“Salom has learnt from us –and us from him”

18/06/2013

Aki Ajo, Team Manager of Red Bull KTM Ajo, reviews first six races of the year and 19 consecutive podiums.
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The reigning Moto3 team World Champions, Red Bull KTM Ajo, lead the individual overall standings through Luis Salom. Team Manager, Aki Ajo, reviews the start to the season made by the Spanish rider and teammates Zulfahmi Khairuddin and Arthur Sissis. Ajo highlights their excellent work as the key to success. The Finn also talks about a rider with whom he took the 125cc title in 2010: Marc Marquez.

Red Bull KTM Ajo have been on the podium for 19 consecutive Grands Prix. Did you realise this?
“The truth is that it was a pleasant surprise for me to hear that we are on this run of podiums, because I did not know about it before and do not look at this type of thing. So it’s really nice when someone tells me such good news. That is not to say I do not give importance to numbers. We are proud that the whole team together —riders and staff, are united to achieve these results. In addition, we have taken podiums with several riders, which is very important. This figure shows that we are fairly consistent —which is critical. In a World Championship you cannot always be fighting for the victory, but you have to be consistent and that is what we are doing.”

Does any of those 19 stand out especially for you?
“Probably the first one that comes to mind is that win after winning the World Championship last year, the first Moto3 championship history, with KTM. It was in Valencia, at the last race of the year. A very difficult race with tricky, wet conditions. On the podium we had two Red Bull KTM Ajo riders and also Fahmi [Zulfahmi Khairuddin], all of them part of KTM Ajo Motorsport. I will always remember that great moment.”

Ajo Motorsport have won three titles in five years. What is the secret to the team?
“I do not think there is any secret. I guess it’s our way of working, with a very professional staff and a true team. This is what I feel and what I am very proud of. I’m very happy and very grateful to all the people in the team, because I feel that in this group we have something special. We have several riders but we treat them all alike, nobody is more privileged than any other rider. All the riders work with their own mechanics, but we share the data amongst all of us. It really is a great team.”

What is the main difference between this year’s KTM and last year’s?
“I think the main goal for KTM was to improve everything, but especially the chassis. The engine was very good last year, and I think that they have not been concentrating so hard on this side of things, but this year it is even better —it’s brilliant. When it comes to the chassis, KTM has taken a big step up: It’s lighter and the riders say it is more manageable. When many changes are made on a bike, there has to be a lot of work during the first half of the season. We’re very happy with the material we have and an important step forward has been taken.”

This is your second year in Moto3; does this series still have a way to go?
“I think so, because we are still starting out; it is a great class. In my opinion, this is the category that I like best. MotoGP is definitely the number one, but the Motorcycle World Championship format is completely different to car competitions. For example, I’m not sure that the fans of Formula 1 know about the GP2 and GP3 classes. Those support categories do not have many sponsors and extensive media coverage. We are very happy to be in Moto3, because it is much closer to the premier class and all the people who follow the World Championship also get excited about us. This makes MotoGP a strong brand and championship. For me, it’s a very nice and fun category.”

We’re six races into the season. How do you analyse the campaign so far for Red Bull KTM Ajo?
“I think that with Luis [Salom], we have made a big improvement together. On this team he has learned things and we have too, because we always try to learn from the riders. We have to always be open and not think that past successes will help us now. You learn from every rider, every person around you, from every race. To achieve results in this world, the most important thing is to try to improve every day. This is what makes riders go fast. With Luis, together we have learned a lot. When compared with the beginning of the year, Luis is now much more relaxed, more consistent. He rides by himself, which he was not used to doing in the past, and is highly focused on his work. He still has to improve —although he has improved a lot already.”

This is your first season with Luis. What has surprised you the most about him?
“He’s a born fighter. During the race it is always very good to watch him on the final laps. This is his strong point, although he has many more. We have to always improve our consistency, including in free practice, and stay calm at all times.”

And Zulfahmi Khairuddin?
“Zulfahmi Khairuddin has made a significant step up from two years ago to today. Fahmi came to this team in 2011 after a difficult season in 125cc and greatly improved, achieving top ten finishes races. This past year he has also made a dramatic step forward, taking two podiums. This year Moto3 is an even tougher category. It is normal for a rider to improve every year, but not to improve so much. I believe that his lap times are more or less the same, so he just needs to feel completely comfortable with some aspects of the new bike. The feeling will come as the races go on, and Fahmi is improving. He has to continue working the same and keep calm.”

And Arthur Sissis?
“We must remember that Arthur [Sissis] is still a rookie. A few years ago he was a speedway rider and does not have much experience in roadracing. This is only his second year in the World Championship. He finished last year at some circuits where he is very comfortable and had great races. I believe that he is not happy with himself and we are thinking about improvement all the time. Basically, Arthur needs to improve in the free practice sessions of each Grand Prix. Arthur is a very strong rider in the races, as he has shown this year. We are trying to be more consistent in these sessions.”

How does a Team Manager take care of three riders in the same garage?
“There must be team spirit, and we have it. I try to learn from the riders and we all need each other. One has to be open, grateful and willing to help. If you give, you receive.”

Do you think the title fight will go down to the wire, at Valencia?
“If we look at the fight between the leading group and the second group, I think it is more competitive than last year. It’s very hard. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but if I have to say something now, I think there will be a very hard struggle for the title between now and the end of the season.”

You won the 125cc title with Marc Marquez in 2010. Could you sense then that he was a special rider?
“Honestly, I sensed that, because Marc [Marquez] is a special, special rider. He will always have a place in my heart. I will never forget that year in which I worked with him, we will always be good friends and when I see him, I get a good feeling. Likewise his family —it is always nice to see them. We had a lot of fun moments. I have seen many riders and all have their positives and negatives, but Marc is very, very special. He’s very talented. When he was sixteen I met him and he talked like a man of 35 or 40 years old. He has something special. He also has some things that are necessary in this world, including some luck and the hunger for hard work and victories. He is always looking for those aspects that can be improved to be stronger. He never gives up.”

Has his start to the season in MotoGP surprised you?
“I have to admit that yes, it has. I had hoped that he would obtain very good results, but maybe not as good as he is doing. Sometimes people say he is a bit too enthusiastic, but I think Marc [Marquez] is aware of the role that he is playing this year. Everybody says he has to be calmer and not make mistakes, but sometimes I think: He is rookie and can make mistakes, because if you work to find your limit, mistakes can happen. I accept that.”

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