MOTOGP™️ IN LOCKDOWN! THE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS
Posted in Racing What about the bikes, the re-organization, a skeleton crew for closed-doors GPs, the lack of testing, the future? KTM’s MotoGP™️ Technical Co-ordinator Sebastian Risse tackles some of the big current question marks over the sport.
While the clock ticks down towards news of 2020 MotoGP™️ the Red Bull KTM race teams have been left in limbo due to the absence of a calendar and a routine that normally steers much of their lives and energy. The RC16s were in freight boxes and untouchable for over two months; the machines were last used at the Qatar test at the end of February. To gain more insight into how the crew handles the break, negotiates homologation, what it thinks about behind-closed-doors Grands Prix (as well as deal with the technical ‘freeze’ that will affect areas of development up until 2022) we called Sebastian to tackle some issues…
The KTM RC16 was last in action at the Losail International Circuit (Qatar) for a test in February.
PC: Polarity Photo
On the bikes being boxed and only recently shipped to Spain from Qatar…
When this material is in transit for a long time there is humidity that can damage some parts. For sure you take as many take precautions as possible but those still only work for two-three weeks – the normal time the bikes are in the crates – so it has been a very long time and we need to fix this. We need to take the parts out of the boxes, clean them and check for humidity and oxidization. It’s not about the durability of the parts but engine oxidation. Normally we have some special material – a silicone base that soaks up the humidity in the box – and when this is full then you start to have trouble. In a normal environment the parts would last forever but the precautions for a different environment only has a certain lifespan.
After the Qatar test the season has been on hold due to Covid-19 – the team has been without the bikes, but Risse explains this is not a problem. PC: Polarity Photo
On being without the bikes after the last test…
From this point of view there was not such a big drama. We did not have any big technical problems at the test that needed to be analysed at home. If there had been then we would have shipped this material separately when the problem occurred, so the components would have been in another transport. We have been mainly working on the data that we had on laptops and for this we also have synchronization with the factory, so the data is already shared on the computers where it needs to be. The trouble comes when you want to react to any findings because it means working on hardware on the bikes or something in the workshop. Like many companies KTM has been quite limited with what it can do in terms of manpower, work-time and access to the workshop. After Qatar was cancelled we had work ‘on the table’ and side-projects that we were able to address: Those side projects became ‘main’ projects for many on the race team.
KTM is waiting eagerly to find out when the team will be back on the MotoGP™️ grid (currently plans are being made for races in July) and to ensure everything is READY TO RACE. PC: Philip Platzer
On the time frame to be (very) READY TO RACE…
The first job is sorting the material. If we can get the bikes cleaned and ready then the trucks are already packed – as we had already anticipated that the next races would be European based – and this could all be organized short-term, especially if people can travel. Our truck drivers are spread around Europe, so if they cannot get here then you need another way to move the trucks to a track and that could affect organization and delays. But otherwise I think we can react quickly.
A closed-door Grand Prix would mean crowds like this in Catalunya, Spain 2019 will have to watch from home, but racing can get underway. PC: Philip Platzer
On the prospect of reduced staff for a behind-closed-doors Grand Prix…
Many things are possible! Any change in the structure and our normal racing day means all the procedures that have been run with the group and the people around it have to change also, and that’s a challenge but also one that we will take and we’ll manage. Everybody else will have to deal with it, so it becomes like a competition: Whoever will approach it in the best way and gets the job done in the best way under the set conditions will be winning…or going forward at least. Racing, and being efficient, is often about focussing on the most important points at hand. There is always more to do – if you have the time – and this is the same thing but on a different level.
There is a technical development freeze on the main aspects of the bike spec until 2021 to help contain costs due to the coronavirus. PC: Polarity Photo
On the process of homologation for 2020…
It is normally all documented but we also show the parts to the MotoGP™️ technical crew that we wish to homologate so they see them physically as well. The need for reference documents means that the procedure was already digital, so that was easy and not much different to usual. What was different is that, as a concession team, there are some things we don’t usually have to homologate but now we did because we agreed to ‘fix’ them [for 2021 also]. On the engine side we didn’t do digitally, instead we sent a sample engine so they can compare it to any engine submitted.
Brad Binder is looking forward to getting back to the action aboard his KTM RC16.
PC: Polarity Photo
On the technical ‘freeze’ for 2021-2022 and the pressure involved…
As an engineer you always want to go forward, try many things and try to improve but at the same time make the most of the given resources. It’s not clear at the moment what resources there will be. There is a commitment to racing of course and everybody will do their best to be competitive but we’ll have to wait and see the details to understand the circumstances. To a degree there is always pressure. For example, let’s look at the engine. Of course, we are constantly developing and the engine we wanted to use this season is different to last year’s. Over the winter we tried our best and we did a good job in finding the right spec. We didn’t face any technical problems that gave us a headache – but – it hasn’t been raced yet! So, if this engine, which is for this year and also the start of 2021, has a technical problem then you are in trouble. But – at the moment – what can we do? We know what we know about this package and if it had a known weak point then we would have addressed it. Unfortunately, there is no way around homologation, so you have to make the best of something. We have done race simulations during the tests and we have been in critical conditions, like the heat in Malaysia, and we’ve been at demanding tracks. We can also reproduce this on the dyno: we do endurance runs before we even get to the track. It means in theory – combined with the tests – you have done everything to make sure it works…reality can occasionally be different though! You can get a surprise sometimes! You cannot simulate that. Based on what we know it is fine and we are confident because we also didn’t have many big dramas in the last couple of years. You just have to hope that something you never thought or imagine doesn’t hit you!
Brad Binder gives feedback during pre-season testing.
PC: Polarity Photo
On being able to look for loopholes in the rules or using extra time to find small innovations…
It is always a matter of resources. For example, if you explore the ‘grey zone’ around the rules then you have to do all the work and somehow keep it the ‘right’ side of legal. Then fight other competitors in the technical meetings and discussions as well as the officials. You need to have the resources behind you to do it and then maybe you have to throw it away. As we are new to MotoGP™️ we have many areas in which we can invest resources and be sure that we are investing wisely – so ideas that are comfortably inside the rules and don’t have to be thrown away. It makes more sense to focus on those instead of something that is ‘50-50’ or it’s allowed for some races but then banned. If we are working on something that nobody else has then our strategy is to speak with the MotoGP™️ technical officials sooner rather than later and get their advice so that we don’t get any last minute ‘no’s’.
Pol Espargaró and the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team are well-prepared for the season when it begins after successful tests earlier this year. PC: Polarity Photo
KAILUB RUSSELL: TIME FOR CHANGE BUT NOT BEFORE ONE MORE GNCC TITLE
Posted in People, Racing GNCC Racing legend Kailub Russell is determined to earn an eighth straight title in 2020 but is equally set on moving forward with plans for the future, when this season is over. What is next for the woods racing champion, what’s the secret to winning and which of his many winning KTMs is his favorite?
Announcing that 2020 will be his last season of GNCC Racing doesn’t mean seven-time champion Kailub Russell is in any mood to back off the gas just yet. Covid-19 may have brought a temporary pause to proceedings but the FMF KTM Factory Racing Team rider is determined to go out on top with an eighth GNCC title.
Kailub Russell – FMF KTM Factory Racing and seven-time GNCC champion.
Kailub should need little introduction, but for the record he began his 2020 season sitting on 60 career wins in North America’s prestigious Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Racing series. Russell has seven straight championship titles so far and sits second only to GNCC legend Ed Lojak (nine titles). This is alongside his International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) World Trophy victories, plus National Enduro and Sprint Enduro championships.
The goals remain the same – to win the 2020 GNCC Racing title – but Covid-19 delivered a twist in the plot when it brought a halt to racing in the USA, just as it did across the world. Unlike many countries, in the US it has been possible to keep riding so riders like Russell have at least been able to train and keep busy, “I bought a new piece of land and it’s been keeping me pretty busy trying to get that place dialed in,” said Russell from his North Carolina home.
Russell racing his KTM 350 XC-F earlier in 2020.
Unlike most riders, who tend to keep quiet about plans for moving on and prefer to call time after the finish line of their last race, Russell took the unusual step of announcing his plans before this season had even begun. “I wanted to announce my retirement before the season so that all the other guys I’m racing against have the chance to up their game and try to put an end to it,” explains the celebrated KTM rider on his pre-season announcement that 2020 would be his last in GNCC Racing.
So far in 2020 “those guys” he’s racing against have tried but failed to topple the champ who took three GNCC wins on the bounce plus a Sprint Enduro victory before the lockdown took hold. It begs the question, why call time now on his GNCC career at all? “Racing has been good and I’m at this level but there’s only one way to go now. That’s dwindle backwards and I’m not ready to go backwards, I race to win,” explains Kailub. “It’s not that I can’t win for another couple of years, but I’ve had a good career and there are some other things that I want to give my attention to before I’m actually done racing. Stepping away from GNCC and taking my focus away from that is gonna allow me to move forward with my plans for the future.”
Russell celebrates victory as part of the all-KTM mounted United States World Trophy Team at the 2019 ISDE.
CALLING TIME ON GNCC CAREER, BUT WHAT NEXT?
Many rumors have circulated as to exactly what Kailub will do next, fueled in part by fellow KTM rider Ryan Sipes who has branched out across different bike sports in his later career years. But Kailub says Off-Road and Enduro are very much part of the plan with the pinnacle of enduro sport – the International Six Days Enduro – set to be held in Italy 2021 firmly on his wall planner.
“The definite plan is the Six Days and the Full Gas Sprint Enduro series, that’s for sure. But past that I really can’t say yet. We’re still working some stuff out but it’s going to be pretty big news and pretty exciting. It’ll probably be in December when we’ll announce that. We’re still in talks with KTM about how it’s going to work out so wait and see.”
Whilst plans are being made for beyond 2020, Russell firmly has his sights on an eighth straight GNCC title.
2015 A VINTAGE YEAR
During a career which has seen racing, championships, riders and the off-road sport in general go through a huge period of change, which season stands out as Russell’s greatest? “Definitely 2015. I was just really focused and doing a ton of racing, so I didn’t have any time to do anything else. It was train a couple of days, ride a couple of days, go to the race, repeat…there was only a little bit of time there where I wasn’t doing anything. It meant I could stay sharp and stay on top of my game.”
That relentlessness of racing, those long seasons and the spells of back-to-back events that cement Kailub’s place in racing history, are also the reason why there comes a tipping point where the enthusiasm of youth gets muscled out of the way by age, family life and other priorities. “It can be tough on your body and now if I’m going to have a five or six week stretch where I don’t have a weekend off I’m burnt and get to the point where I’m just going through the motions. Back then  I don’t remember being that way at all. I was fresh and excited every weekend. It’s crazy that is only five years in life, but it changes the dynamics.”
Russell is unbeaten so far in 2020.
One thing which is clear and consistent is the steely determination to win, even in the face of defeat. “When those guys get close to beating me it drives me harder. If you beat me it lights a fire in me that makes me try harder for the next one.” It has been a feature of Kailub’s career that he has always bounced back from a defeat with added fire in the belly: “If you beat me one weekend, I get stronger, I use the pressure,” he says.
One of the truisms of sport, particularly motorsport, is that one race does not make a champion. Every race counts and off-road sport has the added reality of being across different terrain. You might be a good sand rider but can you ride the hard-pack or the rocks? It’s as true of GNCC as it is of the WESS Enduro World Championship or Grand Prix Motocross.
“It’s one of those things that blows my mind,” says Kailub on the ability to be fast everywhere. “There are a lot of guys that can win but only in certain places. I don’t know why that is or why that comes about but it’s a real thing. I always thought that if you could be good in one place you should be good all places and it shouldn’t be a roller coaster.”
“My dad always instilled a lot of discipline in me and he used to make me read a Vince Lombardi quote. It was a long quote but the biggest thing I took out of it was you don’t do things right every once in a while, you do things right all the time.
“I think if you work like that it takes all the guesswork out. If you know you’re doing it right all the time you’ve got no option than to be good everywhere.”
With his incredible talent, Russell just loves racing bikes.
HOW GOOD IS MY KTM?
Across a decade racing for KTM, Kailub has moved through different generations of KTM XC models with the four stroke XC-Fs being the bikes of choice in the US. Is there one bike which he looks at as the best?
“I’ve got all my championship bikes with me at home and I think they got better every year – to the point where the current bike, the KTM 350 XC-F, is almost too good for riding in the woods to be honest with you! The current 350 motor is almost like a 450 from four or five years ago.”
Narrowing it down to one bike, Kailub says the model year jump from 2015 to 2016, the model year when Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Roger De Coster and Ryan Dungey were on board developing what turned out to be a game-changer, was a step-progression in terms of chassis development.
Whilst talk is about what his future holds, repeating his 2019 success for another title remains the focus.
PC @K Hill
“I can remember in 2015 I was on my 250 XC-F and KTM came out with the 2016 KTM 250 SX-F. I had a buddy who bought one and I rode it in stock form and went faster on that than I was on my own race bike!”
“I bugged Antti (Kallonen, FMF KTM Factory Racing Team Manager) about getting one for the National Enduro series because the bike turned better, was nimbler and handled better. I was doing well in GNCC but struggling a bit in the Enduros on the 350 so I switched to the new KTM 250 SX-F, started racing it in Sprint and National Enduros and started killing it.”
“At the time it was such a big difference from the bike I was on, the switch in the frame, the geometry, it was a jump.”
“I think that was the year when Roger and Dungey and those guys were onboard with development and they made a big improvement. But if I was to ride that bike now, I’d probably say the same about this current model!”
4 BIG ‘W’S OF THE NEW KTM 890 DUKE R
Posted in Bikes There is a degree of intrigue about the 2020 KTM 890 DUKE R: a fresh, rasping entrant to the manufacturer’s virulent Naked bike portfolio. So, we enlisted the help of Street Product Manager Adriaan Sinke to explain some of the ‘reasons for being’.
After an enticing unveil at the 2019 EICMA show last November, the fanfare surrounding the official presentation of the 2020 KTM 890 DUKE R was then mostly digital. Europe’s spring ‘shutdown’ meant the first ‘taste’ of the motorcycle was filtered online and through YouTube in late March: it was an odd situation for a bike that promises such a visceral riding experience.
PC @Campelli M./Milagro
The KTM 890 DUKE R has been designed with priorities of ‘sensation’ and ‘exhilaration’ at the forefront. But how did it originate in the minds of KTM R&D staff? And how did they strive to create something that was different to the thrill already provided by the other Naked bikes in the line-up (specifically the KTM 790 DUKE and KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R)?
In search of answers we fashioned four of the five ‘W’s and asked Adriaan to help us flesh out the details…
With the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R, KTM quenched the thirst for torque and crafted a bike as strong for the road as it is on the track. With the KTM 790 DUKE the firm aimed for agility, light weight and power. Models such as the KTM 390 and KTM 125 DUKEs again blend optimal handling with fierce motors and enhanced practicality for different groups of motorcyclists.
What’s the KTM 890 DUKE R’s identity then? What’s its role?
“We are always looking at the performance-end of the scale,” Sinke states. “A KTM 790 DUKE is a great bike, and one of sportiest in the midrange, but like in racing, there is always room for improvement. There is obviously quite a gap between a KTM 790 DUKE and a KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R, so part of the decision [to make the KTM 890 DUKE R] was the wish to fill that gap. But much more important was the wish to deliver the highest performing bike in the midrange segment. Be it handling, suspension, engine or electronics, the KTM 890 DUKE R tops them all.”
The KTM 790 DUKE’s characteristics were defined enough for the bike to be labelled ‘THE SCALPEL’. The KTM 890 DUKE R’s appearance represents an attempt to make another slice at the motorcycling market. In a style true to KTM’s alternative values and philosophy, the KTM 890 DUKE R charges in, exhaust ablaze. “The midrange segment is very big, especially in Europe and spans a very wide range of models,” explains Sinke. “KTM always wants to offer the sharpest tool in the segment and is not necessarily aimed at the middle of the segment where the volume is, we create our own niche.”
“Potential competitors would be a Triumph Street Triple RS, an MV Agusta Brutale, maybe a Kawasaki Z900 or a Yamaha MT-10: we trump all those bikes on individual points and all of them with our overall package of handling, torque, power and electronics.”
So, the KTM 890 DUKE R is not a ‘suped-up 790’. How have KTM gone about reinventing the best parts and fabricating something new? Well, the parallel twin platform is vaguely similar, but increased bore and stroke, higher compression and a higher maximum RPM mean a hike to 121 HP and 99 Nm: 15 more horsepower. A new cylinder head, new camshaft and new balancer shafts all help to deal with the boosted revs and rotating mass.
The chassis has been engineered to be sportier, more aggressive and lighter with altered ergonomics to suit the KTM 890 DUKE R’s role as a bike that will attack the twistiest of roads and the most inviting circuit layouts. The ride is smoothened by adjustable linear spring WP APEX front forks with split function damping, compression and rebound settings, and to counter all of that extra potency the new KTM relies on the latest Brembo Stylema monoblock calipers with 320mm floating front disks. These and more differences to the KTM 790 DUKE only increase the distinction of the KTM 890 DUKE R.
The special orange frame of the KTM 890 DUKE R will be bouncing off shiny showroom floors by the time this story hits the KTM Blog. But will the 2020 emergence of the motorcycle cause any ripples in the overall DUKE family catalogue? The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R reached a third-generation model in 2020 with the best iteration of ‘THE BEAST’ yet and the KTM 790 DUKE already ruffled middleweight feathers since it appeared almost two years ago. KTM may claim that they have taken ‘all the things we love about the KTM 790 DUKE and turned it up to 11’ but the KTM 890 DUKE R comes at a time when it can find its own path. For those riders optimistic of mining the full list of KTM’s PowerParts to make their KTM 790 DUKE reach the same ballpark of performance then disappointment lies in store.
“The KTM 890 DUKE R is much more than just a tune-up,” underlines Sinke. “The engine character with the different valve train and crankshaft is so different from the KTM 790 DUKE engine that the entire feeling of the motorcycle has changed. The differences to the chassis setup and brakes complete the feeling of being on a different bike altogether.”
“The upgrades we made on the suspension and brakes would not be easy to match,” he admits. “A power increase of more than 15 horsepower is very hard to reach and very expensive, especially when the bike has to remain street legal. And even if a talented tuner could reach our values putting it all together with the very advanced level of electronics – Cornering ABS, Cornering MTC and so on – in a functional package that make a bike that works on the street as well as it does on the track is not realistic.”
The KTM 890 DUKE R may not strike fear into a speed camera like a KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R but this bike adds a whole new dimension of demand and necessity to KTM’s Naked bike line-up. Thus, leading onto…
Ultimately, why should KTM owners (or prospective owners) consider switching from a KTM 790 DUKE to the KTM 890 DUKE R? Or have their eyes pulled away from the peerless KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R to rest on the new younger brother? By making such an impact with their two models at the top of the Naked bike sector KTM are placing the KTM 890 DUKE R in a competitive and ‘crowded’ space within its own family.
“Good question, it really depends on what you are looking for in an upgrade,” outlines Sinke. “Do you want absolute power and BEAST levels of torque? Get a KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R. Do you want agility, precision, power to weight, compactness, and a lot of horsepower, torque and stopping power? Then now is the time to get an KTM 890 DUKE R.”
Not quite a BEAST but sharper and more lethal than a SCALPEL: looks like the KTM 890 DUKE R is a weapon regardless.
THE GREATEST EVER: IS KTM’S 2020 MXGP LINE-UP THE BENCHMARK?
Posted in Racing Cairoli, Herlings, Prado: Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s MXGP riders for the 2020 season with a combined total of 15 FIM World Championships in the two categories. Has there been a more decorated, potent and lethal collection of athletes in Grand Prix history?
With 15 FIM World titles between them the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing MXGP line-up is a force to be reckoned with.
An over-simplification would be to say Cairoli represents the past, Herlings the present and Prado the future and all three have coincided to make ‘the perfect storm’ for 2020.
That the trio have ‘collided’ this season to steer the KTM 450 SX-F is fact, but Cairoli claimed his last crown as recently as 2017, Herlings is only 25 but already a ten year veteran of Grand Prix while Prado has already eliminated himself from MX2 for a term thanks to back-to-back titles in 2018-2019 (thus being pushed out of the category according to the rules).
Herlings leads the 2020 MXGP championship after the two rounds before Covid-19 halted the action.
Cairoli (34, the second oldest athlete in MXGP and based in Rome), Herlings and Prado (19 and Rome/Belgium set) all have different style and approaches. Cairoli was the definition of flamboyance on a 250, who matured into one of the best all-rounders the sport has ever seen with an unparalleled rate of consistency that casted 89 victories (12 away from the record total) and 162 podiums (5 away from another record). Herlings is an animal of attacking riding, strength and an insatiable desire to win. A record-smasher in MX2 he assembled one of the most memorable campaigns on record in 2018 with 17 wins from 19 appearances (the other two results were 2nd place) and has a career tally of 86. Prado is arguably the best starter in the modern era with a 50% ratio of holeshots in two years and a smooth and graceful technique that ensures his universal competitiveness and low rate of mistakes and crashes. He is already Spain’s greatest motocrosser thanks to his 31 triumphs and is the premier class rookie for 2020.
With back-to-back MX2 World Championship titles Prado is looking to make his mark in MXGP.
Fittingly each rider has either been developed by KTM or has assisted the factory team’s bloom into an outfit that has owned both MXGP (previously ‘MX1’) and MX2 seven times in the last decade. It has helped the ‘orange’ squad to be the powerhouse of the paddock. “We worked on that image and we’ve had it now for a while with MX2 and MXGP titles over the years, sometimes even in the same season and that’s something unique,” offers Team Manager and Technical Coordinator Dirk Gruebel; the German has been part of the crew’s management since the end of the ‘00s. “You get used to it, but it should never be taken for granted. Winning both titles in the same year and by the same team is a huge achievement.”
Cairoli – in his eleventh season with Red Bull KTM – was signed in 2010 and helped establish the KTM 350 SX-F concept that eventually helped the KTM 450 SX-F evolve to become the standard for the category. He aced championships with both bikes. Herlings was groomed by the factory as a teenage prodigy who made his GP debut as a fifteen-year old and won his first race after just three rounds. Prado’s story is similar to the Dutchman’s but he was in KTM development channels from puberty and through 65, 85 and 125cc levels to the world stage. He scored a podium on his first full GP appearance and won in his maiden term having just turned 16 years of age.
Cairoli and Herlings battle at the sharp end of the field at the opening MXGP round of 2020.
Their results and numbers establish immediate credibility. “I don’t think we’ve seen something like that, with the amount of titles under the same tent. It’s very rare,” offers Gruebel. When it comes to ranking the trio as ‘the greatest’ there is a degree of subjectivity away from the statistics, and comparison of eras and the different demands, techniques, length of the seasons and standards of equipment means the exercise can be fruitless. For many, even inside KTM, there is only one possible rival.
“KTM is a bit like the new Honda of the 80s,” opines KTM Motocross Manager Joel Smets, a double champion himself for the manufacturer. “The full HRC line-up: when I was a kid I remember thinking ‘how is that possible?’ It really was a dream team.”
In 1985 and 1986 the red triplet of Dave Thorpe, Andre Malherbe and Eric Geboers finished 1-2-3 in the 500cc World Championship in that order. The team would shape-shift with the likes of Jeff Leisk and Jean-Michel Bayle coming into the frame. “They didn’t have that many titles when the original three came together and I think Eric still had to win in the 250s or 500s – he believed he was going to blow everyone away, but he fell on his face a few times. Malherbe was a double world champ and Thorpe won in 85-86,” Smets describes.
Cairoli’s first GP was in 2002 and the Sicilian has won nine World Championships since.
“From the point of view of image and competitiveness, for me, our guys are on the same level. Of course, Tony, Jorge and Jeffrey are top of the bill now, but Malherbe’s nickname was ‘Mr Hollywood’! That was the period shortly after they raced in leather pants and I remember him coming out for a mud race in completely white gear, holeshotting and finishing all white! Eric Geboers was a real star. Thorpe was more the working-class hero and respected as a sportsman but I think Geboers and Malherbe can easily stand next to Tony and Jeffrey. I lived that era as a spectator and perhaps I am not best placed to objectively judge it because now I’m looking at things from an inside point of view. I struggle to remember any other line-up like the one we have now at Red Bull KTM. Yamaha had Donny Schmit and Alex Puzar and later Stefan Everts and Marnicq Bervoets but they still don’t come close to these guys.”
On the awning floor and other members of Red Bull KTM believe that the riders themselves probably don’t have enough distance or perspective to see their general place in the sport’s landscape. “For sure it is up-there as one of the all-time greatest teams,” says Herlings’ mechanic Wayne Banks. “Do they really appreciate it? I think they are too focused on the job and they are all winners. Second place doesn’t mean much. I reckon they’ll [appreciate] it later but now they are caught in the moment.”
Herlings on home soil – the Dutchman battles the Valkenswaard sand.
2018 saw Herlings and Cairoli tussle for the MXGP crown and classify 1-2 for the year with only one other rider capturing just one of the twenty rounds. 2014, 2017 and 2018 saw inter-team tussles for the prize in MX2, of which Prado was a protagonist of the last. The prolificacy both against rivals and within the team led to a degree of excellence and ultimately the 2020 line-up. “If you wanted to plan it then I don’t think you could,” smiles Gruebel. “As a company it is also a really big effort to have three guys that are all so good that they could each win the title. Why should we make that huge investment for ‘three horses’? It just happened, but you never know what can happen next in racing. Tony is still going, Jeffrey is in his prime and you could say it is quite early for Jorge.”
Prado’s first Grand Prix on the KTM 450 SX-F was positive following his winter injury.
Arguably the chief architect was Pit Beirer, a seven-times Grand Prix winner and KTM rider and now Motorsports Director, who signed all three to the factory’s bountiful hall of fame. “I think this is the greatest MXGP line-up we’ve had at KTM and, like Dirk said, it is not something you can really plan,” the German said. “You can have a long-term strategy but then all three riders manage to change that! I almost feel sorry to say it, but Tony is still so good for a rider who is into his 30s: we probably expected him to have stopped by now but he’s like a good bottle of red wine. In the middle you have Jeffrey who we thought would have a very strong spell in the class but it was not easy to plan with him because of the injuries that occurred. Then on the other side you have Jorge coming and I don’t think anybody expected him to go like a rocket through all the categories to show up as a two-time world champion in MXGP for 2020. So, the team wasn’t planned but it is a time to enjoy them out there. Let’s all stay healthy and let’s hope we can start the season very soon.”
While all three riders have only appeared on track together twice so far in 2020, away from KTM and there is recognition for the strength of the gathering. “I think there is a case for Suzuki’s era from Joel Robert to Gaston Rahier to Eric Geboers to Michele Rinaldi and then Honda brought nine titles through their three main riders from 1980-90 but if you are looking at a single team, a single line-up then Red Bull KTM has the credentials,” says former Grand Prix winner and now full-time TV commentator and presenter Paul Malin. “Not only are all three supreme athletes but, numerically, of their 15 championship 12 have been won in KTM colors and the scary thing is that they could well be adding more in the next few years.”
Cairoli still has his eyes on the main prize as part of an incredible Red Bull KTM Factory Racing MXGP line-up.
“In the 80’s the 500 class was similar to MXGP today; all the best riders and main factories were involved,” offers legendary French journalist Pascal Haudiquert, a man who started covering Grand Prix in the mid-1970s and with more than 500 races under his belt as part of the media corps. “In this period the factory teams lined up with two riders maximum, Honda had three of the best in the world. But since this period no factory had such a strong team as KTM do now, for sure.”
How will the years enrich and preserve KTM’s unique collision of talent? Fortunately for the younger generation of MXGP fans they can savor the sight now and the memories later on. Until the next flagbearers arrive.
THE SPAWN OF SPORN: THE KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R CREATOR TALKS
Posted in Bikes, People Herman Sporn is the father of the KTM SUPER DUKE; an innovator, engineer and a damn fast rider. Here he talks about his work with the 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R and THE BEAST 3.0 concept, how it compares to the first 990, how KTM has changed and how the ‘ultimate’ Naked bike can still get better…
45 year old Hermann Sporn lights another cigarette. The lofty, grinning Austrian has just stepped off the production motorcycle that he and his team have created from the ground-up; if anything, his satisfaction is reassuring for taller customers that the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is a comfortable ride. The fact that Sporn cannot suppress a smile – even after all of the thinking, work and development time of three years for the SUPER DUKE – is vindication of the quality of his work.
The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R has been described as the flagship motorcycle for the factory: the embodiment of technology, style, intent and performance that KTM want to convey with their street bikes. Sporn was at the beginning of the story, and thus holds something a veneer of status in the halls of the Mattighofen factory and R&D department.
Afforded a quick talk before he takes another group onto the Portuguese roads around Portimao for the 2020 bike’s official presentation we pushed to know a bit more about his narrative and latest fabrication…
Was the SUPER DUKE your first bike for KTM and how did it come about?
I started at the factory in 2000 and came to KTM with the brief that I had to make a ‘SUPER DUKE’ – there was no real name for it at that time but they had made the first prototypes for the Adventure and wanted to do a two-cylinder Naked bike in parallel. I worked alone for three years and did everything from swingarm, frame, subframe, exhaust system and so on and after we had a good prototype we went to the designer to get a good fairing and shape and then it was ready. We wanted to start in 2004 but then we made some modifications – switching to injectors and improved the capacity from 950 to 990 ccm – and launched it in 2005.
The growth of KTM in that time – and enduring the financial crisis – has been immense. You must have seen some changes…
[Smiles] There were far fewer engineers. Now with all the R&D in Mattighofen and the two construction offices – one in Spain and another in Salzburg – I believe we are round 650 people. When I started we were just sixty! In 2005, with the first SUPER DUKE we got the feedback: the fuel tank was too small and the bike was not so refined – it was a bit too nervous – and that was the start points for the next generation in 2007 and that version was a lot better than the previous one. The production of KTM PowerParts that same year led to the single-seater R: the first one. It’s funny how the R came about actually because a motorcycle magazine contacted KTM as they wanted to make a race bike out of the SUPER DUKE and we said no, and then thought ‘let’s do our own’! We built up the track bike from zero and we used only parts to make the bike lighter, faster and stronger, additionally we wanted the bike to look cool, so my mechanic had the idea of making the frame in orange and I said let’s do the rest in black; everyone ended up liking it so much that it was the first time we had a R version with an orange frame and it has been something that’s been in place ever since. We started making a lot of tests at Pannonia-Ring with Andreas Meklau, who was riding in WorldSBK at this time. My mechanic and I were also doing a lot of riding because we didn’t have any professional test riders at that point.
The KTM SUPER DUKE 1290 R is obviously a sophisticated motorcycle. How do you compare it to the original 990? Is it like an iPhone 11 up against a 1?
I think, it is more like going back to a rotary phone! We built the first SUPER DUKE R fifteen years ago which is why it looks old. It was not refined, and we didn’t have the possibilities that we do now. We have one of the largest test centers in Europe, where the motorcycles are running for weeks with robots at full load, or entire assemblies are checked for lifetime on 2 Poster- and Vibration test benches and of course much more is now possible in FEM calculation and design of the components with the help of topology optimization than before. This meant the current bike was on a much higher level at much earlier stage. Also, you have to count the experience: we started from zero in 2000 with the SUPER DUKE R and the 2014 1290 model was one of the first KTM bikes to have traction control and advanced electronics. It grew with the time.
There are some limitations for development so do you still fully buy-into the Naked bike concept?
Of course. When can you really enjoy a superbike on the road? It is a pain to ride one, literally. In the hands, the leg, the seat, the damping was too harsh. It is a bike made for the racetrack and where there’s no problem to have maximum power, the torque on high rpm and when you want to find the limit you need also the tight damping. The big advantage with the SUPER DUKE was the huge amount of torque; it almost doesn’t matter what gear you were in. It is easy to ride, more comfortable and gives you a better view in traffic due to the upright seating position. In fact, testers were riding the SUPER DUKE for two-three days and well over 1000 km and were saying we should make a touring bike out of it; for that reason, we made a GT version prototype that everybody loved and now that’s into its second generation.
KTM are calling the 2020 model ‘the ultimate Naked bike’. So how can you improve the benchmark?
I like a challenge! We want to maintain the good properties from the previous bike such as the easy rideability, good ergonomics and also good seat comfort for a whole weekend of riding. But, additionally, we wanted better feel from the front end, improved anti squat behavior and also a better handling. For this one we were given a free hand to make our brief, and I had some discussions with my boss, when they saw the number of tests we were making on the track. We said: “this doesn’t mean it will be worse for the street…we have to feel the limit to know if the frame, swingarm and rim stiffness is at a certain level where we feel what the tire is doing”. You can sometimes only make discoveries when you are at the maximum. 95 or even 99% is not enough. It has to be 100. For the future the work goes on and we continue to look at all aspects. We know the motorcycle is arriving to a really high level, but we noticed that we can improve the tire. The standard [Bridgestone] S22 had a problem with the torque-and-power ratio in combination with the low weight from the bike for getting the power to the ground when it started to slide; it was happening too quickly. So, we spoke with Bridgestone and that’s where Jeremy McWilliams was so good. He was able to explain to them that the contact patch was too small, and we didn’t have the grip we needed. We wanted a softer carcass and were given some prototypes and they worked. I remember one test where we used the old tire on the first day in dry conditions and when the bike accelerated hard out of a corner we were always experiencing a huge amount of slide. The following day it was wet and with the new tire the front end was lifting under the same acceleration from the same corner! There was more grip in wet conditions with the new tire than there had been with the old one in the dry! It was amazing how much the performance of the tire improved.