‘We joke about creating an oil for each rider!’

After using a variety of fuels and lubricants in recent years, KTM joined forces with Mobil 1 for the 2023 MotoGP season.

While fuel is shaping up to be a major talking point in MotoGP due to the forthcoming move to non-fossil fuels (40% from 2024, 100% for 2027) KTM’s Heinz Payreder highlighted that “engine performance is driven by oil.”

That’s not just in terms of outright power but, with only seven engine changes allowed over the 20 rounds, limiting the loss of performance as each engine gets ‘older’.

“Now fuel is [a talking point] for everybody, but racing oil is equally or more important. Because engine performance is driven by oil,” said Payreder, Head of Engine Production and Testing at KTM.

“And also the reliability of the engine, in terms of how much power the engine loses in kilometres. These are aspects that are seen by technicians, but many times are not [mentioned].

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“It’s not just about fitting the oil to the engine, but the engine to the oil.

“Normally it's the valve and the piston that are the most stressed parts because of the heat and the speed," but the bearings for the connecting rod are also a high-risk area.

On the level of 'personalisation' involved, Exxon Mobil’s Tomek Young said: “We joke that maybe we could create an oil specifically for one rider versus the other!

“I mean, this is our bread and butter. We put this engine oil together from components in-house. And that oil for KTM is actually quite interesting. We have, for example, a unique component in it which is not used anywhere else. We're bringing it specifically for KTM.

“What advantages can it bring? We look at that oil and we try to understand how the overall composition correlates with engine performance, deposits, losses, and bearing wear. And deposits are so complex, even different parts of the piston. You can assess how deposits develop, the corrosion, power loss.”

During their preliminary discussions with KTM, the Austrian factory made clear what it wanted out of the partnership.

"We know they wouldn't put our oil in their bike if there wasn't an improvement. The sponsorship is not enough. It's never about the money. It's about performance," Young said.

“In the first meeting that we had [the KTM] guys were saying, ‘We'll leave no stone unturned. We're going to look at everything methodically, and in 2024, we go for a championship’."


Non-fossil fuels ‘not plug and play’ but ‘similar performance’

Looking at the incoming next generation of non-fossil MotoGP fuels, Payreder confirmed that some engine set-up changes will be needed but doesn’t expect performance to drop.

“Very, very similar. There’s not a big difference,” he said. “But for the long term, we want to gain [engine performance]. That's always our goal.”

“The timing definitely,” he said of engine modifications to suit the non-fossil fuel. “We will try to use the same combustion chamber but will also test some different specs.

“It will not be plug and play. Because the components [in the fuel] are different, the combustion speed is different. So at the end, as a minimum, we will have to do a new calibration.”

KTM are currently third and eighth in the world championship standings with Brad Binder and Jack Miller respectively. Both have made podium appearances, with Binder also taking two Sprint wins.

VR46 Ducati's Marco Bezzecchi, currently second in the world championship, is the only rider to have 'withdrawn' one of his engines so far this season.

Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli has 'used' four different engines, with the rest of the grid either still alternating between the original two from Portimao or a third.

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