‘Test was bad’ but Pol feels ‘better with the GASGAS than Honda’

The 2023 MotoGP pre-season hasn’t been a bed of roses for any of the KTM riders, but Pol Espargaro insists he already feels more comfortable on the RC16 than his previous factory Honda.
Pol Espargaro, GASGAS Tech 3 KTM MotoGP Portimao 2023
Pol Espargaro, GASGAS Tech 3 KTM MotoGP Portimao 2023

Already playing catch-up to the likes of Ducati, Aprilia and Yamaha after February’s opening test at Sepang, KTM instead appeared to slip further behind at Portimao.

That means they have little choice but to try new parts - rather than the normal set-up work - during this weekend’s season-opener at the same Portuguese track.

Espargaro led the KTM/GASGAS challenge with 13th in Malaysia and hoped the main components of this year’s machine were locked in place. However, the four RC16s were lodged near the bottom of the timesheets in Portimao.

While an ‘insane’ flying lap from Brad Binder put the South African ninth overall, Jack Miller, Espargaro and rookie team-mate Augusto Fernandez were 17th, 18th and 21st respectively. The quartet also looked outside the top 15 for race pace.

"As you saw in the [Portimao] test, we did not enjoy it as much as we did in Malaysia," Espargaro said. "We were much stronger there but the factory has been working these past days at home to figure out what happened and why here, with this tyre, it is not working as it should.

"It looks like they found some different reasons and some different stuff to try during the race weekend.

"Obviously it is not the best plan to go through the weekend testing parts but we are thankful for that. The test was bad, but the factory was working hard to have some alternatives to play with the bike and that’s nice."

Pol Espargaro , Portimao MotoGP test, 12 March
Pol Espargaro , Portimao MotoGP test, 12 March

Despite their current woes, which Binder describes as a chronic lack of rear grip, Espargaro insists he still feels ‘better with the GASGAS than the Honda’.

"In Honda I had problems that did not allow me to ride as I would like. I had some spots in the year where I could ride good, but overall I feel better with the bike I have now. I feel better with the GASGAS than the Honda.

"I don’t know if I will be fast in the same places I was with the Honda and hopefully faster in others. Obviously chassis-wise I feel much more comfortable with this one and it fits much more to my riding style and my riding characteristics."

Espargaro, also reunited with crew chief Paul Trevathan at Tech3 this year, took just two podiums in two seasons with Honda, compared to five in his final season at Red Bull KTM.

But for now his targets are modest: "Difficult [to predict] because in Malaysia we were not so bad, but here we were… I hope we can be in the top ten consistently."

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