John McPhee has stated his aim for 2018 is to be regularly among the podium places and challenging for race wins as he prepares for his sixth season in the Moto3 class.

Having contested 2017 with the British Talent Team aboard Honda machinery, McPhee has switched to CIP KTM for the new year, and has already recognised the potential of the Austrian machine.

Recent testing outings in Spain have been frustrated by poor weather and minor technical issues, however, meaning McPhee has not enjoyed the necessary track time to get completely comfortable on his new bike.

Nevertheless, the 23-year old travels to Qatar “feeling as strong and as fit as I’ve ever been” after a winter of intense physical preparation, and believes with a good deal more track time behind him, he can be up and fighting at the front of the Moto3 class.

Crash.net spoke to John at the final Moto3 preseason test at Jerez to discuss his new team, new bike, and his hopes and expectations for the year ahead.

Crash.net:
Most of the Moto3 preseason testing has been beset by weather. I imagine that’s fairly frustrating when you’re attempting to adapt to a new team and bike…

John McPhee:
It’s really frustrating because I already know as a rider in the rain I can be really strong. The way the rain’s been it’s either been crazy cold or it’s been windy, so I’ve not even really been able to ride the bike properly in the rain. Today was the first time I made some proper rain laps. But for me it was just more time to get dry track time and trying to understand the bike. I think I’m the only rider that’s never ridden the KTM that’s on a KTM this year. I’m kind of a little bit on the back foot from that side but obviously I’ve got a lot of experience at the tracks and with Moto3 bikes. That’s helping me a lot to adapt and understand the KTM. I’m still just lacking a little bit of track time and needing a few more laps.

Crash.net:
In the past two years you’ve ridden Peugeot (a rebadged Mahindra) and Honda machinery. Have you had to adapt your riding style a lot of the KTM?

John McPhee:
I’m not having to change that much. There are a couple things I’d like to understand a little bit with the KTM and adapt to, but nothing major. Testing is one thing but when you go racing I don’t think there will be much in it. I think we can be just as strong on the KTM.

Crash.net:
Does the rain affected testing mean may need a race or two to get the best out of this package?

John McPhee:
I certainly hope not, but we’ll wait and see how it comes. It’s always hard to say. Valencia, you can’t even really take into consideration, the track time we had there. Around here, it’s the same track and everybody’s had six days now and everybody’s really close. Yesterday for example we were one second off the pace and still really not happy with where we’re at setting-wise and all the rest of it. Come Qatar, I can almost guarantee that we’ll be much closer to the front. How close, I’m not too sure. I’m trying to be optimistic about it and hopefully we’ll be able to fight at the front from the word go.

Crash.net:
What are you looking for setup-wise going to Qatar?

John McPhee:
Just a bit more feeling. At the minute there are a couple of things that aren’t quite working for me with the bike, but some of them are just things that I need to adapt to, just from riding the KTM, definitely. Some things, it’s more about set up issues. There’s nothing major. There’s not one area. It’s just a couple small things here and there. [It could be that I’m] Even not fully understanding it [the bike] yet. Like I say, we’re a second off the pace, and that’s a fast pace as well. It’s faster than they ever go on the race weekend. We’re not miles away, but not quite as close as we like to be.

Crash.net:
Are you settling in with the CIP team?

John McPhee:
There are a couple young guys here, but they’re all real nice. It’s like a family team. Everyone’s learning; I’m learning the bike and they’re learning the bike and all the rest of it. They’ve been with Mahindra before [in 2016 & ‘17]. It’s the first year with KTM for both of us. There’s a bit of work to be done, but we’ll certainly be there.

Crash.net:
What are you aiming for this season? Is it similar to this time a year ago, when you had your sights on podiums and even wins?

John McPhee:
That’s always the target. It’s the same as last year, when I didn’t get that much testing in just because I still wasn’t fit enough after the accident [at Phillip Island, 2016], and the back end of the previous year. We managed to arrive at Qatar and I double podium-ed it. That’s certainly the target again. Last year for at least the first half of the year we were title contenders, so that’s 100% the focus.

Crash.net:
You mentioned coming back from the injury at the beginning of last year. You have had a full winter of preparation this time. Has that made a big difference and what preparation have you been undertaking?

John McPhee:
I’ve been riding a lot of bikes. I’ve been based in Spain, riding motocross, super-moto, dirt track, and all the rest of it on a daily basis. I did a lot of cycling too. Fitness-wise I’m feeling as strong and as fit as I’ve ever been, so that will definitely help when we get to some of the hotter countries. It helps you in general when you have the traveling and you have the heat and the exhaustion from that. Fitness certainly helps when you got a good base at the start of the year. It helps you always throughout the year.

Crash.net:
KTM seem determined to make amends for a disappointing 2017 in Moto3. Are you content with their approach to the new season?

John McPhee:
They’ve been really helpful. They’re always trying to improve. Obviously, they had a lot of work to do coming from last year. From what I’ve heard, the bike is a lot different to last year’s bike. It’s hard to compare because I’ve never ridden it. It feels good and they’re working hard. Even from test to test they brought quite a lot of new things, and again they’re bringing some more stuff to Qatar.

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