The factory KTM team appeared revitalised during Friday practice for MotoGP’s Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, with the riders pointing to a new chassis and new fuel.
The new chassis was trialled in the post-Jerez test day, but wasn’t in play at Le Mans because the erratic weather conditions meant the team preferred to stick with a more familiar package.
But now that it’s got a proper run-out at Mugello, it is clearly paying dividends. Miguel Oliveira spent much of the second practice in first place and was only shuffled down to sixth at the very end when he failed to improve on fresh soft tyres.
He ended up sixth, a place behind works KTM team-mate Brad Binder, with both closer to the front than they have been at the end of any other Friday this season.
“The goal for this frame was just to try and help us line the bike up a little bit better, to get out the corners better, and yeah, in Mugello it seems to be working well,” summed up Binder.
“We focused a little bit more on corner exit, to try and get a little bit more stability and just more load into the ground,” said Oliveira.
“The whole team and, back at the factory, the engineers tried to just give us a bit of help in that way and they managed to give us a good solution.
“We couldn’t use it in Le Mans because of the uncertain weather, and here was the first real kind of test that we could back[-to-back] check both frames, and this was the main focus.”
Both Oliveira and Binder now plan to focus exclusively on the new chassis for the rest of the weekend.
“I think I could’ve been fast on both but on the long term I think the new frame is helping us to get around the track a little bit more easy, more calm, and just be a bit more effective,” Oliveira said.
The satellite Tech3 KTM riders, Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona, were well down on the factory bikes on Friday. Lecuona also trailed Petrucci significantly, but should’ve been just a tenth off, only to have his best lap deleted for a track limits violation.
Neither rider has the new chassis available, but Lecuona said it was “no excuse” – although while he didn’t think it made that big a difference, Petrucci wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t know, because I haven’t tried their [Oliveira and Binder’s] chassis,” he said. “It for sure is a good improvement but I haven’t [tried it], so we have to deal with what we have.
“Sincerely I don’t know when [the new chassis] will be available for me. For sure first I want to improve with what I have now, because complaining about something I cannot have is not a solution in this moment.”
In addition to the new frame, both factory riders pointed to new fuel as a source of laptime gains, with Oliveira crediting it for providing “a little bit more top speed”.
Oliveira and Binder were the second- and third-fastest rider in the speed trap in the afternoon, behind only Pramac Ducati’s stand-in Michele Pirro.
KTM, which previously had its fuel supplied by Elf, announced in the lead-up to Mugello that it would now be working with long-term partner company ETS Racing Fuels in MotoGP as well.
It remains to be seen whether KTM’s strong Friday form will translate into a tangible Sunday result, one that would supplant the top-five finishes from Portimao and Le Mans as the highlight of 2021 so far.
Still, the Mugello practice pace can already be a massive source of encouragement – given that the Austrian manufacturer has not been a standout at the circuit in previous years.
“Fuel and a little bit different chassis – the combo is working a little bit better for us, for sure,” Binder concluded.