Huewen is in Northern Ireland to commentate on this week’s North West 200 road race, where McWilliams, at the age of 59, is competing in the Supersport and Supertwin classes.

But McWilliams is best known for his grand prix exploits, carrying the flag for the UK in the 250cc, 500cc and MotoGP classes from 1993-2004, when he celebrated six podiums, three pole positions and one win.

Alongside his vast racing experience, the Ulsterman also does R&D and brand development work for KTM.

McWilliams was quizzed by Huewen,’s Pete McLaren and podcast host Harry Benjamin on topics such as the Austrian factory’s impressive MotoGP form after a slow winter, the penalty controversy at Jerez, the influence of aerodynamics, plus the floundering fortunes of Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo and Honda’s Marc Marquez.

“At the moment it looks like it’s nearly impossible for Fabio, doesn't it?” McWilliams said. “He's riding the wheels off it and is still able to produce competitive lap times but maybe not as easily in a race situation.

“If you were Fabio’s manager right now, you'd be up knocking on all of the European doors trying to get Fabio the next seat in there. Because that's where he deserves to be.

“Cal's doing a great job [test riding] on the Yamaha. They've got the Yamaha as good as it's been. But unfortunately, the factory isn’t really producing the bike that's is going to be able to fight for a championship in the next couple of years.

“In that scenario, there’s only one thing that a rider can do and that’s start to look for a new position and not stay with the manufacturer because they've been good to them for a number of years.

"You can become a little bit sort of stuck in your ways and maybe you have to step outside your comfort zone and move on to something else.

“It’s the same with Marc Marquez. Until we see Marc Marquez on something else - he is the best thing out there, but everybody's catching up. And riders like Brad Binder at the moment are riding like Marc Marquez. Pecco’s as fast as Marc's ever been, anywhere on anything.

“But wouldn't we love to see Marc Marquez or anything but a Honda right now?

"I think that's the next thing. If we saw Fabio and Marquez on European bikes. Wow! We would be glued to the screen because that would be awesome!”

McWilliams attributes much of the recent gains made by the European factories - Ducati, KTM and Aprilia - to advances in aerodynamics, aided by close links with F1 teams.

“I guess it has to be because all of the Formula One stuff is based in Europe,” he said.

But McWilliams fears that Honda and Yamaha, currently bottom of the constructors’ table despite a shock win for Honda's Alex Rins in COTA, face a tough task in bridging the gap and might even join Suzuki in questioning their presence in the sport.

“Those bikes produce more and more power, there's no way that we could take aero away now. That’s here forever,” McWilliams said. “I think there just has to be a minimum level that teams need to get to and the teams that are going to have to step up are Yamaha and Honda.”

But he warned: “How will they catch up? How is Honda ever going to catch up? It's European manufacturers that are leading the World Championship right now.

“It’s been quite a few years since we didn’t see a Japanese manufacturer at the forefront, but it looks like the Japanese manufacturers are getting left behind because the technology or innovations seem to be happening in Europe.

“I think you could lose two [manufacturers]. I think Honda is going to realise quite quickly that the reason why they've been successful is because of Marc. And once Marc Marquez starts to lose kind of trust in the brand and moves, Honda might not want to hang about, pouring money into a series without a very top rider.

“So there's a chance that you could lose one or two manufacturers over the next couple of years. Which would be a terrible thing, except that the European manufacturers seem to be able to produce more bikes than the Japanese were able to do.”

Quartararo and Marquez are contracted to their respective manufacturers until the end of 2024.

KTM's big aero push

Of the European trio, KTM has been the surprise of the season so far, turning back-of-the-field testing times into races wins and podiums for Brad Binder and new signing Jack Miller, who are currently third and fourth in the world championship.

“There's a number of things that help [with that kind of turnaround],” said McWilliams. “Obviously the test team has been instrumental, particularly Dani Pedrosa, but they can't just produce everything on their own.

“I was at a wind tunnel test with the test team for aero. It’s a pretty simple job. You just sit on a motorcycle in a 180 mile per hour wind tunnel all day with ear plugs in and make sure your elbows don't stick out!

“They we're looking for particular size riders, that can fit perfectly behind and then what they do is they get you to comment on different screens, front nose cone shapes, wings.

“It's quite interesting because you learn quite a lot about the various shapes and sometimes the winglets and wings do have a buffeting effect on the rider. So the reason behind [the wind tunnel work] is obviously to reduce that buffeting. They're monitoring it by watching airflow over the top of the rider, measuring the drag coefficient and then working out what's best.

“Then when I was there, the Red Bull aero team arrived. So they were starting to use those guys from Red Bull [Advanced Technologies] and part of the reason maybe that they're improving so much is because their aero is getting better.

“Another reason is that Jack Miller has come from Ducati and will have brought some Ducati [knowhow] with him. KTM have also been employing some ex-Ducati technicians. And that's how it works.

“KTM have also worked very hard on trying to get that perfect start – as you saw you in Jerez with both Jack and Brad - which is half the battle now.”

Taking a step back, McWilliams also feels the financial support provided by title sponsor Red Bull shouldn’t be overlooked:

“Of course, it’s important to have the right sponsorship in place and right now, I'm sure Red Bull is happier than they've ever been with any team because of what KTM is doing. It always was a match made in heaven. Two Austrian companies side by side. It's been going for many, many years. And it just fits very, very well.”

Looking ahead, McWilliams sees KTM expanding its racing activities even further.

“Hopefully we'll get to see KTM going a little bit more strongly into World Supersport 300 and I think they want to be in 600 Supersport. But that's probably a couple of years down the line.”

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