Aprilia RS-GP Claims 6th in Qatar
“We will not settle. Aleix is leading the charge, and the RS-GP will continue to grow.”
This was Aprilia Racing Manager Romano Albesiano’s forward-looking response after Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro finished sixth Sunday at the 2017 MotoGP season opener in Qatar.
Since returning to MotoGP in 2016, this was Aprilia’s best finish to date, creating a new baseline for the Noale-based manufacturer. En route, Espargaro also set the third-fastest lap time of the race, showing that the RS-GP has podium contention in 2017 MotoGP.
Espargaro fought with Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa throughout the rain-delayed race. He eventually settled into sixth with three laps remaining, and held the position to the checkered flag.
This was after Espargaro started from the fifth row, a grid position based on the opening three free practice results; Qatar MotoGP qualifying was canceled due to conditions deemed unsafe by the governing body of MotoGP, Dorna. Due to heavy rains, standing water caused a threat at Losail International Circuit, along with glaring reflections off the floodlights for the nighttime race due to rain.
When the race was finished, Espargaro finished 7.661 behind winner Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP).
“I am really very happy for myself and for Aprilia. This result comes after a lot of hard work over the winter. I did not hold anything back and, beginning with my physical fitness, I tackled this project with great motivation from the start,” Espargaro says.
“In the second half of the race, my RS-GP was spectacular. I had much more traction than my rivals and I was able to overtake easily. We knew that we could have an advantage in poor grip conditions. The bike looks after the tyres well and even if I was unable to be as incisive as the others in the early laps, my overall pace was very good. It was a pity about the starting position. Having to make up so many positions kept us from earning an even more surprising result, but it's all good. We got off on the right foot and now we want to continue.”
As for Espargaro’s teammate, the rookie Sam Lowes finished 18th. Aprilia Gresini says the English rider, gaining familiarity with the bike and the category, took the his first step toward growth aboard the RS-GP.
“It was a hard race. In the early laps I went long a couple of times, losing touch with the group. The balance of the bike changed a lot during the race,” Lowes says. “Toward the end I was able to go faster than the riders ahead of me and we will need that information to understand how to work on the setup. I am obviously not happy, but first and foremost, I finished my first MotoGP race and, considering the conditions, that was not a given. Losing a day of practice certainly didn't help. I still need to work on myself and on the bike, so every session becomes essential. We need to take the good that we have learned and start thinking about Argentina.”
Albesiano says: “This was a brilliant race. We are happy. Analyzing everything calmly, we must say that performance throughout the weekend was excellent. With the cancellation of the qualifiers, the warm up was the gauge for our potential. Aleix did not have the best start, but he did an extraordinary job maintaining that rhythm during the race. Obviously, we will not settle."
“Aleix is leading the charge for us all with a lot of enthusiasm and evidently the RS-GP works well in all areas, confirming that it is a very good bike in the race with the capacity to perform very consistently and with an excellent pace, especially in the second half of the race. We need to improve on the flying lap and we had things that we had wanted to test here in Q1, but the qualifiers being cancelled penalized us. If Aleix had started from farther forward, he could have really done something astonishing. But this evening we are celebrating. We are enthusiastic about this performance and it gives us confidence to grow.”
Fausto Gresini, Aprilia Racing Team Manager, also commented: “Because of the enthusiasm this result gives us, it is a sort of victory. Aprilia has truly put their heart into this project and today Aleix showed how much this bike can grow. If he had started from a position farther forward, which was well within his potential and we saw that in the tests here in Qatar as well, we would have been able to stay with the leaders. A great job was done over the winter and now the Aprilia can truly battle with the best.”
The Aprilia Racing Team Gresini now heads to Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina for round two of 18, which is set for April 7-9. Last year, former Aprilia RS-GP pilot Stefan Bradl finished seventh.