MOTOGP » Aleix Espargaro
Though his career hasn’t followed the usual pattern for a grand prix racer, Aleix Espargaro will embark on his second season of MotoGP racing in 2012 as part of the burgeoning Aspar CRT project, the Spaniard no doubt keen to earn a longer stay of execution than when he made his full-time debut in 2010.
A fine example of how to grasp your opportunities when presented to you, Espargaro made his full world championship debut in 2005 riding a 125cc Honda for Seedorf RC3, showing decent rookie form to take a best finish of ninth on the way to 16th.
A switch to BQR Honda beckoned in 2006, but though a series of poor results did not make him an obvious candidate to receive an early graduation to the 250cc class, he was nonetheless installed as BQR’s replacement for Repsol Honda-bound Martin Cardenas from round eight.
Fortunately, Espargaro would prove better suited to the larger machine, scoring in all but two of the remaining nine races, peaking with a best of ninth place at Sepang on the way to 19th in the final standings.
Staying with the Blusens team for a full-term in 2007, but switching to Aprilia machinery, Espargaro enjoyed only a marginal improvement to 15th overall and cracked the top ten just once all season, yet again at Sepang.
Moving to Lotus Aprilia for 2008, Espargaro was a regular top ten contender, though it would take until the final four races for him to shine as he breached the top eight for the first time, with Sepang once more proving favourable as he claimed a fifth place finish.
Destined to join the Camptella team for third full year of 250GP racing, Espargaro’s career was thrown into turmoil when the outfit withdrew on the eve of the season, leaving him without a ride. Taking up a development role testing the forthcoming Moto2 machine, Espargaro did return to 250GP for two mid-season appearances with Team Balatonring, claiming a career-best finish of fourth at Assen and seventh at Sachsenring.
Back on the sidelines, Espargaro seemed destined to spend the second-half of the year working on a Moto2 deal for 2010, only for him to receive a surprise call to substitute for Mika Kallio in the Pramac Ducati MotoGP team at Indianapolis and Misano.
An unexpected opportunity for him, Espargaro shrugged off his lack of experience aboard the notoriously tricky Desmosedici to show respectable pace, even out-performing regular rider Niccolo Canepa by finishing 13th and 11th at Indy and Misano respectively.
Espargaro’s efforts did not go unnoticed and when the out-of-favour Canepa injured himself towards the end of the year, he returned to compete in the final two events, claiming more points’ finishes in 11th and 13th.
Having been barely known to many prior to his MotoGP debut, Espargaro’s reputation soared on the back of these surprisingly good results, prompting Pramac to offer him a full-time deal for 2010.
With a full winter of training behind him, Espargaro quickly broke into the top ten during the early stages of the 2010 season, finishing ninth at Le Mans and eighth at Mugello, though it would take him until Phillip Island to reach the highs of the latter result again.
In the end, Espargaro didn’t disgrace himself on a bike that struggled for overall competitiveness, and while his eventual 14th in the standings saw him behind fellow satellite Ducati rider Hector Barbera, he did at least have the measure of more experienced team-mate Kallio.
Despite this, his efforts weren’t enough to earn a stay of execution, with Pramac favouring veteran pairing Randy de Puniet and Loris Capirossi for 2011.
As such, with no MotoGP seats available, Espargaro opted for Moto2 in the hope that he could emulate countryman Toni Elias in forging a path back to the premier class.
Joining the Pons Kalex team, Espargaro struggled to make a regular impression in the ultra-competitive series, his results fluctuating as the season continued. In the end, a podium finish in Barcelona and a fifth place at Aragon helped Espargaro secure some spotlight time in 2011, while he also saved himself the indignity of being out-performed by younger brother Pol, the pair split by just a single point in 12th and 13th by the end of the season.
Even so, despite a less-than-spectacular Moto2 campaign, Espargaro would find himself gracing the MotoGP grid once again in 2012 as one-half of Aspar’s burgeoning CRT project.
Paired with the man who replaced him at Pramac, de Puniet, Espargaro came into the season with the benefit of having the best-sorted CRT machine beneath him, the Aprilia-engineered ART proving a cut above its CRT rivals.
Even so, Espargaro still had de Puniet to contend with as a rival and a season-long duel would ensue as the pair battled one another for the unofficial CRT title. Though de Puniet had the edge initially, Espargaro would prove a more consistent finisher towards the end of the season which, coupled to six top ten finishes in the latter nine races, would see him come out on top by a fairly comfortable margin.
Proving his place in MotoGP once more, Espargaro will stay on with Aspar for 2013 in an effort to defend his ‘title’ and help push the CRT machines further up the grid.