Pol Espargaro fears Red Bull KTM’s charge at the Japanese MotoGP is restrained by the cooler conditions compared to its rivals as poor weather takes hold at Motegi.

After Japan was hit by Typhoon Hagibis last weekend, killing 72 people and leaving thousands homeless, heavy rain is forecast to return on Saturday (19th October) in the Motegi region.

While the weather is not expected to force any changes to the MotoGP schedule, as last week Formula 1 saw FP3 cancelled and qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix delayed until Sunday morning at Suzuka plus a handful of Rugby World Cup games were called off by the typhoon, the cold conditions and rain have given all MotoGP teams extra preparation ahead of qualifying.

Espargaro says in the cold track temperatures KTM is struggling to generate enough heat in the Michelin slick compounds which is causing him to spin his rear tyre under acceleration – a problem stretched by the Motegi circuit layout.

“It was more complicated than we expected,” Espargaro explained. “Last year it was tricky because it took time to heat the tyres and the compounds were harder than we thought. This year they are softer but the temperature is much lower than last year.

“We couldn’t get enough heat into them to combat temperatures of five to six degrees [cooler] and I have a lot of problems braking into the turn and we are losing a bit of acceleration because of wheelspin.

“There are a lot of slow corners here so if you have good traction then it helps, otherwise you are losing a lot of time at the end of the lap. We have to work hard tomorrow to make an improvement.

“It is hard to get the grip, on the rear especially. I feel it is spinning and not holding the bike.”

But with rain expected to hit Motegi through the final practice sessions and qualifying, Espargaro concedes its solutions might be scuppered by conditions as he will need to switch to Michelin’s wet tyre compounds.

Espargaro missed out on a provisional Q2 spot down in 13th place at the end of FP2 and with rain likely to wreck any hopes of improving lap times in FP3 the Spanish rider will head into Q1.

“We have some good ideas for tomorrow, if it is not raining, because it looks like a lot is coming,” he said. “Sunday should be a bit warmer, which should help us. I think it will be a difficult weekend ahead.”

Espargaro’s factory KTM team-mate Mika Kallio suffered his own frustrations during Friday practice at Motegi after ending the day 22nd and only faster than Hafizh Syahrin on the Tech3 KTM.

“In the afternoon, and I don’t know why, I could not match the lap-time I did in the morning,” he said. “Somehow I struggled a lot to get the same feeling and to stop the bike. It is a big question mark and I’m quite angry about it.

“We need to investigate and see what we need to change on the bike and also with my riding, tomorrow seems to be different weather and it could turn around everything.

“It will be a completely new day with a different setup and tyres, so we have to be ready for that. In Aragon and Thailand I felt really good with the wet setup, so I’m quite happy that the weather will change and we’ll have a chance for tomorrow.”

 

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