In 2015 KTM announced officially that they would be joining the master class of MotoGP racing in 2017 season. The KTM RC16 was unveiled to the public at the Austrian Grand Prix in August 2016 and after a full year of private testing, it was time for the KTM team to measure the progress made in actual race conditions. A wild card entry at the last race of the season in Valencia would determine the level against the competition and expose weak points to be addressed over the winter stop before joining the MotoGP paddock full time.
The KTM RC16 MotoGP machine, with development rider Mika Kallio at the controls, cam a bit short of the expectations put on the project. He was some 3 seconds behind the fastest time on the first day of practice. The earlier test that KTM did at that circuit had suggested a smaller gap to the front; Kallio was almost a full second faster in similar conditions.
Solving rear grip issues that they had not encountered a few weeks earlier helped some but the gap to the front-runners was a significant 2.6 seconds in qualifying. Fast riders going faster (Jorge Lorenzo dropped 0.6 second from his previous lap record) and problems that materialize with no sensible explanation is what you get when you go racing.
Mika Kallio was lapping at a decent pace in the race when he had to retire with an electronic malfunction.
All considered, it was a decent debut for the newest entry in the MotoGP class that now hosts six manufacturers.
The KTM RC16, designed and built- in-house at Mattighofen, does not follow the norm in the class. The tubular steel trellis frame is a departure from convention in the MotoGP class as is the WP suspension. Since 2011, when Ducati abandoned their monocoque chassis design, all MotoGP machines are build on aluminum perimeter frames. It is a side effect of the single tire supplier rule; the tires have to suit all riders on all motorcycles on the grid. When you go a different route you’re likely to be left on your own with requests for different tire construction so you join the crowd.
The steel frame adopted by KTM has characteristics much closer to the harder-to-develop aluminum contraption of their opponents. Much easier to produce, especially when you take in account that the Japanese have decades of experience to get where they are at now. KTM has proved in Moto3 that it can build winning motorcycle with a steel trellis frame configuration. The much quicker turn-around time to come up with different specifications of the steel unit to answer the engineers’ and riders’ requests is also a key factor.
The engine of KTM RC16 is a 90-degree V4 with pneumatic valves, devoid of a balancer shaft. KTM chose a screamer firing order for that first version but Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director, says that they could switch to a big-bang (or long-bang) version. With the traction problems encountered at Valencia it is a change that can come quickly, that engine is said to be ready.
Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, the two riders signed to ride the KTM RC16, got their first taste of the new machine at the off-season test just two days after the last Grand Prix. Their times were respectively 1.5 and 1.8 seconds slower than their qualifying times on the Tech3 Yamaha. It is a better representation of the level of the KTM RC16. Both were pleased with the character of the KTM MotoGP machine and say they have a solid base to work on. The Austrian manufacturer wants results quickly and is ready to put in the effort needed to get them.