KTM hasn't had much to celebrate on track in MotoGP so far this season, but Pol Espargaro gave the Austrian factory a shot in the arm by setting the third fastest time (+0.043s) in opening practice for the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.

Although he dropped to eleventh in the afternoon, that FP1 time - set while chasing Valentino Rossi - was enough to keep a top ten place on the combined practice timesheets and provisional direct access to Qualifying 2.

"We must be happy for sure, but it was just FP1 and we knew that. I thought that many riders used the same tyre from the beginning to the end, but many riders [also] used the soft tyres," said Espargaro, who finished the day 0.697s from Cal Crutchlow.

"The only problem is that we reached more-or-less the top of our bike very soon. You know, I'm able to do a very fast lap time but then to improve that you need different tools and we are - not on the limit - but reaching the limit of the bike.

"So now it is difficult to improve for us, while [some others] are maybe going to improve by two-seconds from FP1 to qualifying

"But anyway it was really nice. I mean we come from the first three races where in two or three corners we would lose, for example, Valentino and here I was catching him. Both of us with the same tyres. So this feels good."

Espargaro's comments about the limit of his bike were especially interesting given that test rider Mika Kallio, making his first wild-card appearance of the season, was using what was dubbed an early prototype of the 2019 RC16.

"I've not spoken to [Mika] yet. For sure it's something interesting for me," said Espargaro, who liked what he saw.

"I reconfirmed at the test that the [2019] bike was faster. For me it was quite faster and Mika especially with used tyres on a race distance, with low grip, is reconfirming it again.

"I've been behind Mika in first practice and again this afternoon and almost I couldn't follow him. He was turning quite a lot."

Espargaro turning difficulties also explain why he was using first gear at the end of the back straight.

"If we use lower RPM with a higher gear we tend to go out of the line... So we use the engine brake quite a lot to turn the bike and when we pick up the bike we need a fast connection to the throttle to use the rear grip to turn.

"We need this turning and this high RPM with lower gear is helping us."

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Kallio was ranked twelfth (+0.549s) and 14th (+1.047s) in the two Friday sessions,

"Basically I've been testing this kind of [2019] configuration that we have now on the bike a couple of times already when we came here[for private testing]," Kallio said.

"So we had more-or-less an idea on how I should feel on the bike, but this is the best place to confirm everything we did in the last test and now we can see the difference, the data to the other manufacturers.

"Between the KTM bikes, it seems the way we always want to develop the bike is that we need more turning and this is our direction we would like to follow. It seems that we found some good things and the bike is slightly lighter to ride, so this is good, but of course if you gain something you lose somewhere else.

"So in the end you need to think which areas do you really gain the lap time. It doesn't really matter how the rider feels - if you are not comfortable, but the lap time is there that is the most important in the end."

The Finn was more cautious regarding the improvement on old tyres witnessed by Espargaro.

"Yeah, hard to say. I think we'll see this on Sunday when we do the full race distance. Then we can see more the tyre life. Hopefully we improve the feeling and it might be like this, that the tyre lasts longer and that would of course help in the last laps of the race.

"But there is always some question mark [until the race]…. If I'm in front of Pol we can say everything was good!

"Anyway we still have time to find more grip to the rear tyre and if we can do that then I think we can be quite competitive. Anyway I'm quite confident that this weekend for every KTM will be better than the last ones overseas."

But even if the new parts prove an advantage, it may not be possible to fast-track them into use by the factory team for this season.

"Basically it's the same problem for all the manufacturers, that the rules are so strict that you can't really change so many parts during the season. Even if you have something in the pocket, maybe you can't use. That could be a problem."

Either way, Kallio is certainly fired-up for this weekend:

"[The wild-cards] always give me more motivation for the tests. These [grand prix appearances] are always the highlight also for everybody in the test team - the mechanics, data guys, everybody. They really enjoy it for sure."

Espargaro team-mate Bradley Smith was 20th fastest, 1.334s from Crutchlow's LCR Honda.

Johann Zarco, who will partner Espargaro in 2019, was third quickest for Tech3 Yamaha.

How does Kallio think Zarco's style will suit the KTM?

"He has a smooth riding style, but also the Yamaha needs that. So it's hard to see how it will be when he jumps to our bike. Definitely it will be different. He will need to give himself a different style on our bike than the Yamaha.

"But we still have half-a-year to make some steps. Hopefully the bike at that time will be even better than now. 

"Every bike has it's own character and we are still searching a little bit for which way and which is the best solution. So let's see at the end of this season how the bike will be."

Meanwhile, Kallio's own 2019 plans remain undecided.

"Let's say everything is open at the moment. Basically my feelings are still the same as last year. I said many times I would like to come [back] to racing. I still feel I have a lot of energy and things to give for this championship and also now - after this half-year break - we came back here and were not so far from the top ten.

"So that's also proves that the speed is still there and I believe I can still work in a good way in this championship. Hopefully for the future something comes and I can do more races..."

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