The Losail International Circuit has held a unique place on the MotoGP calendar since its inauguration in 2004. For 2021 the floodlit venue, a short distance outside the city of Doha, hosted the sole warm-up for the upcoming season through five days of testing where both KTM teams worked on their race set-ups and options for the KTM RC16 ahead of the opening Grand Prix at the end of the month and the homologation deadline.
After three wins and nine podium results in only their fourth season of MotoGP in 2020, KTM have lost their concessions for the campaign. They therefore focused on sustaining their potent engine performance while working on mileage, electronics and further refinement of the motor that has been frozen for development in 2021 in accordance with the championship rules. In addition to the 2021 bikes KTM also freighted a wealth of new components to Qatar for the four racers as well as test rider Dani Pedrosa to evaluate. They included variations on their aerodynamics and upgrades to the WP Suspension systems.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder notched plenty of circulations of the fast, windy layout and in varying temperatures as afternoon sunshine turned to dusk, evening and humidity throughout the test. Sadly, the last day was hit by strong gusts and a lot of sand on the asphalt which prevented most of the grid from further work and scrubbed the chance for time attacks in earnest. In the final combined standings Oliveira placed 16th while Binder, who did manage a few minutes on track, ended the visit in 17th.
Tech3 KTM Factory Racing pair Iker Lecuona (his second season with the French crew and second in the category) and Danilo Petrucci (the sole ‘rookie’ to the KTM line-up for ’21) were also embarking on their respective journeys for base setting and feeling. The Spaniard was 23rd while the Italian 19th from the last three days.
: “I have to say that I’m honestly very happy to work with such a professional group of people. There was a transition for me from Tech3 to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and there were more people filling more roles and that makes you feel appreciated as a rider. I put in maximum effort to do a good job and test all the things we needed and get good laps. I would have liked to have gone a bit faster by using the last day but, overall, I am very optimistic and hopeful for the racing weekends ahead. Let’s go racing.”
: “It was quite a tricky test for us. It started well but then I had a couple of small crashes and that interfered with our plan quite a bit. By the fourth day I was feeling a lot more comfortable again and riding bike like I want. It would have been nice to have had one more day but we’ll come back here in a week or so with a couple of things still to try and, from which, I’m sure we’ll up-our-game once more.”
: “I’m pleased with the progress throughout our four days here at the Losail International Circuit. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use this final day. Anyway, we have some clear ideas about what we need. I’m also very happy about the work with the team and the environment. Of course, we still need to improve, because our goal is to fight at the top. For the race weekend, we will start from zero, so I’m optimistic to begin this new adventure.”
Iker Lecuona: “Overall, I learned a lot during these four days of testing. I improved a lot, although my lap time is not the best yet. Today I wanted to try to do a long run and a time attack, which was unfortunately impossible due to the weather. For sure, there’s a lot of work left for us. During the Grand Prix weekend, we need to check several things but I feel that we can improve already on Friday in order to be closer to the top ten during the first race.”
Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager: “It was tough to put the whole winter test plan into five days here and at least we got four days in good conditions. We had a full program with all four riders and we went through most of the stuff but there are still some things we’d like to see and check before the season starts. Losail has been a difficult track for us in the past and to use the strengths of our bike, but, you need to deal with all sorts of conditions in a championship and sometimes it’s not too bad to start in a place where you’ve struggled before. You can learn a lot from this process. The riders did a really good job and were very focused. Miguel did not hammer the super lap-times but did long runs and we were very happy with those. Brad had a few crashes but we know how fast he is, and the fourth day was very good. Danilo is a new rider for Tech3 so he had to get used to the bike and our philosophy behind it but by day three he made a really good step for times and rhythm and understood more about how he needs to use the RC16. I think he will have a good season. Iker did a lot of testing and that probably didn’t help him for time attacks. He did try some ideas for the future which could help a lot. Dani Pedrosa and the test team were looking at the future version of the bike and working on a lot of stuff with race pace. We saw some potential there and that was very positive.”
Sebastian Risse, Technical Coordinator MotoGP: “This was a unique off-season and pre-season. Everybody had to adapt to the circumstances but for us we lost the concessions and wanted to work even more with Tech3 for development and that involves a lot of preparation in the background. We came to Qatar with a lot of ideas and parts and, as usual, this track is very ‘special’ with the winds and the differing temperatures of the asphalt. So, we had to use the time wisely. We worked on development in almost all areas of the bike: engine, chassis, swingarm, aerodynamics, suspension, electronics while deciding how and when to do it. Then, finally, put it all together. The riders had a busy schedule, aside from being able to work in the ‘normal’ way as a race team. We haven’t shown everything we can just yet. It’s clear to see that Losail is not the easiest for our bike but I think we have a good base. Now we have to assemble everything we know for the races here, which will be a different game, as always. Whatever happens in Losail we have a full season ahead and we are ready to attack it. Overall the bike is quite a bit better than last year. It’s not a big revolution but we want to use this season to take all the potential from the RC16, and I think we’re well-placed to do that.”
Qatar 2021 Test final times
1. Jack Miller (AUS), Ducati 1:53.183
2. Maverick Viñales (ESP), Yamaha +0.061
3. Fabio Quartararo (FRA), Yamaha +0.080
4. Franco Morbidelli (ITA), Yamaha +0.140
5. Francesco Bagnaia (ITA), Ducati +0.261
16. Miguel Oliveira (POR), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +1.343
17. Brad Binder (RSA), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +1.508
19. Danilo Petrucci (ITA), Tech3 KTM Factory Racing +1.712
23. Iker Lecuona (ESP), Tech3 KTM Factory Racing +2.012
24. Dani Pedrosa (ESP), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +2.457