Alvaro Bautista has pinpointed Aprilia's chassis upgrade in Misano as the principle reason behind the Noale factory's recent run of impressive MotoGP form.
The Spaniard notched up his best result in Aprilia colours at Motegi as he placed a fighting seventh place at the close of the race, just 23 seconds behind race winner Marc Marquez.
The Japanese Grand Prix was the highpoint of a recent run that has seen either Bautista or team-mate Stefan Bradl qualify for Q2 for the past three races, a statistic that the Spaniard feels is down to the updated frame.
The chassis allows engineers to alter the position of the RS-GP's engine, providing the riders with a greater range of set-up options and, crucially in Baustista's eyes, enabling the machine to make the most of a new rear tyre's added grip.
“The key was the frame. But not just the frame, because with this frame we can use different settings that we had in the first race in the first half of the season. Now we can set the bike up in a different way.
“We can use more the rear tyre. We struggled a lot in qualifying, we couldn't not use all the performance of the rear tyre, and with this set-up we can use it better. That means we can make a better lap in qualifying. In the last three races we were in Q2, me twice and Stefan once.
“If you can use more the initial potential of the tyre, in the races the first laps you don't lose a lot. If you see the first half of the season the problem was the first laps, where we lose a lot of time.
“Then the second half of the race we were very consistent and gained a lot of positions, like in Barcelona, where I finished eighth, taking other riders at the end. Now we are more competitive in the first laps, which has helped to be better in the race. I think this is the key.
“We put more weight on the rear. And also for sure the issue in the new engine that Aprilia brought to Austria helped a little bit. If you have a more powerful engine it's obviously better. In Japan we did another improvement but not as big as in Austria. So I didn't feel a lot in Motegi.”
Competing at Misano and Aragon, Bautista was able to understand the machine's potential when braking, a facet of the machine that caused him to travel to Japan and Motegi's succession of tight hairpins with some confidence.
“I wasn't surprised [by the result in Japan] because after Misano and Aragon, comparing with other riders, I saw that one of my strongest points was the braking area.
“In Motegi you have to brake a lot so I expect it was a good track to make a good result. Maybe there I expected more because braking I felt more on the limit there than other tracks because of the tyres. Maybe I expect a bit better feeling in Motegi. At the end it was good. It was not a surprise to arrive seventh, but more than the position I look more at the gap compared to first.
“It has been the closest gap we achieved during the season. It was less than one second a lap to the leaders. For us it is something really good. That is more important than the position for me.
“In front of me three riders crashed so in theory my real position was tenth. But the gap between first and us is the really important thing for me, the team and the development of the bike.”
Looking forward to an area in which Aprilia can make the next step forward, Bautista believes the RS-GP can still make strides in the 'neutral' part of a turn – where the rider is using neither the brake nor the throttle.
“We need to make the bike turn a little bit better, especially in the neutral part of the corner – the area without brakes and without gas. The bike has to turn a bit better. We're always trying to make it turn – it's not easy.
“Also, in the long corner where we have to turn with the gas, we're struggling because it's like the bike doesn't want to turn from the front and the rear is pushing a bit. For me the next step is to make the bike turn better.
“We need to make one step more like we did with this frame but we cannot do one step more because we arrive to the limit of the frame. We would need to build another new one. But from here until the end of the season we will finish on this bike.”