Before bidding farewell to KTM after four years and six podiums aboard the RC16, Pol Espargaro was interviewed by the official KTM channel at Valencia and spoke at length about his best moments with the Austrian bike, from his first encounter to the final race weekend at Portimao.
A sort of official farewell gift for a manufacturer that really allowed him to feel like part of a project, something he didn’t experience in Yamaha Tech3 in previous years.
“The bike was brand new, but it had great character”
Pol begins his lengthy interview by recalling how it felt to arrive and embark on the KTM programme: “Before coming to KTM I was racing for another manufacturer but I didn’t feel part of the project. I saw rivals with factory bikes achieving good results, reaching the podium and having fun while I didn’t feel comfortable, didn’t feel I was doing anything special. After three years, I felt I hadn’t learned a lot and when I heard about the KTM opportunity, I thought it was time to write history with a factory bike. I’d always followed KTM since I was a kid, using their bikes on the dirt track and I thought KTM would be able to fight in MotoGP as it had in other classes. When I heard that Bradley Smith was negotiating, I called my manager to tell him that I wanted to be there too, to be part of that project.”
Pol also talks about his first impressions of the bike: “When I tested the bike for the first time at Valencia, it was brand new. The fairings and shape of the bike weren’t definitive. Getting on it and completing those first laps, I immediately identified some problems, but what struck me was the bike’s character. I adapted my riding style to the bike and over these four years, it’s worked, and by pushing further and taking risks we’ve seen the times tumble. The bike had its issues but the guys in the garage were happy.”
“The Valencia podium in 2018 was incredible”
The younger Espargarò brother recalls key moments of the 2018 season, with its highs and lows: “The 2018 season saw us score results like setting fast laps during qualifying, sticking with a rival for more than two laps… Little things. We felt that the results were coming, the bike was better tuned and people were looking at us in a new light compared to 2017. But then I got a bad injury that saw me miss several races and I didn’t know if I’d be back. With everyone’s support I returned and we rounded out the season with the podium at a wet Valencia. An unthinkable result in only my second year on a factory bike”.
“In 2019 - continues Polyccio - people were getting more nervous about the results we were achieving. In Misano for example, we finished just a few seconds from the leaders with a bike that still had a trellis frame and WP suspension, a different concept to everyone else. The Japanese and Italian technicians would come to have a look when we switched the bike on in the garage, but they couldn’t copy anything as our project was unique. We started to see the light, on equal terms with our rivals”.
“The 2020 season has been crazy in every way”
The Spaniard also covers 2020. “We didn’t know if we’d race or not”, he admits, in reference to this year’s championship. “2020 has been crazy in every way, a whirlwind of emotions. We thought we might be able to score podiums, win some races or set pole but no one truly believed it because we’d never done it. Brno was an incredible weekend, on Saturday we had the pace to win the race. At first, I didn’t want to push, but I saw how fast Brad was and so I thought we might be able to do it. Unfortunately, I was taken out of the race by another rider, but my team-mate won. I was angry and happy at the same time”.
“Then came Austria – adds the Spaniard – and we fought for the win again there. I transformed my anger about Brno into motivation for the Austrian race, which I could have won. I lost two races that I could have won while my two team-mates managed it. Only Stefan Pierer believed that we could achieve four podiums and two pole positions, while the rest of the team didn't”.
“The best result is the 2020 season overall”
Polyccio admits that his greatest result came this year, precisely because no one knew whether the season would even run. “Everything we’ve achieved this year is the best result. In four years, we’ve gone from being last to being the guys bothering everyone else”.
“I came to KTM as a boy – he concludes – but I leave a man. I didn’t even know how to program the electronics when I arrived, but thanks to the technicians and engineers at the factory and on track, I’ve been able to grow and learn so much about electronics. Now I’m ready for any adventure”.
Translated by Heather Watson