17th in KTM’s debut 2017 MotoGP season, Pol Espargaro brought the curtain down on his RC16 career with fifth place in the world championship at Portimao on Sunday.
“I feel honoured to have been part of this project in the last four years,” Espargaro said. “I feel proud of what we have achieved as a factory, what I have achieved as a rider.
“I take with me a bag full of knowledge with me for the future, and I can just say thanks as it has been an amazing time together.”
While tied on points with Andrea Dovizioso, the Ducati rider got the nod for fourth in the world championship due to his race win.
But after his most successful season since joining the premier-class in 2014, Espargaro said missing out on a win isn’t eating away at him.
“You know, not so much, honestly,” Espargaro replied, when asked how hard it is to leave KTM without a win. “I promise you, I don’t lie. It’s not [the only thing] I was looking for in KTM.
“For sure, I want to win, I always go on track with that winning mentality, and it won’t always happen. But at the end, if you see the result of Mir, he is world champion by winning just one race.
“The results we did looking at the whole season, with the five podiums, that’s five days we were super happy. And the two pole positions as well. Maybe one victory is one day very happy, you know?”
The other KTM riders took three podiums combined, the race victories for Binder (one) and Oliveira (two), with Oliveira in ninth the next best RC16 rider in the world championship after Espargaro.
Espargaro was in victory contention at Brno, where Johann Zarco was penalised for contact that caused the #44 to fall, Austria 1, where he was leading when the race was stopped and didn’t have a new tyre for the restart, and Austria 2, when he lost out to Jack Miller and Oliveira in a final turn showdown.
“For sure I miss that race in Czech Republic to finish it. Because I think I was very strong and I had the chance to win that race,” Espargaro said. “But apart from that no regrets.
“I did my all, and if the win didn’t come, it’s because I did not deserve it or because I didn’t make the correct move when I needed to.
“So I had [the chance] many times, just that time [Brno] it went out of our hands. And in the last two times when we could fight for that win, it was our problems, our mistakes that made us not win.
“I feel pleased with myself and super happy with how everything was at the end.”
Espargaro also paid tribute to those around him for helping overcome the disappointments and dark moments of the last four years, as they worked to bring KTM from the back to the front of MotoGP.
“Attitude is everything. Especially in normal life. But to keep smiling, to come back from injuries, to keep strong. To have this attitude you need good people around you, and I have an amazing wife, also Borja [assistant] and my manager Homer, that are always with me.
“Through these four years I have needed these people so much because it’s been tough in many moments but they have been there. Also all the crew, all the guys in the pit box helped me so much with the attitude to be smiling everyday and gave me the confidence and the love to be what I am. So just thanks to these people too.
“I really, really am going to miss all of them, and I will be super-sad to go into the pit box not seeing their faces,” Espargaro added. “Because the have given me the ‘wings’ to bring the results.
“So without them it’s going to be really difficult, and hopefully I can find good people also that I am sure will be in Honda. But that is very difficult to find in one team in MotoGP.”
The lack of any post-season testing means Espargaro has to wait until Sepang in February before he can make his Honda debut, meaning plenty of time to question the decision he has made.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a long time and many things will go through my mind, ” he said. “I will think that maybe I should not have left KTM many times, and many times I will think that it was the right choice [to leave].
“It will go changing and switching day by day, but this is what happens when you take these serious decisions in your sporting career.
“As an athlete I’m going to handle it, and as a man I am going to take it and fight to be in this motorcycling world, where the competitiveness now is at such a high, high level with such great riders.”
Red Bull KTM race manager Mike Leitner said it was a source of great pride that Espargaro had beaten his best championship position on Yamaha machinery at Tech3.
“I’m super-happy that Pol is fifth in the championship. When he joined our project he finished sixth with another brand and the goal was always to help him be better,” Leitner explained.
“I think he has had a good four years and we wish him all the best for the future.”