A sweaty and intense eighteenth Sprint of the 2023 MotoGP season saw Brad Binder slide his KTM RC16 to 5th position after the South African had qualified 7th in Malaysia. Teammate Jack Miller was also lively around the wide and fast Sepang International Circuit and in a stuffy climate as the Australian ranked 6th; both less than 1.5 seconds from the podium. Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Jose Rueda placed his KTM RC4 in 6th on the Moto3™ grid as Moto2™ teammate Pedro Acosta will also start from 6th position and needs a top four finish on Sunday to be proclaimed 2023 world champion in the class.
Back to the start for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. The final triple header of a frenetic 2023 brought the championship firstly to the Sepang International Circuit and where the paddock began the campaign with the first pre-season test nine months earlier. Trips to the renovated Lusail International Circuit in Qatar and the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia are still to come but MotoGP again had to deal with high temperatures and the humid tropical climate of Sepang, a short distance from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The track is not only very familiar to the riders and teams for the traditional shakedown test (although the grip levels and amount of rubber deposit on the asphalt mean significantly different conditions) but also for Sepang’s regularity on the world championship calendar, having first hosted a GP back in 1999. Wide, technical and distinctive for two long straights; Sepang is a decent test of man and machine acumen.
Podium potential for Red Bull KTM in the previous three overseas rounds meant that Brad Binder and Jack Miller came to Malaysia confident of their chances and refreshed after the much-needed weekend respite. On Friday both riders eased directly into Q2 with lap-times that placed them into the top four through P1 where the top sixteen were split by just one second. On Saturday the Malaysian skies remained dry and bright for qualification and Q2 was tricky to negotiate with at least three crashes bringing out the yellow flags in the final minutes. Binder ended the chrono in 7th, half a second from Pole, and Miller had 10th position.
The Sprint lasted for 10 laps and it was Miller who caught the eye into Turn 1 as he made a fantastic start from 10th to nudge into the top five. He had Binder for company and the pair circulated together on the edge of a very close podium fight. Around the last circulation of Sepang, Binder pushed the RC16 to the limit and briefly seized 4th into the final corner but was nudged back at the finish and took 5th. Miller was not distant at all and ran to 6th.
Brad Binder, 7th in qualification, 5th in the Sprint: “Today was a bit more tricky than I expected. Qualifying was quite difficult as I had a lot of chatter and I was trying to manage it. 7th place was quite good but in the race I just didn’t have any rear grip. I think I was unlucky, and at least it’s better to have that situation today in the Sprint, rather than the Grand Prix tomorrow. I hope we can sort things out, get a bit better and fight for the podium at least.”
Jack Miller, 10th in qualification, 6th in the Sprint: “Somewhat satisfied but we still want better. Difficult qualifying and couldn’t quite get it going with the first tire but I made up for it with that start in the Sprint and was battling with the boys. I could make my own rhythm and it will be interesting to see what we can do in the full distance and with managing the tire. The KTM does a good job with the consumption so I hope we can be there fighting tomorrow.”
Francesco Guidotti, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team Manager: “Another solid day even if we were expecting a bit more from the race. There were six riders in three seconds, so we were ‘there’. We missed the chance to fight for the lead because of the traffic through the first two corners. The pace was there though so happy in general and we have one more chance for better tomorrow.”
- From KTM Factory Racing