Pol Espargaro and KTM will start the European leg of the MotoGP season having more than doubled their previous best points haul from the opening three rounds.

The Spaniard has been the top RC16 rider in each event so far courtesy of ascending 12th, 10th and 8th place finishes - most latterly at COTA on Sunday, when Espargaro gave the team its best dry finish after a best-ever qualifying of fifth.

"Pol is riding so well. He got a good starting position and they've also got a good engine, so it was difficult to pass him," said Ducati's Danilo Petrucci.

But while much faster than last season, at one of KTM's worst tracks, Espargaro remained almost 30-seconds from Suzuki race winner Alex Rins.

"This is a realistic position for us: around the top ten. Without the crashes and stuff we would have been 11th but still fighting with the pack and 14-seconds faster than last year," he said.

"I think Johann [13th] struggled here but we were faster than all the KTMs. My crew and all the team worked really hard this weekend in a very tough place for us. We took an unexpected result for us here in Texas.

"We’ll go now to Jerez and a place we have been fast in the past maybe with some small improvements on the bike. I’m looking forward."

Indeed, while team-mate Johann Zarco is pinning his hopes on the new parts due to arrive in May, Espargaro is also "super-excited about what the guys are trying in the factory and the guys working in Austria.

"I’m super-proud when I look at the results from last year or two years ago and what we are able to do now and what we are achieving. It also feels like the people in the paddock are also seeing our work. I have everything I need to keep pushing."

Assessing the current strengths and weaknesses of the only steel-frame, WP suspension machine on the MotoGP grid, Espargaro said:

"The bike is not turning as easily as the others and is a bit heavier: I feel that in my legs and shoulder especially after this race. The bike has other strong points: on the brakes it is very good and can be put into the corner very fast.

"I’m trying to take the strong parts and squeeze them as much as possible to take advantage. I think we have done good.

"The grip was much better than last year and the bike, even though it is hard to do, is turning better than last year. The engine is going faster and smoother with all the electronics working as one.

"It is less physical than last year for sure. It lets you push until the end of the race and you don't need to rest for a couple of laps. Overall the package is much better than last year but we are still missing quite a lot."

Having done better than ever in what were billed as tough opening rounds for KTM, Espargaro cannot wait for his home Spanish Grand Prix, although at least some of the expected new parts are unlikely to be seen until the post-race test.

"Jerez is one the places where I have been fast all my life and I have won in a lot of categories there: 125, Moto2 and very good races in MotoGP as well," he said.

"I just need to feel the bike as it was here and, combined with the upgrades and being together with the fans, family, wife and all the support I think we can do very good.

"I want to put the bike on the track and see how everything is going. But, yeah, I'm quite optimistic."

Espargaro scored two points for 21st in the world championship at this stage in KTM's rookie 2017 season, 8 points for 14th in the standings last year and now has 18 points for ninth this year.

KTM's best MotoGP result to date is a wet podium by Espargaro at Valencia last season, with its best dry result prior to COTA being ninth position.

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