Aprilia has enjoyed a remarkable start to the 2022 MotoGP season by locking out the opening day of pre-season testing, with both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales only a tenth of a second from the premier-class pole record at the Sepang Circuit and only a fraction of a second apart from each other.
The Aprilia 1-2 headlines are somewhat unfair to its rivals thanks to the head start MotoGP’s last remaining concession-status team enjoyed earlier this week in the three-day shakedown test at the Malaysian track.
The Noale firm is yet to clear the ‘six concession-system points in two years’ barrier that would strip it of the status, with points awarded on a 3-2-1 basis for podiums. With Aprilia only having one podium since its return to MotoGP, it is allowed to use its race riders outside of designated official test days, which is why both Vinales and Espargaro took to the track in the shakedown.
But neither used the full allocated three days, and while the extra running is clearly an advantage, Espargaro is adamant that the 1-2 in the first day of the proper test is a very strong sign of things to come in the near future.
Ending up only 0.132 seconds from the unofficial lap record set by Danilo Petrucci in 2019, the Spaniard admitted that he was sure he’d picked up some advantage from the single day on track he had earlier this week – but says that with only a handful of laps completed on a very new 2022 bike at it, there’s a lot to be excited about.
“We need more time, and it’s difficult to say,” he cautiously admitted. “Aprilia has been here almost a week but I’ve done just 14 laps. Sava [test rider Lorenzo Savadori] rode for three days, but I only rode for one. Yes, I had an advantage, that’s clear, but I basically used the 2021 bike for only one morning of the shakedown.
“I did the time today in lap nine, and then had a lot of issues with the second bike. The engineers pushed me to try many things on the second bike to see if we have to change anything during the night, and I wasn’t able to use another soft tyre, just one in the morning and none in the afternoon. I think I can go a lot faster tomorrow morning, into the [1m]57s.
“But even if I can go 57.5s and finish first, it’s just a test. I’ve used the same example so many times in the past when Marc [Marquez] or Dovi [Andrea Dovizioso] were fighting for the championship, I remember them in the Qatar test finishing outside the top 10 and then they are first and second in the race. It’s only testing.”
Only getting a chance to try out a very rough draft of the 2022 bike at the end of last year, Espargaro got his test kickstarted on that machine again in Sepang – but says it’s not a case of making huge leaps forward after the transformation from 2020 to 2021.
Instead, it’s a more gradual process for this year as Aprilia attempts to close on its and find the final few tenths of a second needed – something that is slowly but surely coming.
“The bike from Jerez was basically 99% the 2021 bike,” he explained. “We tried a different chassis, in a different direction, but it didn’t work, and this was the most positive thing because the new frame is in a completely different direction and the bike is better. Especially with turning, handling, the bike is a lot more agile, and the engine is a little bit stronger.
“It hasn’t been a revolution. Last year, the bike was a big step compared with the 2020 bike and the championship was good in a very difficult year. We need to keep growing, keep getting closer to the leaders, and this is what we did with the 2022 bike.
“I sincerely feel better with the bike, I like it a lot more than the 2021 bike, but it’s not just about how I feel.”
However, there has been one area where Aprilia has made progress from last year – as it’s now sporting a considerably slimmer look thanks to a significant rearrangement of parts to meet Espargaro’s requests.
“Last year when I was talking to [technical boss] Romano [Albesiano] at the end of the season,” he said, “this was the plan but it’s not easy to put the engine, the electronics stuff, the fuel tank so that you reduce the bike such a big number as we did.
“When I was in Noale one month ago for the photoshoot, I jumped on the bike immediately when I arrived and thought ‘woah, this is incredible’. It’s like a Moto2 bike – the difference is huge from last year’s.
“Sincerely, from lap one, it helped me a lot, especially in the fast turns to carry speed, to throw the bike into the corner. I think the strongest point of the bike now is the turning. We’re facing some problems with chattering, but the turning is really improving and it is due to this.”
On the other side of the Italian firm’s garage at its first test as a fully-fledged factory team following the split from partners Gresini, Vinales was also left delighted with his day’s work in second – but even happier with the potential still to be found from the RS-GP in the coming days on track.
“Still I need to work, I need to adapt to the bike,” he said. Every time I arrive to a track, it’s new. I need to make laps and to understand the bike. I still can’t judge if I feel perfectly on the bike and still I have to learn.
“Every day I’m learning a little bit more, but still I don’t know the limit of the bike. I think it’s still a little bit far away from where I’m pushing right now.
“The most difficult thing for me to understand is where I can push to make the lap time. Before, I pushed in a different way, and if I try that now I can’t make the lap time.
“I need to change my mind and that’s not easy, but slowly we’re arriving. The important thing is that we’re fast without pushing, and I think I can be much stronger with this bike than the previous one.
“I think during a test, a real test, it’s difficult to know because not everyone is pushing like the race weekend. We spent half of the day just trying different things.
“But it’s always good when both riders are fast, and I’m happy that Aleix is happy. We can both compare, which is always nice.”