The Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi was yet another MotoGP race in 2022 where the factory KTM riders ran rings around their Tech3 counterparts.
While Brad Binder picked up a second place with a last-lap overtake and Miguel Oliveira made it two factory bikes in the top five, Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner had to fight it out for 18th place. The Tech3 team now has 17 points to the works outfit’s 254.
Split by a tenth of a second at the finish line, Fernandez and Gardner both got a kick out of their duel, which featured two overtakes and a drag race to the finish in the latter half of the final lap. They both acknowledged it was like 2021, the year in which they had many a battle amid their head-to-head Moto2 title challenge – and this was just like that “if you turn the [results] sheet upside down”, Gardner quipped.
Yet both also suggested they were on the limit throughout the 24-lap race – meaning they had to look for other explanations for why they ended up 26 seconds behind the lead KTM of Binder.
“We’re missing a lot of pace,” said Gardner, who was caught off guard by being told in August that his services wouldn’t be required in 2023.
“Personally I think I rode a good race, I was on the limit every single lap, every corner. I gave my 100% from lap one to the last lap.
“There was nothing much more to get out of the bike, I was happy with the race I rode.
“The bike was just missing pace, missing grip, missing speed, missing braking, overheating the front tyre. I did what I could.”
Asked about the comparison to Binder, he said: “I’m as lost as you are on that. They tell us we have the same material – but I just struggle to believe that.
“I can’t be that bad of a rider. I felt like I had nothing more to get out of the package.”
It’s not the first time that Gardner, who will race for GRT Yamaha in World Superbikes next year, has called into question the equipment parity that is proclaimed across KTM and Tech3.
He spoke in very similar terms the weekend before at Aragon, claiming there was an “obvious” difference on the data and highlighting the fact that he was getting good exits onto the Spanish track’s near-kilometre-long back straight, only to get swallowed up by the factory RC16s once up to third gear.
The two Tech3 riders – particularly Gardner – have been fairly consistent presences towards the bottom of the speed trap numbers over the season, with Gardner noticeably adrift at Aragon and Motegi across a variety of sessions both in the speed trap and over the start/finish line.
But Gardner is also markedly taller than both the works KTM riders, and is listed by MotoGP as being heavier than the similar-height but leaner Fernandez.
The Spaniard, who for his part made it clear early on to KTM he wouldn’t be seeking to continue at Tech3 and has since secured a switch to RNF Aprilia for 2023, had a different take on the gap to Binder.
“It’s amazing because I went all the laps on my limit, I didn’t have more. And when I see him on the second place, it’s like ‘OK, he’s in another world’,” Fernandez said.
“But honestly if you see the data, especially today, it’s not too much. It’s small details.
“This is his third season with the same bikes and the same team, factory team… I think small details make a little bit the difference. I think it’s not big [the difference] honestly because if you analyse all the race, especially the last part, the pace was very similar – two-three tenths.
“The worst is the first part. Two-three tenths per lap is not a big disaster, for us.”
The case made by Fernandez isn’t immediately obvious from the Motegi race data – though his race was clearly dictated by being in mid-pack melees and traffic, he lost 13.649s Binder in the first half of the race and 12.316s in the second (although admittedly compared better to Oliveira in the final laps).
But Fernandez was adamant he would be having a much better season if he could make the soft rear tyre work for him on the RC16 in qualifying.
“With the soft tyre, I cannot take the potential of the bike,” he said. “I drive with the front wheel and it’s quite difficult. I always have too much chattering.
“Everybody improves like one second, 1.5s, and I improve two-three tenths, not too much. When we improve the Saturday, maybe we’ll be one step in front.”
Fernandez, however, also acknowledged that Binder rides in a very different way, likening the South African’s style to that used in supermoto – the class of competition in which modified dirtbikes are fitted with slicks and ridden primarily on asphalt.
“Too much [difference]. Like supermoto. Amazing,” said Fernandez of Binder’s style.
“He rides with the rear tyre, all the moment. And I try sometimes, but I crash. I’m very smooth and when I try to ride really aggressive like Brad, I cannot.
“He had the same style since I think 2015, when he started in KTM [in its factory Moto3 team].”
Fernandez also added that Binder “did the Moto2 school with KTM”, alluding to the fact the South African raced KTM’s bespoke Moto2 bike – as opposed to Gardner and Fernandez, who despite representing KTM in the class rode Kalex bikes as KTM had withdrawn from the series as a manufacturer by then.