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MotoGP Interview - Romano Albesiano (Aprilia): EXCLUSIVE

“You could say wings were dangerous. But there could have been a different approach. [With what's in place] it's going to be expensive.” – Romano Albesiano
Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano sat down with on the final day of pre-season testing in Qatar to discuss the factory's solid winter of development, realistic aims for the year ahead, and Ducati's 'radical interpretation' of the new aerodynamics rule...
Aleix Espargaro has posted some impressive times at each of the tests. How would you assess the preseason as a whole?

Romano Albesiano:
Well the preseason has definitely been positive. I think we had yesterday [the second day of testing in Qatar] further confirmation that the speed is there. Today we will concentrate more on a long run and race pace because the end is the most important part. But I'm happy. We really did a good job because we improved the engine. Still, we need to improve it. We have something better, but it still isn't confirmed.

The part that makes me most satisfied is the chassis development, because the new bike is definitely a step forward. Aleix said that the first time he tried it. He was very clear. Sam said it the day before yesterday and was so happy when he jumped off the bike. He really enjoyed it so this I think is the best answer the rider can give. He made good progress.

OK, you're never satisfied because you're always catching the first guys. That's a tough job but if I have to be objective, considering all the areas we improved quite a lot in the winter so we'll see.
So the chassis is the part you have improved the most for the RS-GP?

Romano Albesiano:
Yes. It's also the most difficult because if you make a new engine, you measure the power and you'll see [straight away] if it's better or not. But if you design a new chassis it takes months to make it. And then you assume it will be better but you don't know honestly until you put it on the track. It happens sometimes that you do this and it's a disaster, no? Now it worked and that's very important.
And you've improved this by changing the centre of gravity?

Romano Albesiano:
Yeah, sure. A chassis is made by geometry, mass characteristic and stiffness. So geometry was not really changed because we had no clear indication to move in one way or another. We moved the mass in the direction that we believed was better and it looks like it is. And the stiffness, we increased the stiffness and the weight in some parts so it's a refinement. The stiffness is a refinement. The mass, every time you touch it, you have to rebuild the bike from zero and change all of the parts.
Considering the RS-GP was a completely new bike at the beginning of 2016, it was impressive to see both Aprilia riders regularly finishing inside the top ten in the final quarter of the season. What is a realistic next step for this year?

Romano Albesiano:
Well, we have to be very quiet [and] realistic. The competition is crazy. It's unbelievable. I would be satisfied if in the first part of the season we can confirm the top ten [with] maybe a better performance in qualifying than last year. Last year we made some good results, especially with Alvaro coming through from the back [of the grid]. Even if at the end of the season we had also some quite good performances in practice and qualifying. But I hope that this year we can have a better performance in qualifying and to keep the top ten for the first part of the season. I would be happy. And then during the season we should grow up again.
It seems as though you have taken a very patient approach with Sam Lowes in the winter, letting him continue on the 2016 bike until the final test. Was this a joint decision on the whole, to build him up gradually?

Romano Albesiano:
We couldn't ask him to judge the project. He had no reference. Also we would put pressure on him so Aleix did this part of the job, which is not easy. Once this part was confirmed, he tested the bike as well and it's good. Sam is good in his analytical [sense] and he can judge fine things on the bike. He's OK.
Teams are clearly going to continue spending money on aerodynamics this year. One of the reasons winglets were banned was to control costs. Do you think recent developments make that ban worthwhile?

Romano Albesiano:
I don't think wings were banned for the cost. I remember the bigger point was the safety. Honestly, [they said,] 'most of the wings had dangerous shapes, dangerous edges, it was really dangerous...' OK, you could say they were dangerous. But there could have been a different approach, putting some rules about the shape of the wings. It would have been a much easier approach.

But we tried to bring this argument, but no. Nobody folds. And we end up with this 'funny' situation. OK, there's no more protruding parts potentially offending the rider or other riders. But it's going to be expensive. But anyway, it's good for you journalists. You have a lot of things to talk about! So everybody can see. Everybody can talk about the side of the valve, about the intake volume [laughs]. If we bring a new fairing we have to show it.
How close are you to homologating Aprilia's final aerodynamics package for round one?

Romano Albesiano:
We will test again the fairing that we already tested in Phillip Island. We'll probably keep this as an option for the start of the season. So we'll have the 'classic' and this one. Then we'll see according to the different track characteristics.
Has the new fairing made much difference? Has it been successful generating sufficient downforce?

Romano Albesiano:
Partially, yes. We didn't get the full downforce that we had before. But partially, with the efficiency, yeah, it's quite satisfactory.
Are there any negatives to running it? At Phillip Island Aleix said it made the bike quite heavy and difficult to change direction.

Romano Albesiano:
Sure. In some situations, like it's typical at Phillip Island, where you have to change direction at high speed. The best condition is the neutral fairing. I would say almost no fairing would be perfect for that kind of track.

So in that situation it was not better. It was worse. But Phillip Island is very strange track for this because of these things. We believe there are some other tracks, like Jerez, like maybe here, which have different requirements. We'll see.
Will this fairing development be applicable to road development? Could we see street bikes with more radical aerodynamics in the near future?

Romano Albesiano:
If you take our new fairing you can take is for the RSV-4 production [model]. If you just take off the lights, it's very similar. You see, there is the front intake and two holes. It's very similar to the RSV-4. So it's something that, yes, could be applied in production.
What are your thoughts on some of the other factories interpretation of the new aerodynamics rules?

Romano Albesiano:
Honestly, we made an interpretation of the rule that – sorry if I use the wrong word in English – was the most 'fair', the more strict to the rules, to the spirit. The spirit was to have a 'standard' fairing. Then inside this 'standard' fairing we make something to get more downforce, or some downforce.

Yamaha and Honda made partially this because they applied something on the side. Ducati made something really far from what was our understanding of the rules. It's very difficult to set the rule which is exact. The rule says that the last judge is the technical director of the championship. The point is to understand exactly his interpretation.

If we take that things like the Ducati [fairing] are acceptable, OK, now we know that we can go to this point, or maybe even more. But we tried to do something very, very, very similar to a conventional fairing and put the downforce inside. Then if you took our fairing and the Ducati fairing you can see that the Ducati fairing is a much more radical interpretation of the rule than ours, basically.
Do you foresee a lot of changes with the internal parts of the fairing during the year?

Romano Albesiano:
Yeah, it's possible. We will make some evaluations of these things. You know, you never see a race car approaching Monte Carlo or Monza with the same wings. If we start doing aerodynamics seriously, we have to set the aerodynamics for each track. Still, we have to understand what is best for each track because here the aerodynamics affects the feeling.

Fortunately the motorcycle is still depending on the rider's feeling which helps us to be less capital investment dependant.
Finally Romano, Marco Bertolatti, essentially the number two in Aprilia's project left for KTM at the end of 2016. How big a blow was that and what have you done to fill his shoes?

Romano Albesiano:
We reacted for sure. One person left the company. It's a person that we believed was an important person. But, you know, it's one person. The company is made of many people. So it's not a real problem for us. He's more an advantage for the competitor. He takes some experience that we paid a lot for during these years. This is the real problem. For sure, we had a good guy that could help them. He had the 'know-how'. The 'know-how' is there in the mind of this person. We cannot delete it... at the moment! [laughs] Although we are thinking about [how to do] this! [laughs]
Thanks Romano.

Romano Albesiano:
Thank you.

Tagged as: Espargaro

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