Reviewing the sporting curriculum of Aleix Espargaró one discovers things like that at 15 years old he was the youngest rider to win the ever competitive Spainish Championship, 2018 will be his 14th season in the World Championship, and that has raced on five different types of bikes in MotoGP. With this history, one can imagine that Aleix is a guy who has turned races into his profession, that is, into his 9 to 5 job. That about being a profession is obviously true, but that racing has become a “routine work” nothing is further from the truth.
When it comes to talking about motorcycles, the Catalan rider does it with the intensity and passion of a youngster. You always learn when listening to him, because one of the characteristics of A. Espargaró is his ability to explain things.
Our RS GP 18 is a Sunday motorcycle, it’s a racing bike.
During the Aprilia MotoGP 2018 project presentation, he spoke in detail about his new bike, his aspirations, his competitors and the family he has found in the Aprilia box. Aleix feels embraced by the team, and I would say that for a guy as emotional as he is, this gives him life.
Many and ambitious are the hopes for 2018. In its third year, the MotoGP Aprilia project aims to take an important step forward. Is a top 5 feasible?
“It’s complicated, but I really believe that it’s possible,” analyzes Aleix. “I do not think the results that we have from the Qatar test are real, we’ll see in the race. In fact, we completed a full race simulation of three riders of 21. That is, not everyone is great at a full race distance; I’m sure that next Sunday the classification will change. And our RS GP 18 is a Sunday motorcycle, it’s a racing bike. It will be tough on Saturdays, but on Sundays it will work for us.
It will be very difficult to fight for the top 5, but in a race I know we can do it. But the most important thing for me is not to fail like last year and to be proud of the points we have gained at the end of the year. Last season I think I did more DNFs than completed races and this cannot be.”
How much and in which aspects has the new bike improved compared to its predecessor?
“We made a chassis that adapts more to my style, which allows me to enter and close a corner later. We’ve improved the electronics, the ergonomics; I’m going with the heaviest weight in front… I’m very happy, now we have to take the final step with the engine that will arrive for the first race in Qatar.”
What characteristics do you expect this new engine to have?
“Acceleration, power…It’s what we’re working on. Last year we had reliability problems, but I’m sure that with the 2018 engine we will improve it. Obviously in such a close race, if we intend to fight for the top 10 or top 8 in the World Championship we can’t afford a single engine problem. For my part, I made mistakes by falling, mistakes that I don’t want to do again and I will not do again this year.”
The acceleration that you are working on, do you mean pure acceleration or acceleration control?
“With the electronics we can improve, obviously, but I think the Aprilia has one of the best electronic setups on the grid. What we need is pure power, especially in first, second and third gear; in fifth and sixth gear the bike runs, we have good aerodynamics. What we need is acceleration.”
How much do you think that engine that is expected to arrive in Qatar will contribute?
“We are missing 7 or 8 tenths. I have a lot of confidence in Romano and all the people at Aprilia, so I hope that the new engine will allow us to make a leap in quality.”
Aprilia has one of the best electronic setups on the grid.
Usually when reliability fails, as happened to your team last season, you tend to sacrifice power. How will you try to increase power and make the engine more reliable at the same time?
“It’s complicated, but that’s why Aprilia is a factory as big as it is, that’s why it has all the engineers it has. Like me, I trained like an animal all winter, they worked like animals all winter. 2018 is superior to 2017 and I’m sure the engine will be too.”
The Aprilia 2017 finished last season with a few extra kilos. Have you managed to lose weight?
“Yes, I’m happy because we’ve gone down. In Qatar, in the last test, we weighed the bike and we have lowered the weight a bit, and we will lower more for the race. There were things that did not arrive on time. This was one of the priorities that I asked Aprilia for this year and I am happy because we have lowered the weight a lot.”
Will it be at the limit?
“We hope so … We will know in Qatar, but we will be much closer than last year. It’s a very important issue, because with the level of power that the Aprilia has and the weight we have, a kilo is a HP; and with the equality that there is … I cannot go down more; I’m 65 kg and wasn’t this weight even at 18 years old! If we lose 3 kg on the bike compared to last year plus the 2 kg that I have lost, that’s 5 kg total; that is, 5 free HP.”
The swingarm is carbon fiber?
“We have not tested it yet; it’s one of the new things this year. With the same rigidity as 2017, it should help us lower the weight a lot. I don’t know if we’ll try it in Qatar or Austin at the test we have on Monday after America.”
I cannot go down more; I’m 65 kg and wasn’t this weight even at 18 years old!
You said at the beginning that what we have seen in the preseason is not very realistic. So how do you see the real situation?
“The rookies, for example, are going fast, this is a reality, but I am sure that when we get to the races, where they won’t have 6 hours of laps, they will have more trouble with the classification. There are also many Ducatis that go very fast on one lap but then they are not able to do 5-6 fast laps in a row; with Suzuki the same, and Honda too. Sundays are different thank just doing a fast lap seeing that.”
Honda or Ducati … Those seem to be the two bikes that start as favorites, especially Dovizioso.
“Dovizioso is mega strong at all the tests, in the morning, in the afternoon … He is always ahead and showed us last year that in the races without pace, he arrived on Sunday and won. But for me the bike that has develped the most this preseason is the Honda. On the other hand, neither the Honda nor the official Ducati made a mock race in Qatar or Thailand, so it’s a bit mysterious. For my part, I’m sure the Aprilia will be closer to them on Sunday. Starting on lap 7/8, I think we can go strong.”
Michelin new tire policy will help us a lot; it will make our lives easier.
You seem encouraged, is it time to think about renewing?
“We will see … Now I want to find good feelings on the track. If we can get ahead, which is where Aprilia and I want to be, there will be no problems for us continuing together. The continuity is very important, Dovizioso is there to prove it; after so many years with Ducati, at last he is now at a stratospheric level, super strong, super confident mentally. I think it pays in this championship to continue with the same people, to continue as a family, to continue with the same bike and honestly that is what I would like.”
Would you like to have as a teammate a rider with your same characteristics, a rider who brakes hard like you do?
“Scott, I think he is like that. He is a rider who, at one lap, is very competitive; Last year with the Ducati he was first the first day. I think he is a rider who had a hard time last year with worn tires and the Aprilia is precisely very efficient at that point. I think Scott is a good rider and that he will help me develop.”
Aprilia shall announce in the next days the contract renewal with the Catalan rider
Do you share the feeling that we are facing the World Championship with most equal field and also manufacturers since MotoGP began? Suzuki has caught up, Aprilia is not that far, KTM is coming from behind …
“At motorcycle level it’s crazy! All of them are good technologically, all the bikes are competitive and if you get a little confused or you have a bad day, you are 19th. It is very complicated and I think that for the show and for the people who follow the races it will be good.”
How do you think it will affect the new way of working of Michelin to not introduce new tires throughout the year?
“It will help us a lot; it will make our lives easier. We’ll know what kind of tire we are working with, we will have baselines, if from the 15th lap it fails or it does not fail … The practices will stop being sessions to test tires and will serve to prepare the bike for the race again.”