The reigning Moto2 champion was just 22nd on the combined timesheets, in-between fellow KTM riders Miguel Oliveira and Tech3 team-mate Raul Fernandez, with only Brad Binder (7th) able to show competitive form on the RC16.
“I think we are pretty much all struggling except for Brad who somehow manages to pull out a time,” Gardner said. “We’re kind of a bit lost I think. It’s hard. It was hard in Jerez, hard here. It’s pretty bleak at the moment!
“We need some help. Because we’re all struggling. It is not just me. It’s me, Raul and Miguel. Brad’s kind of the only one that can put something together, [he’s got] quite a radical style and can manage to do it.”
The Australian – who has scored points twice in the opening six rounds, with a best race finish of 14th – believes they’ve now exhausted every set-up option for the current package and need ‘new material’.
“We need some help. We’ve gone up, down, everywhere and chased our tail and can never get it really to work. We gain something, we lose something. It’s never putting the package together.
“We will always do our best and push as hard as possible… [but] we need new parts and new things.”
Set-ups ‘just not working’
Among the issues Gardner and the other KTM riders are facing is the rear wheel rising off the ground during braking.
“All weekend in Jerez I was struggling big time with the rear wheel coming up off the ground,” Gardner confirmed. “Here it is kinda the same. We can focus on that and get the thing to stay on the ground a bit more, but then it will take away all the turning. Usually, we take away grip as well. So it’s like chasing our tail a bit.
“For some reason, it’s just not working, any of the set-ups anymore. We went back to something we had at the Jerez [test] last year but that doesn’t work either.”
Gardner added: “You’ve got to look for the positives and we’re quite close [to Oliveira and Binder] sometimes. Guys with a lot more experience. The problem is that we’re at the back. We need a step. We need material and something new.
“It’s tough, but I can only give my best!”
After podiums in the opening rounds, courtesy of a runner-up finish by Binder in Qatar and wet victory for Oliveira in Mandalika, the best KTM has crossed the line 6th (Binder, Argentina), 12th (Binder, Austin), 5th (Oliveira, Portimao) and 10th (Binder, Jerez).
There were no KTMs inside the top 17 during opening practice at Le Mans, but Binder then closed to +0.509s from Gresini Ducati pace setter Enea Bastianini in the afternoon. Oliveira was 21st (+1.547s) after two falls, Gardner 22nd (1.589s) and fellow rookie Fernandez, making his return from a hand injury, 23rd (2.409s).