After a promising start to the season, Pit Beirer, Director of KTM’s Motorsport activities admitted he was “under pressure” at Jerez. Despite the company’s imminent success in the American Supercross series, aspects of its grand prix programme were not progressing as hoped.

Crash.net caught up with the German after qualifying at Jerez to discuss the season to date, Johann Zarco’s early struggles, his hopes for addressing a disappointing start to the Moto2 championship, and when new test rider Dani Pedrosa is likely to return from injury.

Crash.net:
How would you assess KTM’s progress in 2019?

Pit Beirer:
Overall, looking back to America things were actually pretty good. We had a 1-2-3 in Moto3. Finally it was a really nice success, proving that we have a tough competitor there but we can still win races and it’s like a head-to-head race. Also we improved incredibly from last year to this in the MotoGP class, especially in America, which was a very difficult track for us. But we’ve struggled in Moto2. We tried some little things and brought a lot of hope to Jerez, but now we had some fantastic laps in the MotoGP class. But in qualifying Pol was really not happy with his tyre and he could not make the lap time he wanted. So the result was not super good. But that’s why I said that. In Moto3 we are fighting for wins. In MotoGP we are much closer to the front than we have been before so we are still in the right way. But I would say we are under pressure definitely in Moto2. This is just a complete disaster for us, what’s going on. There is no good excuse for this situation.

Crash.net:
You mentioned you have been closer to the front in MotoGP and quicker than last year. Has one aspect of the bike taken a step forward?

Pit Beirer:
No. You always discuss the same elements. Even at every test people are asking, ‘What are you testing?’ At every test we test electronics, chassis, swingarm, engine and suspension. It’s always a mix from these things. In good moments I would say [look at] FP3. We are 0.5s from the top guy. Or we were 0.4s [slower than pole position] in qualifying in America. We still need to fight for tenths in the electronics side, tenths in the engine, tenths in the chassis, tenths in the suspension. Then I’m sure the rider will give us a lot of tenths because all of this will give him a lot of confidence. So there is not one segment now where I say, ‘We are completely off here or there.’ I think the package is already at a great standard if you look back to lap times that Marc Marquez did on some tracks last year we can do this year. So it means we are still running behind these top teams, but not too far. And that’s what we did. All the segments that I told you, they have changed from last year, but not upside down - just here and there.

Crash.net:
So this is the difficult part: you need to find small improvements from all areas, rather than one obvious area…

Pit Beirer:
There is also that one thing, if you touch it and you fail you go one second slower. The risk to lose a second is almost bigger than winning that one tenth. On that level you must be very careful. You produce and test quite a lot of parts before you make the next step. Even if the results are not looking that great, to be 0.5s off Marc Marquez on that Honda right now, I mean that’s a level that is really difficult to catch. I’m proud of my staff, my boys and the engineers. I’m sure we’re going to make some more small steps and then I’m sure we’ll be discussing some different results.

Crash.net:
You were a little critical of Pol at times during 2018. What are your impressions of his current performances?

Pit Beirer:
Yes, I am really sure he didn’t honestly tell us how bad his injuries were so I think last year he was just not – heath wise – that strong to do proper training and prepare. On the other side he still had a difficult bike to handle; I know that. But then, of course, sometimes I was getting a little bit tired of getting the feeling, ‘We can improve only if the bike is improving.’ Sometimes the rider can add something! There was a bit of a misunderstanding how it was meant. But yes, I can repeat, at the end of last season there were times when maybe I was asking a little bit too much from Pol because we could give him some small improvements and he is adding a lot from himself now. This brings us in a really great position in this tough MotoGP class. And if you look at his data, his riding style and his performance, we could not ask for a better rider in the project that Pol. He never stopped believing in the project. So he’s a really strong ‘leg’ in the project at this time.

Crash.net:
Were you expecting more from Johann Zarco at this stage?

Pit Beirer:
Yes. I mean, there are many things you can discuss [in terms of] why and what. But at the end of the day we expected for sure an easier move, for himself and us. So there we struggle and we are absolutely not happy about this situation. But this is also proving something that we stand for at KTM: with the first difficult wind we don’t give up. I feel responsible for Johann to give him the right tools, to perform better. Then I will ask him, from his side, to push at the maximum because sometimes it looks like we are lost. But we will get there and we will prove that we took the right rider. And I will prove to him that he chose the right company.

Crash.net:
In Texas Johann said he had got to the limit of the bike he was riding there. To go faster he needed some mechanical changes. Is that a fair assessment? How much does the bike need to change for Johann?

Pit Beirer:
He’s correct if he just continues to ride the bike like he rode his previous bike. It’s a different bike. We must both do a step now. He must somehow use the advantage of the bike, because the bike also has some advantages, otherwise it’s not possible what Pol is doing. So he must really use them. The bike has some weaknesses and we must improve the weakness. If you bring it down to the logical thing, we know the job. We need to help each other now. He cannot stick to a pure riding style that he wants to use. But we also cannot tell him, ‘This is your bike – your team-mate is going fast so please go on.’ We will move in his direction as quick as we can, because it’s also not in our long-term interests that a top rider must change his riding style for us. This made us successful in all the other disciplines around the world, that we actually gave the riders the tools they needed to perform. This is now in an urgent situation, but like I said, he is ready to do the steps and we are also ready to help him. We need to turn this around in the first part of the season.

Crash.net:
So that’s the timeframe that you have set for Johann to turn things around?

Pit Beirer:
Yes, the first half let’s say.

Crash.net:
There are some new faces on the side of Johann’s garage. I guess it takes time for everything to gel…

Pit Beirer:
Yeah, of course. I mean that doesn’t help. You have a new project with a new bike and then also new people who have to learn the bike before they can give a strong opinion to the rider. Not very helpful, but the crew was chosen together with Johann already last year and it’s a set-up I really believe in. I’m not jealous about the position of Johann’s crew chief. For sure Marcus [Eschenbacher – Zarco’s crew chief] is doing the maximum with the tools he has at the moment. Johann is asking for something from his crew chief that he cannot deliver. We need to work clearly on the bike to give it to him. I told you at the beginning of the interview that, yes, we are under pressure.

Crash.net:
You already mentioned that the current results in the Moto2 class are well below what expected. What has caused the issues there?

Pit Beirer:
The guy who was leading our project in Moto2 was clearly in some way to try and keep the same riding and chassis feeling as the previous engine, and transferred it also to the new one. The direction failed. We cannot just try to keep the same mounting and riding points that we had with the previous engine. With all the set-up tools that we have, we cannot get the bike right. It means we really need to go home and bring a completely new chassis. There is no question about this.

It was too based on previous years and this is a new generation of bike with new torque, different handling, engine weight, turning mass in different places. So you cannot just take over what you had before and be open for new developments. That’s where we, for sure, took the wrong direction.

Crash.net:
When are we likely to see this new chassis?

Pit Beirer:
It will not take long. We are pushing hard to bring something really radical for Le Mans.

Crash.net:
One big signing from last year has yet to make an appearance for KTM in 2019. When will Dani Pedrosa be fit enough to return in his new role as test rider?

Pit Beirer:
You see, I’m under pressure! I only get difficult questions this weekend! I could be in the US enjoying fighting for a Supercross title but I’m here, answering all these questions. First of all I’m really happy that Dani is here with us. He’s definitely a big help to the team without riding with all his knowledge, experience and things he’s telling us. Soon we’re going to see the first parts of this relationship which he asked for. But I think it will take him another couple of weeks. It’s even planned that at the end of this month he will be on the bike. I think it’s now really the last three or four weeks before we see him back on the bike.

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