It was a case of so close, yet so far for Pol Espargaro and KTM in the season-opening Qatar MotoGP.

The Spaniard began his third year as an RC16 rider 12.774s from victory, by far KTM's best Losail performance, but it was only good enough for twelfth place.

"Mixed feelings, but we must be happy because the gap to first place is not so far. We were close… but we also finished twelfth," Espargaro said.

"It feels like it’s good, but also that it’s not enough.

"When you are close to the top guys you start to look what is going on and thinking about where we lose what is such a small gap per lap. I think we are losing it in some acceleration and it’s painful."

Espargaro had qualified as the top KTM in 16th, narrowly holding off Tech3 rookie Miguel Oliveira, who was ahead of Espargaro for the opening half of the grand prix.

"I made a mistake, went wide and Miguel overtook me - he made an amazing race in the beginning," Espargaro said. "It was good to see how he was riding because he was doing well but also burning the tyre and I had the tyre in my hand.

"I felt I could get two-three tenths more than him but then I knew the last five laps would be very tough to finish the race. So I preferred to stay behind and then push in the last laps to catch my brother.

"But it was impossible. It was a race to think about the tyre and to survive when it was spinning a lot. We tried, but I think we have to be a bit better with acceleration and in taking care of the tyre at the end."

There was also an unexpected and painful downside to running so close to the leaders in the opening stages.

"The first laps we were like a snake. Everyone together: it was nice but at the same time not good they were throwing some amazing stones to the guys behind! I was hit by a thousand stones every single braking and especially here it is quite painful.

"But to see those guys not going away was really nice."

While Espargaro wished he could have fought harder in the final laps, team management took comfort from the fact that the best KTM hadn't been closer than 30-seconds from victory in two previous Qatar appearances.

"When we first came here we were thirty seconds from the race winner and we have to be realistic," said team manager Mike Leitner. "This was never an easy track for us but in the middle of the race we were only 5-6 seconds away and this is very motivating for everybody in the team to keep pushing."

KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer added: "I’m happy. All four guys were back in the garage healthy and being just 12 seconds from the winner means just half a second a lap.

"We had doubts and struggles all weekend at this track and some critical questions but 0.5 is still not too far and I know we can still improve and it will bring us right into the middle of a serious game."

Espargaro's new team-mate Johann Zarco also passed Oliveira on his way to 15th, with the rookie in 17th and Hafizh Syahrin 20th and a distant last.



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