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Espargaro takes 11th position at Sepang as Binder wins Moto2 again

Red Bull KTM emerged from the penultimate round of 2019 MotoGP in Malaysia with Pol Espargaro scoring five points for 11th position. Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder captured his fourth Moto2 victory of the season and sits second in the championship standings.

The 21st Grand Prix to be hosted by the Sepang International Circuit took place in typically hot and humid conditions. The eighteenth round of nineteen this season was also the third in three weeks for the busy MotoGP paddock after trips to Japan and Australia.

Pol Espargaro set off from 15th position on the grid with his KTM RC16 after two days trying to find effective rear wheel grip around the 5.5km layout. The Spaniard launched into a position on the edge of the top ten and then proceeded to push hard throughout the 20-lap distance. He fought with his brother, Aleix, and also withstood the presence of Francesco Bagnaia in 30+ degree temperatures to bring the #44 machine across the finish line in 11th place. Espargaro’s classification represented significant progress for the team. Not only did their form and pace improve across the weekend but the 2019 race time was over 30 seconds faster and almost 18 seconds closer to the winner compared to 2018.

Red Bull KTM teammate Mika Kallio was a few positions further back and was extremely close – just two tenths of a second – from relegating former five-times world champion Jorge Lorenzo. The Fin, in 15th, was still able to secure a point for the second time in five races.

Sepang represented a frantic home fixture for Red Bull KTM’s Hafizh Syahrin. The Malaysian set-off from 21st on the grid and worked his way to 16th, cheered on by large sections of the 103,000 crowd.

Teammate Miguel Oliveira pulled out of the Grand Prix after attempting Free Practice on Friday. The Portuguese was suffering with pain in his hands and right shoulder after his crash in Phillip Island the previous weekend. Oliveira returned to Europe for consultation on the shoulder joint and underwent reparative surgery on damaged ligaments Sunday morning in Austria. He will not participate in the last event of the season.

Pol Espargaro: “It was not like a European race where we are fighting for a top ten, normally, but to come from where we did on Friday means I am pleased. There was a lot of set-up [work] and thinking going on during the nights and the team have done a very good job. It is amazing to turnaround the weekend like we did. We were improving much more than the others. Now to the final race and then Valencia will be a fun test and Jerez as well: the new engine is coming, the new chassis is coming, the whole package. It looks very promising.”

Mika Kallio: “If we think about the feeling on Friday then it was already a bit better yesterday but we were still suffering quite a lot. For me it was a case of not being able to get the best out of the tyres. I started the race quite well and managed to gain a few positions and reached the group where Pol was riding but saw I didn’t have much of a chance to stay there. I lost a lot of time on the fast sections and corners. I just couldn’t follow them and it’s a shame. Now to Valencia and it is always nice to finish the season – hopefully – in a good way.”

Hafizh Syahrin: “The race itself was very hard and, for sure, very emotional for me, as – for the moment – it was my last home Grand Prix in the MotoGP class but I will return with the Moto2. I hope all the fans enjoyed the race here, I couldn’t do more. I appreciate all the support a lot and I want to say a huge thank you to my team, who were there for me from my first moment on, worked hard and never got tired to help me. I really enjoyed this moment and I hope I can come back strong next year.”

Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Team Manager: “We started the weekend in a tough way and with problems to find grip with the rear tyre. So we had to work hard to find the right setting, which we did session-by-session but we were not ready in time for qualifying and for a good grid position. From P15 we knew it would be hard for Pol to fight for a single digit result but we saw in morning warm-up when he was 9th that we’d made a step and that gave him confidence. Mika helped us a lot because he tried some ideas we had to make the bike better. In the end it was a hard race for everybody but mid-distance we had times similar to the group pushing for sixth-seventh but we were not part of that front group ‘train’. It was tricky to stay on two wheels and it is always hard to find the limit on this track. We have to thank Mika for his work and in the end he got a point and it was a shame that Hafizh just missed out. We are happy with the outcome even if we didn’t meet our usual target. We missed Miguel from FP1 onwards, which didn’t help us going forward with the bike. We wish him all the best because it looks like he will miss Valencia. We hope he will be back strong as soon as possible.”