Successful opening to the season for KTM Night Riders at Qatar tests
Red Bull KTM star Mika Kallio rode to second place in the final night-time practice on the brightly illuminated, desert racing circuit, closely followed by Julian Simón, Spain’s hope in the newly established Team Repsol KTM while Kallio’s factory team- Hiroshi Aoyama was in fourth place. In the combined practice times of all three days, Aoyama holds sixth place (2:00.551) ahead of Kallio (2:00.595) in seventh and Simón in tenth position (2:00.974). The scene is therefore set for these three riders to be among the front runners in the fight for the 250cc world championship title.
Brand new conditions
Testing at night gave KTM teams and riders the opportunity to refine set-ups on the new chassis of the KTM 250 FRR and to become accustomed to the floodlighting and lower track surface temperatures which drop to just over 20 ° Celsius at midnight. The new chassis has proved its worth during tests at slower race tracks like in Valencia or Jerez de la Frontera and now must be measured against the fast Losail circuit with its sweeping bends and its 1.1 km-long main straight.
Although Kallio had a couple of falls on the first of three testing days he settled in and confirmed his position as one of the top-contenders in this category. “We established a good base set-up with our new chassis at the tests in Valencia and Jerez, but we had to start all over again here in Qatar. The Losail track is faster. It has higher corner speeds but the overall grip level is lower - partly because of the sand that blow across the circuit and partly because of the lower asphalt temperatures. At first the feeling for the bike was a whole lot different then we made changes to the suspension set-up and the chassis geometry. Making the bike shorter overall helped a lot, I got a good feeling for the front end and I managed to put in a good lap time on a used rear tyre,” Mika, confirming that night riding was “no problem” for him.
Kallio’s Red Bull KTM factory teammate Hiroshi Aoyama also said he had no problem with the night riding. “It was a strange feeling to go on the race track and ride in the dark in the beginning but I got used to it after three days of testing. It feels a bit like riding on a highway!” He said concerns about lower track temperatures also turned out to be no problem. “We’ve already found the right tyre choice for the race. The different situation with a different track and a completely different ambience also lead to a different feeling for the bike, but we also managed to sort this out, and found a good set-up. There is still a lot of work ahead of us on the race. I want to go faster so we need to improve our set-up further!”
Simón adjusts to lights
Julian Simón from Repsol KTM said it took him a while to adjust to the floodlit course. He said that under brakes “there are a lot of irritating shadows surrounding you”.
“But I rode many laps in these tests and eventually I got used to the conditions.” Simon had a crash on the fast left hand corner of the circuit on the last day but without any serious consequences. He confirmed he had “a great feeling for the bike" after the Jerez tests and underlined that the Qatar circuit needed different set-ups. All three riders said they wanted to reserve their best tyres for the race on Sunday.
Strong line-ups for KTM-supported teams
Esteve Rabat from Repsol KTM was without teammate Marc Marquez for the Qatar tests, who is nursing an injured arm and his team was also working hard on suspension and gear ratios to suit the Losail circuit. Pablo Nieto and Raffaele de Rosa of Onde 2000 KTM also registered times among the top 10 in the course of the three test days and other KTM riders who will definitely need to be watched are Tomoyoshi Koyama (ISPA KTM Aran team), his teammate Italian Lorenzo Zanetti and Red Bull’s own Randy Krummenacher. He crashed on day two but escaped with a sore foot and reported good progress with setups ahead of the first GP.