Initial feedback on the 'Step 2' Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP machine was not encouraging.

During last week's Sepang test Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri felt the latest bike was worse than the previous version, used in late 2014 testing and which they reverted back to in Malaysia.

"Generally the comment from the riders was that the Step 2 bike was worse than the other," Aprilia Racing manager Romano Albesiano told "They had no feeling entering the corners, less grip. So there was something wrong with that bike."

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Pressed on what design modifications Aprilia had made for the new version, Albesiano explained:

"It is always a matter of finding the right balance in terms of centre of gravity position. In this case especially the height of the centre of gravity. Then we have some slight differences in chassis stiffness."

The height of the centre of gravity changes the torque generated by acceleration, braking and cornering forces at the tyre contact patch and therefore weight transfer. Hence the change in feeling and grip.

"We couldn't easily find [a solution] so we took the bike away, analysed the data and checked everything."

The outcome of that analysis came too late for the main three-day test, but Aprilia development rider Michael Laverty tried some new ideas during the following Michelin test day.

The results were promising: "We prepared a couple of new set-ups for and tested them with Michael. We've made some quite radical changes but now the gap is almost closed between the two bikes. Both in terms of performance and feeling."

The RS-GP is a Factory version of the ART Open class machine, itself based on Aprilia's RSV4 Superbike. The biggest upgrade so far is a pneumatic-valve engine.

"All of the bikes have the pneumatic valve engine. We know that the best engines are still faster than ours but this is the first release of our engine. As a starting point it is perfect. For sure we will develop. If you consider that this engine still has the crankcase of the road bike, the RSV4... It is a surprise even to me!" smiled Albesiano, promoted to head of Aprilia's racing activities after Gigi Dall'Igna moved to Ducati at the end of 2013.

Next on Albesiano's list is a seamless-shift gearbox, planned for the first half of the racing season.

"It is working well on the bench. We will do a first track test of the gearbox with a Superbike in Italy this month. As I say, the crankcase is the same [as the MotoGP bike] so the gearbox fits. It is something very new so it is difficult to plan the delivery time exactly. But I'm reasonably optimistic about having it before mid-season."

Aprilia will then debut an all-new MotoGP prototype for 2016, the year originally targeted for its factory return.

"We will have an all-new engine for next year but also a new chassis. It is a brand-new machine. We plan to be on track testing it in September or October."

Bautista was 21st fastest (+3.057s) at the first Sepang test with Melandri 28th (+4.774). The second of the three official pre-season tests will be held back in Malaysia from February 23-26.


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this is a data gathering year to hit the ground running with the new bike on Michelin tyres ready for 2016