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Nov 22, 2018

MotoGP: ​Pol Espargaro Talks “Unreal” Valencia Grand Prix

Red Bull KTM's Pol Espargaro on the MotoGP podium at Valencia. Photo by Sebas Romero, courtesy of KTM.

Copyright 2018, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

By Andrea Wilson

It was a Cinderella Story for Pol Espargaro and the Red Bull KTM squad in tough conditions at the MotoGP season finale in Spain...

Pol Espargaro and his Red Bull KTM squad made history with the brand’s first MotoGP podium finish in a two-part wet race November 18 in Valencia, Spain. His result on the day not only marked KTM’s best finish in the premier class, but for Espargaro himself. So it was smiles all around and a very emotional finish for the Spaniard and his team after enduring a tough couple of years of developing the RC16.

For Pol, it was also a huge reward after a tough year for him personally. But he felt good straight away this past weekend in both wet and dry conditions at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit and that was a big confidence boost.

“It’s unreal,” said Espargaro. “I felt good honestly during all the weekend with wet conditions, even with dry. To be always in the top eight was building me up a little bit during all the weekend and my confidence. Then in the race, when I released the clutch I knew that I did a good start. Then I was fighting against Marc [Marquez]… but Marc was braking so hard and the Honda was really good on the acceleration, and I couldn’t.

Pol Espargaro (44) leading Marc Marquez (93), Maverick Vinales (25), Michele Pirro (51) and Valentino Rossi (46) during the wet portion of the MotoGP race at Valencia. - Photo by Sebas Romero, courtesy of KTM.

“I was so fast in T2, and when you are so fast in one place you don’t need to try harder in that place maybe in the others, but I tried in that place and just I made an amazing crash – so wild, just big high side. Then the red flag was a message. I said to myself, ‘this is your opportunity. Just take it.’ In the second race, I had new tires. After the crash, to build up my confidence, this was difficult, but I just pushed. After everything we went through this year it’s unbelievable for me and for all my team, my wife, all the crew around me. It’s just as I said in the beginning -- unreal.”

It was a good day for KTM as a whole. In Moto3, Can Oncu made history as the youngest rider to win a Grand Prix race and then Miguel Oliveira took the Moto2 race win. So there was a little pressure on the factory KTM MotoGP squad to deliver some results as well.

“I said, ‘You are going to look ridiculous if you don’t do something good’,” said Espargaro. “I saw Ernest and I heard Ernest Riveras saying that I had some chance to do. 'Let’s see if Pol can close the circle.' I was there saying, ‘No, man. It’s not going to happen.’ Finally, we did it. I’m just super happy with this result for KTM. They deserve it. You don’t know how much effort they are putting in, the effort and investment and money on that project, and finally for them to finish the year in that position... We are trying to be as fast as the dirt guys in MX with winning everything in all the categories, and with the road bikes we are a little bit behind. I’m just happy that we show also we have some power.”

Pol Espargaro (44) leading Takaaki Nakagami (30), Jorge Lorenzo (99), Johann Zarco (5) and others during the wet portion of the MotoGP race at Valencia. - Photo by Sebas Romero, courtesy of KTM.

It’s impossible to say that finishing third is on par with race wins and winning a World Championship, but after all of the struggles this year and in previous years in the premier class, for Espargaro it almost was.

“In Moto2 and in 125 I was winning and on the podium, and constantly there,” Espargaro explained. “Humans, we are so stupid that we get used to these good things when it happens. Then when I was World Champion, you enjoy it so much. It’s amazing, but because you’ve been winning and you touch it many times, it’s emotional but not as much as what we did today. What we did today was so difficult and we’ve been so many times trying and with this new bike, with the new KTM, it was so unreal that it makes [it] super emotional. I think it was more emotional than winning a World Championship even just a third place. It’s been amazing.

A very happy Pol Espargaro in Parc Ferme with his Red Bull KTM crew and supporters. - Photo by Sebas Romero, courtesy of KTM.

“Not for me at the beginning, it was difficult to see this result and to imagine this result one day, even in dry and in wet. We need to think that this bike has been riding for now two years. In Qatar, last year we were the last in the grid and one second off the guy in front.

“During this season for sure we’ve been blocked because I’ve been injured and also Mika [Kallio] has been injured. It was difficult to develop the bike with these conditions. It’s been unbelievable progress, unbelievable development of this bike. I’m really proud of all these guys, not just the racing guys, but in Mattighofen, all the people around this project had put so much interest and effort on that. This is more than just a third position.”

So if this was the high, what was the lowest point this season for the youngest Espargaro?

“It was one day at home when Aleix [Espargaro] was racing and I was at home with Aleix’s child. I was holding Aleix’s child and I was in so much pain in my neck and in my back. It’s impossible for me to sleep seeing my brother racing. But in that moment, I was so drugged because I was feeling so bad that fell sleep with Aleix’s child in my hands and I couldn’t finish seeing my brother racing. This was a bad moment. I think this makes this more important and for that reason I said that it is not just a result. Even if we would finish fourth or fifth, would be unbelievable for us. Just to finish in the biggest level with these guys after everything we went through. This is already unbelievable.”

Developing a bike is not easy. Especially at the highest level of the sport, when teams with loads of time in bike development can still struggle. KTM Motosport Director Pit Beirer had even mentioned earlier in the season that maybe his guys had spent so much effort on development that maybe they had lost touch with being a racer. Espargaro admitted that it is really hard when you are constantly changing things on the bike during the weekend.

“Actually, I was in the press conference in Aragon sharing the table with Dovi [Andrea Dovizioso] and I don’t remember well what they asked to him, but he answered, ‘Yeah, we’ve been changing quite a lot of things on the bike, and now we keep the bike we know for a few races and then we start to be fast.’ This reminded me how many times we changed the whole bike - the engine, the chassis, the swing arm during race weekends. In racing life, this is crazy changes to do in a race weekend. But we needed to do that. I’m not against that. I asked for that, but this also makes your life harder and difficult.”

Next year though, there will be even more riders to help with development with Dani Pedrosa on board as a test rider. Espargaro looks forward to having that additional help and building on what the team accomplished in the final race of the season.

“This thing that we are going to have next year – Johann [Zarco] and Dani [Pedrosa] and all the Tech3 team – is going to help us so much because on the test we are not going to be alone. The Tech3 team is going to have the same spec bike as us because we have no different bike to give to them. We are going to have the same info. They are going to test the same things as us. This is going to make us improve double or triple than what we are improving now. We all are looking forward to that, and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”