Having looked longingly across the KTM garage as test rider Mika Kallio gave the '2019 prototype' it's grand prix debut at Jerez, Pol Espargaro was all smiles after getting back on the machine during the Monday test.

The Spaniard was already adamant the new bike was a big step forward but, like team-mate Bradley Smith, has been racing the current RC16 while further data was gathered and a production schedule put into place for the new parts.

The main change with the new machine is the engine.

KTM won't confirm exactly what has been modified - and unlike the 'big bang' switch of a year ago, there is no obvious sound difference - but the hot rumour is that the new design has a counter-rotating crankshaft…

But some say the change to a counter-rotating crankshaft was already made for the original 2018 engine.

Either way, the Austrian factory now looks to have joined the other machines on the grid in having an engine that rotates in the opposite direction to the forward motion of the wheels.

This has the effect of 'pulling' the front wheel downwards, helping reduce wheelies. It's also less physical, as the gyro effect of the wheels is opposed by the engine.

The downside is a slight reduction in outright engine performance, due to an extra output cog, and a potential reduction in rear-wheel traction due to less weight being planted on the back wheel under acceleration.

Whether the improvement from the new engine is counter-rotation itself, or an associated development, Espargaro hailed it as the 'last big step' for KTM's MotoGP project.

"It was one-second nicer!" he grinned, when asked if the new bike 'was nice'. "We've been much faster. Yesterday we were around '40.3-'40.4 and today, with a race distance tyre, we did a '39.4.

"What we are missing with our bike now is turning and this bike is turning double or triple [as well]. Maybe we lose in other places, but overall it's much faster.

The downsides are: "A little bit [less] grip when the bike is straight, but this is the kind of thing we can improve by settings. Chassis, swingarms or whatever.

"But in turning I think we’ve reached a point with the old bike now that we couldn’t improve. So it feels good to find a new way like this."

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Espargaro was ranked twelfth on the test timesheets, 0.954s from the best lap time of future KTM team-mate Johann Zarco (Tech3 Yamaha).

But it was race pace that Espargaro was interested in - having crossed the finish line one place behind Kallio and the new bike in the grand prix.

"We were not putting a lot of tyres and for sure the lap time is not what we can do. We were working on the rhythm because yesterday this was the weakest part," said Espargaro, eleventh in the race.

"My last lap was '39.4, so it means one-second faster than my fastest lap in the race. So it's crazy. Just crazy! It was equal conditions in the afternoon with the wind and we didn't even put a soft or even a medium tyre at the end to do a lap."

Unsurprisingly Espargaro wants to race the new engine as soon as possible, but understands the work involved.

"I cannot ask more to KTM. I mean they are working huge and for sure they are sad because we cannot use [the engine] now. But everything needs time and needs steps. We are jumping steps so quick and so big. I can’t complain. It’s good to know the way to be much faster and that we have it.

"It's a big change. I know in the future there are not going to be much bigger steps than this one. This I think is going to be the last big step we are going to do and then this bike will need some time to set-up as we need, but I think the future is very nice and interesting."

Espargaro confirmed that the new engine is as significant as the 'big-bang' switch and, like that modification, makes the bike less physical to ride.

"The bike is turning more [easily] and everything that the bike does [itself], you don't need to do. If the bike helps you, you don’t need to force it.

"At the moment we are forcing the bike so much in the entry to the corners to try to make the corner shorter, turn a little bit faster and open the throttle a little bit earlier.

"Now the new bike does it by herself. So everything is more simple and easy. For sure you can feel [it's less physical] on your body."

Earlier in the weekend, Espargaro stated that the new engine may be ready for the race team at their home Red Bull Ring round, in August.

"The problem is not how many engines, but the time to produce these engines," Espargaro had said. "It is not like I can have these engines and Bradley doesn't; we each need to have them. The engine Mika is using is handmade and they need to be built. The engine is now rolling and it needs more laps. It needs time."

Smith, 13th in the grand prix, was the fastest KTM at the test in eleventh place.

The Englishman, leaving the team at the end of this season, is due to ride the new bike tomorrow, when KTM remain at Jerez for a private test.

KTM - like Suzuki and Aprilia - is not subject to the in-season freeze on engine development freeze.

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