KTM’s Pol Espargaro says he was “fighting so hard” to keep Fabio Quartararo and Joan Mir behind after his soft rear tyre “said bye-bye” in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
The Austrian manufacturer struggled as a collective during the first Misano event last weekend, Espargaro its highest finisher in tenth-12 seconds down on race winner Franco Morbidelli.
Tuesday’s test day at the Italian circuit allowed KTM to make significant progress with the RC16 though, culminating in a strong qualifying that saw Espargaro bag fourth while Brad Binder followed close behind in sixth.
The duo then made a strong start in the race, Binder moving into third on lap two-albeit crashing out shortly afterwards-leaving Espargaro to spearhead KTM’s podium assault.
He utilised his soft rear tyre to run strongly for the bulk of the 27 lap contest, but came under severe pressure from the charging Yamaha and Suzuki machines in the closing stages as the tyre degraded, ultimately taking third behind Mir after Quartararo received a three-second penalty for track limits on the final tour.
“I’m super happy to get the podium here in Misano, especially after we finished 12 seconds behind the winner last week, it’s just unbelievable to be on the podium,” said Espargaro.
“We were dreaming about it, we were trying to use the soft tyre today just to do something different to the last one, and yeah it worked at the beginning for the first 10,11 or 12 laps but then the tyre started to drop until the end of the race, and by the end the rear said ‘bye-bye’-it was completely gone.
“I was fighting so hard with the bike, I was going deep into the corners to try and stop the corner speed of Fabio (Quartararo) every corner, he was struggling on the exit while I could pull away with the KTM power.
“It worked for quite a lot of laps but I knew eventually he would overtake me, but luckily we didn’t finish very far from him at the end of the race and with his penalty we could get the podium so my effort paid off.”
Espargaro admitted that even fourth would have been “amazing” considering KTM’s struggles at the venue just a week earlier, adding that he was “shocked” to be directed to parc ferme after being unaware of Quartararo’s penalty.
“I was very happy with fourth, which for us was amazing,” continued Espargaro.
“I knew we wouldn’t finish on the podium because I saw that Mir and Fabio were coming and were right behind me, I knew that fourth would be great.
“Then as I was heading to the pit box I got the signal to go to the podium and I was shocked.”
Espargaro warned that KTM were likely to struggle at the upcoming Catalan GP at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya this weekend, but expected for the remaining rounds to be “great” for the organisation.
“I don’t know how good I am with the championship (standing) but this race has helped quite a lot on that, I’m especially happy because Misano is usually one of our weaker tracks, and also Barcelona is a difficult one for our bike.
“But after getting third here we just need to go to Barcelona and do OK, and then it’s going to go down.
“We have two races in Aragon, the Valencia one and the new race in Portimao so the coming races look great for us.”