Pol Espargaro says he’s “never felt so ready and never been so close” since joining KTM and has confidence the updated RC16 can be competitive from the off in 2020.

Having been a consistent top 12 challenger throughout last season, the Spaniard has retained that status during the Sepang pre-season test despite it being a track which has seen the Austrian manufacturer suffer at since joining MotoGP.

Espargaro ended the official test in seventh place in the combined best lap standings, just 0.261s off pace-setter Fabio Quartararo, with KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa backing him up by finishing the test inside the top 10.

While Espargaro has often been a star over a single lap, the Spaniard has gained additional joy from KTM’s pace on used tyres after whittling down the brand’s raft of updates tested out over the winter.

Espargaro believes KTM’s updated engine and chassis options have been standout positives allowing him greater feeling and control on the RC16.

“We have never felt so ready and never been so close in one test – these three days – and especially in Malaysia,” Espargaro said. “We have been super-competitive during all day and the bike feels super-good. Honestly, I am very impressed.

“It is important to do good races but it is also important to start the pre-season well because those track are difficult for us and until we arrive to Jerez. I’m happy we have started 2020 like this.

“I’m surprised because this isn’t the easiest track for me but our competitiveness means we can be positive to start the season.

“The bike looks ready. It is not going to explode in Qatar, so we are confident everything is working well.

“We tried the tyre with twenty-three laps and did a 1m 59.7s, which was honestly very good. We then did around 14 or 15 laps and made a 1m 59.3s. Honestly, I am surprised with how it is going.”

Espargaro gave special mention to KTM’s 2020 engine which enabled him to catch the eye on the top speed charts and take the fight to the Ducati riders.

The Spanish rider ended the final day of the Sepang test having produced the joint-fourth highest top speed of 330.2km/h – only bettered by the Ducati GP20-riding trio Jack Miller, Andrea Dovizioso and Francesco Bagnaia.

“This is a circuit where power is important and also acceleration onto the straight. We improved the engine a lot at the Jerez test and we again saw evidence of that here,” he said. “We’re really satisfied and were always among the first five-six and the Ducatis here. That’s really important.

“The engine is very good. We have more horsepower and the electronics are working smoother which allows you to open the throttle earlier in the corners and is important here in Sepang and what we were missing before. Overall it feels very good.”

Espargaro and KTM effectively had double the track time available to them at Sepang due to MotoGP Concession rules, which also apply to Aprilia, with race riders permitted to take part in the earlier three-day Sepang shakedown alongside test riders and MotoGP rookies.

MotoGP returns to action at the Qatar test on February 22-24.

 

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