Closer look: KTM’s performance leap from a quiet pre-season

by | Apr 6, 2023 | Aprilia, Ducati, KTM, motoGP News

Closer look: KTM’s performance leap from a quiet pre-season

P6 and P8 in the Championship, a Sprint victory and consistent speed – Binder, Miller and KTM are on the up in 2023

It’s fair to say Red Bull KTM Factory Racing had a quiet pre-season. Brad Binder and new signing Jack Miller rarely threatened the top 10, as factories such as Ducati and Aprilia displayed superior pace. From the outside, it began to look slightly worrying for the Austrian factory.

However, there was no real need for anyone to worry. Miller’s magnificent Portuguese Practice 2 table-topping time set the tone for the opening two rounds. The Australian led the first-ever Sprint and eventually finished P4, while an injured Binder managed to claim P6 in the Grand Prix race – one place ahead of Miller.

Fast forward to the Argentina GP, and Binder takes everyone’s breath away – including his own – to win the Sprint from P15 on the grid. A day later, Miller comes from P16 to take P6 in his first wet race on the KTM. So, heading to Austin, the duo sit P6 and P8 in the overall standings. Not a bad start at all. But where have they found the pace and improvements since pre-season? Let’s try and decipher it below.

Electronic & engine braking changes in Portimao

When first jumping on the bike at the Valencia Test, Miller said that he could have ridden the KTM RC16 with an “on/off switch for a throttle”. Essentially, Miller couldn’t thread on the power smoothly. However, that’s been massively improved, as shown by Miller’s ability to run at the sharp end all weekend at the Portuguese GP.

The engine brake steps can’t be underestimated either. Typically, the RC16 has been an on-the-limit braking type of motorcycle, which has seen the likes of Binder having to constantly run the harder, and mostly the hardest, front tyre available during race weekends. For the Portuguese GP Sprint, Miller used the soft front and made it work. How?

“I don’t know if you can see with the KTM but the thing is like this (mimes going sideways) coming into the corner,” explained Miller in Portimao. “It was doing that the other day and I wasn’t really decelerating. But having the bike in this position takes a lot of load off the front and I’m not as much on the razor’s edge. But they’ve been able to give me the sliding performance, but with the deceleration like a bike that is dead straight. It’s not locking and slipping so it’s good.”

That’s how, and it’s a crucial breakthrough for KTM. Being able to utilise the softer compounds will undoubtedly help when it comes to low grip, colder conditions – and of course in qualifying and Sprint modes too.

Stability, rideability & rear grip

Miller also talked about the “massive step in the right direction in terms of rideability” in Portimao. “Incredible rear grip” was another statement made by the Australian, and in Argentina, both he and Binder admitted that they made their RC16s run lower – a Portimao setting – in order to get a better feeling on Termas’ low grip surface.

“We made a big step going back to basically our Portimao setting this afternoon. With the bike quite down. We went up originally because you generally always do here to try and find some grip. But it didn’t really help us,” explained Miller on Friday in Argentina.

HIGHLIGHTS: Brilliant Binder start tees up Tissot Sprint win

“After doing that, I felt immediately more comfortable again on the bike and was able to put in some better laps than I did in the morning on the same tyres and was step by step getting closer and closer and faster and faster.” You only have to look at what Binder did in the Sprint to see the potential performance of the KTM.

Miller and Crew Chief gaining experience

As we know, Miller joined KTM from Ducati. But a huge positive for Miller – and KTM – was being able to bring Crew Chief Cristhian Pupulin with him from the Italian marque. Ducati produced a world-beating motorcycle in 2022 that Miller won a race on in Japan, and there’s no denying that Miller and Pupulin will have been able to bring some expertise and secrets over with them.

Whatever the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle are at KTM, it’s working. Their 2023 ball is well and truly rolling as we get set for the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas – a track Miller has two MotoGP™ podium finishes at. After a weekend off, Binder’s neck injury will hopefully be a thing of the past so he can attack the Grand Prix pain-free from the get-go. It’s exciting times for KTM, now they need to continue to build on a promising start to the campaign.

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