Bradley Smith not surprised KTM starting 2017 MotoGP season at back

Bradley Smith says KTM expected to be "bringing up the back" of the MotoGP field in opening practice for the Qatar Grand Prix, the start of its maiden full-time campaign

Bradley Smith not surprised KTM starting 2017 MotoGP season at back

The Austrian manufacturer enters the premier class this year after a 2016 testing programme that culminated in a wildcard appearance in the Valencia season finale.

It has made inroads with its RC16 since race riders Smith and Pol Espargaro started testing last November, but has largely remained at the bottom of the order.

In the first session of the new season, Espargaro was 21st fastest and Smith 23rd and last, both more than three seconds off the pace set by Yamaha's Maverick Vinales.

THURSDAY PRACTICE REPORT: Vinales starts season on top

However Smith said that outcome was in line with where he thought KTM would be.

"[We're] finding our feet and starting from there," he said.

"In general, kind of what we expected, we're bringing up the back, but in a similar position to what we were here in the test, even after three days [of testing], we're the same after 45 minutes.

"We kind of rode the same bike that I had at the test on run one, then on run two it was what we would have changed our bike to had we had a fourth day of testing.

"That 'fourth day of testing' bike seems to be a bit better, from that point of view I'm happy.

"We just need to continue working with electronics and small details."

Track conditions on Thursday were considered worse than during the final pre-season test at the Losail circuit a fortnight ago, due to recent rain and high winds.

Smith felt the reduced grip could have actually hurt the KTM's pace more than it did, based on times before the late flurry on fresh rubber.

"The bike feels somewhat like it did in the test, which is a nice thing," he said.

"With less grip I was worried that we'd be further away.

"But with less grip we've got the same distance as we did in the test, so from that point of view I'm happy."

Development of KTM's engine and power delivery is a focal point, and while it is not using a new specification compared to testing, Smith also took confidence from the performance of a fresh unit.

"I was able to follow, I think, Valentino [Rossi] down the main straight and - OK, there's a head wind today - but I seemed to be able to follow the Yamaha," he said.

"So that gave me a bit more of an upbeat situation because we were struggling a little bit here with the older test engines with a bit of speed.

"But with the new engines we seem to have a little bit of something, so that gives us optimism for the weekend."

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