Courtesy of KTM Racing
The Red Bull KTM pitbox at Le Mans was full of smiles and high-fives after Pol Espargaro took the KTM RC16 to 6th place at round five of MotoGP and the best dry weather result for the crew in their third year in the premier class. Teammate Johann Zarco managed 13th, equalling his highest classification so far, at his home Grand Prix and in front of many fans under grey skies in France.
27 intense laps of the Le Mans circuit yielded another small milestone in KTM’s young MotoGP history as Pol Espargaro took the KTM RC16 to a top six finish and all four bikes graced the top fifteen. After two days of contrasting weather conditions at the famous French venue – once again packed to capacity – race day dawned very cool and overcast and with the looming threat of rain.
Thankfully the asphalt remained dry and Espargaro and teammate Johann Zarco were able to revert to the settings that had delivered so much promise in Free Practice on Friday.
Pol made a positive start and then chased the rear wheel of Valentino Rossi in the second half of the race, relatively safe ahead of Franco Morbidelli in seventh. He crossed the finish line less than six seconds behind winner Marc Marquez. Zarco kept busy in mid-pack but his run to 13th was cheered by much of the public at the fences and represented his joint-best result in his fifth GP with the RC16.
Red Bull KTM Tech3’s Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin both scored points with finishes of 15th and 14th respectively; meaning that Le Mans witnessed all four RC16s in the top fifteen for the very first time in 2019. Oliveira would have snared 14th spot but was penalised for exceeding track limits and dropped behind his teammate in the rankings.
Pol Espargaro is 9th in the MotoGP championship standings while Johann Zarco is 15th.
Pol Espargaro: “Simply a stunning result and almost unbelievable after less than two and a half years. We are showing that we are on the way. I am so proud of this project. We are there because we were fifth, and we were there during the whole race. The competition is so high here with the best riders in the world and we are just five seconds from the winner and that factory. It is amazing and for sure gives us wings to keep working and be better in the next races to keep fighting for the top ten. I had so much fun today and was on the limit from start to the end and it was amazing to see we were catching Vale in some places and Petrucci needed to hit me to overtake me. This makes me feel really proud.”
Johann Zarco: “A tough race today. I had a good start and was controlling the bike well but lap-after-lap I was the end of my power because I still don’t have the optimum feeling. I’m happy with 13th position because it is still some points. Overall the weekend had a few good things and I will keep this in mind for the next race. I wanted to be in the top ten and I was close at the beginning of the race but I could not follow the pace. It was a shame. Pol did fantastically this weekend and that is great for KTM and for him. I still need to work because he proved that this can take you somewhere. We need time and I said that at the beginning of the season. I felt the quality of the bike this weekend and we have things to work on, so we leave France with a little bit of a smile.”
Hafizh Syahrin: “I enjoyed the race. In the beginning it was a bit difficult to find the speed but lap-by-lap I found a rhythm and I tried to fight with Miguel and stay close to him. Finally, he made a mistake and I ended up being 14th. These two points have a huge meaning for me and I want to dedicate them to my family and everybody around me but especially the French fans because they always appreciate all of us riders. It’s the home GP for the team and I never give up. I also want to thank my team because they always trusted in me and also never gave up to help me, to improve my bike, my riding style with the new machine.”
Miguel Oliveira: “It has been a hard race today. All weekend we didn’t have so much dry time, so obviously the setting was not perfect. Anyway, we managed to make some progress I was able to go a little bit faster than this morning. I struggled in the race with a couple of things, but in general I would say, the result was a bit better than Jerez, which for me is the only positive today. I’m quite upset with my penalty. Anyway, we move on to the next round now.”
Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “To fight in the top ten – for sixth place – and be only six seconds behind the race winner in dry conditions and no excuses: you can only be proud. We’re proud of Pol for how he made that result but also for all the people who have worked so hard on this project. We are still at the beginning of season-three but over the winter the comments from all our riders and test riders meant some ideas that took time to find technical answers and after Jerez we had some, and it was an achievement. We felt we had good performance and Friday here was amazing. Things did not work out as expected for qualifying but Pol did a great job and so did everyone around him and us. We’re still not happy that Johann cannot perform like Pol but I think we started to do the right things with him here and this was the first time where he said he felt comfortable and the lap-time was coming. Now we have to work hard to put that into a dry setting and to ‘make’ the bike more for him. He is more motivated and I think Jean-Michel Bayle helps him a lot. For the first time in history we have all KTMs in the championship points and I’m happy that Hafizh made it and Miguel did it again. It was a very good day and we’ll go to Mugello to try and beat it.”
Moto2 & Moto3
Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder finished 4th at Le Mans for his best result of 2019 and the new era of the Moto2 category. The South African circulated just adrift of the battle for podium places but is getting closer to his first set of silverware in the class. Jorge Martin was forced to the pitlane with a jump-start penalty and finished 20th. Binder sits 9th in the championship points table. The Moto3 race was won by John McPhee as Sterilgarda Max Racing Team’s Aron Canet took his KTM to 3rd place: the Spaniard leads the competitive and exciting division.
The Gran Premio D’Italia around the majestic sweeps and turns of Mugello will take place in two weeks time for round six.
Next race: June 2, Mugello, Gran Premio D’Italia
Results Race MotoGP Le Mans 2019
1. Marc Marquez (ESP), Honda 41:53:647
2. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA), Ducati +1.984
3. Danilo Petrucci (ITA), Ducati +2.142
4. Jack Miller (AUS), Ducati +2.940
5. Valentino Rossi (ITA), Yamaha +3.053
6. Pol Espargaro (ESP), Red Bull KTM +5.935
13. Johann Zarco (FRA), Red Bull KTM +33.061
14. Hafizh Syahrin (MYS), Red Bull KTM Tech3 +35.481
15. Miguel Oliveira (POR), Red Bull KTM Tech3 +36.044
Results Race Moto2 Le Mans 2019
1. Alex Marquez (ESP) Kalex 40:36.428
2. Jorge Navarro (ESP) Speed Up +1.119
3. Augustino Fernandez (ESP) Kalex +1.800
4. Brad Binder (RSA) Red Bull KTM Ajo +6.015
20. Jorge Martin (ESP) Red Bull KTM Ajo +1.03.717
Results Race Moto3 Le Mans 2019
1. John McPhee (GBR), Honda 37:48.689
2. Lorenzo Dalla Porta (ITA), Honda +0.106
3. Aron Canet (ESP), KTM +0.757
16. Can Öncü (TUR) Red Bull KTM Ajo +32.544