show the guys the good job they had done. He came in and said, ‘I could have brought it home in this place, I should have done. I’m so sorry.’ That’s the character of the guy. He’s a latin. He’s going to have his emotions but to be honest he’s super easy to deal with. It’s really good.

Crash.net:
Around this time last year Pol christened the bike ‘The Bull’. He said it was a bit of a wild ride and needed to be handled aggressively. Even though major parts have fundamentally changed, does it still have that same character?

Paul Trevathan:
It’s definitely smoothed out but it’s still that character. The more you give it, the more it’ll take. I think you look at a project and think, ‘What type of bike do I want to build?’ At the end of the day, it’s the DNA of the company, the guys that put it all together and it comes out as this thing. To change that is super tough. I’m pretty sure there is a Honda guy that wants the Honda to be a Yamaha. There’s a Yamaha guy that wants the Yamaha to be a Honda. I’m sure the engineers have tried everything that they could, but in the end you have your DNA. It is that type of bike. It’s not a bull anymore. It’s maybe a cow! This is something that suits Pol’s personality and how he wants to ride the bike. He wants to go out and push, and he gets something back from it. So I don’t think we’ve really changed that so much. This is a good thing.

Crash.net:
In many respects last year was a learning year, and you exceeded a lot of expectations. Is it fair to say there is more pressure on everyone in 2018 to deliver results and continue that rapid progression?

Paul Trevathan:
100 percent. Of course. This is it. Now I feel we’re the same as everyone else. Now I feel we’ve got our benchmark and we’ve got to beat that, like everyone wants to do. 100 percent there is more pressure.

Crash.net:
Are you expecting further changes to the bike before the first race?

Paul Trevathan:
I mean, losing Pol for the test has hurt us in that respect. I mean, here, the way Bradley has worked and Mika, we’ve really found a solution to some things, and both guys have the same comments. I think this will help us get there. We’ll have to go to Doha [in Qatar] and check some things. Then we can see. We’ve got ideas. The thing will always keep changing, for sure. Radically? No. But we want to keep working; we don’t want to slow down. We still have to catch up and these other guys don’t slow down. In all fairness we have to work twice as hard.

Crash.net:
Last year you had a free reign to change your aerodynamics when you wanted. Just to confirm, this year you must homologate an aerodynamic package at Qatar, like the other manufacturers?

Paul Trevathan:
Yes, that has stopped. It’s exactly the same rules as everyone else.

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