An exclusive interview with Aleix Espargaro, the surprise of winter MotoGP testing after outpacing many of the Factory class stars on his new Open Yamaha.

Older brother of reigning Moto2 champion and 2014 MotoGP rookie Pol Espargaro, Aleix has switched to the NGM Mobile Forward Racing team after dominating the former CRT class for the past two seasons with Aspar Aprilia.

Espargaro was fourth overall at both Sepang tests, then again beat all of the satellite riders to claim the top spot at the final pre-season outing in Qatar (when the official Honda, Yamaha and Ducati teams were absent)...
Hi Aleix, you must be a happy man at the moment?

Aleix Espargaro:
Yes that's true, I'm particularly happy because I really didn't expect to be as close to the top guys in Malaysia and leading in Qatar was also a pleasant surprise.

I think a lot of that comes from being so comfortable with the team. Right from the start they've been incredibly professional and particularly on the electronics side I've got three great people working for me when last year I only had one.

It's in the electronics where a lot of their strength is, because in a private team it's that expertise which is often lacking in comparison with the official teams and in MotoGP the electronics are probably the most important thing there is. They're also so enthusiastic and competitive and it's a great atmosphere.

I've never been looking forward to a season as much as this one. I'm a little bit nervous though.
Did you bring any crew members with you?

Aleix Espargaro:
The crew is almost all from Forward racing but I brought one mechanic who worked with me in Moto2 and won the title with my brother, and then my crew chief. He was the one I worked with in the last two years at Aspar. The rest of the team and particularly the electronics guys are from Forward and were with Corti last year.
So your pace was a genuine surprise?

Aleix Espargaro:
Yeah, for sure. When I tried the bike in Valencia and immediately in Malaysia I could feel that the bike was really good and had great potential, but how fast it was in comparison with the rest of the grid was a great surprise. Being at the top of the test times in MotoGP is totally new to me and it really is like a dream, it's unbelievable.

I'm doing more interviews now than ever before and everybody seems to want to know about my bike, team and results. I'm really enjoying it though and like I said it's all feeling like a dream at the moment.

For me it's an achievement of many people, the team and the bike are really good but I'm also a really ambitious guy. After the last two years on the CRT I really want to show everyone my potential and right from when I jumped on the bike in Valencia I pushed super hard to show everybody what I could do. I don't want to be known as the top CRT guy, I want to just be a top MotoGP rider.

Remember that Forward aren't in any way an official team so where we are shows how ambitious they are too.
Do you think you got enough credit for winning the CRT class last season?

Aleix Espargaro:
I think I got more than enough. Basically, I didn't win anything. For me the only class in MotoGP is MotoGP. It was fine being the first of the CRT bikes but I didn't feel as if I'd won anything. I'd just come eleventh in MotoGP, how can I be happy with that?

Don't get me wrong, I was satisfied because I beat all the other guys using the same weapon but in the end my ART couldn't compete with the prototypes and it was difficult to stay motivated.

Even now, I haven't got an official bike and can't win races but I can do much better and will hopefully fight for fifth. I just want to get an official bike so that I can show that I can be in front. If I can be as fast on this bike as I was on the CRT then the next step has to be an official bike.

In the past few years it's been almost impossible for any bike to beat the factory ones and in the last year only Cal Crutchlow has been able to run with the factory bikes but luckily I think this year will be a lot closer. I will try to run with them this year. You have to remember that the four guys on those bikes are the fastest guys but it's not good for the spectators if only those four bikes can win and hopefully this year will be more exciting.
Do you think your test pace can carry through to a similar race pace?

Aleix Espargaro:
It's not going to be easy. Of course we're good and fast over one lap and our pace has been impressive but staying ahead of the four factory [team] bikes will be almost impossible so my goal is really to finish fifth in the championship and even that will be a challenge.

My ambition is to be the first rider behind the factory Hondas and Yamahas and that will be quite an achievement for a private team. Remember, to get that I still have to fight with riders like my brother, Alvaro Bautista and also the Ducati guys but I think we can make it.

In fact a lot of my friends are playing a kind of fantasy road race game and have told me that they've chosen me as their MotoGP rider so that will be extra pressure [laughs]. One thing is clear though, the races will I'm sure be different to the testing but I'm going into this year with a very strong ambition, maybe stronger than the other guys out there.
How about the extra fuel for the Open class, won't that help at the end of the race?

Aleix Espargaro:
We thought it would be like that but one of the worst tracks for fuel is Qatar and both my brother and Bradley Smith did some long runs and kept full power and completed the distance with no problems so I don't think it'll be a big advantage.

For sure if it's Lorenzo in front of me then I'll try to push him a bit harder to bring that advantage out, but in the end I think the front four will just be faster.
What do you think about Ducati possibly going in a 'Factory 2' class?

Aleix Espargaro:
I have to say that I don't really agree, everybody needs to fight with the same weapons. If Ducati want to go for the Open class then fine, they need to improve their engine over the year because at the minute they're slower than so many others but they need to play by the same rules as us. They're able to in effect use a different ECU because they've got ten people working on it and can take full advantage of it whereas the other Open teams have far fewer.

For me it's not nice that Ducati do this but I will try to beat them all the more. I don't think any of the Open teams like what Ducati are doing because we just don't have the resources of the Factory teams. As I say, I don't think they're playing with the same weapons.

For us it will be very difficult to beat them because they're a Factory team with factory resources who can run more fuel, use the electronics better, develop the engine and use the soft tyre. They've got everything, it won't be easy to beat them.
Is your bike really the Tech 3 bike from last year?

Aleix Espargaro:
Well, it's difficult to know the exact details of it but what they told me is that it's really similar to Lorenzo's factory bike of 2012 so it could be the 2013 Tech 3 bike because they're always one year later than the factory team. It's really close to the one that Cal was riding.

The big difference is that we're using the spec ECU and Magneti Marelli brought us a new one to try which is similar to the Ducati one. It was really difficult to get the hang of and at the beginning we weren't even able to start the bike, but now we've got pretty good at it but as a non-factory team we aren't able to use it fully.

As a new bike to Forward racing we didn't have that much data to start with so at Valencia I was a little afraid because it was great over one or two laps but managing tyre wear after ten laps was really difficult.

At Qatar though we had more experience and the long runs were really good. I feel that we've improved a lot and the feel of the tyres was still good after many laps. In the end the lap times in my long runs were really consistent and we were able to control the rear tyre life.
Have you tried the softer tyre and will you be able to use it in a race?

Aleix Espargaro:
Well, we've just tried it at two tracks, Malaysia and Qatar. At Malaysia it was really good and I was able to do more than 25 laps on it and it stayed really good and the hard one would have been too much. But at Qatar I could really only do maximum four laps with the soft before it went off and did the long runs with the hard.

We can definitely use the soft tyre in races but it will depend on the track, in Jerez for example we may be able to use it but it will probably be the exception.
How does your side of the garage compare with Colin Edwards'?

Aleix Espargaro:
We actually share two of the electronics guys who do the maps for both riders and we make a lot of decisions together but on the mechanics side there are like two families who are really competitive. In general we share a lot of data and talk a lot but at the moment I've just done three tests and am only just getting to know my team so can't really say too much about Colin's.

Often in tests, Colin would try one thing, I'd try another and then we'd meet to discuss it. I'm sure that we'll work together a lot throughout the season.
What kind of contract do you have?

Aleix Espargaro:
My contract's with Forward Racing and it's one year plus one. The second year would depend on our position at the end of the year.
It's interesting that your bike is faster than Pol's...

Aleix Espargaro:
I think that's more because Pol's struggling a little bit because it's his first year in MotoGP, but even so he's only 0.2 slower than the fast guys so that's not bad.

For sure our bikes are very different and he's got the official 2014 frame, swingarm and engine so he's got great potential. In MotoGP it's not easy to manage the bike when it's got a full tank and he's having problems there but he's fast and I'm sure he'll get there.
Is your relationship with Pol cooperative or competitive?

Aleix Espargaro:
We're friends and brothers but this year is different and he's now my rival and as an official Yamaha rider I'm particularly keen to beat him and stay in front of him.

Last year we could work together more, but this year I can't go to his box or support him so I think you could say that the relationship has become more competitive.

Last year I was often more nervous than him when he was racing against such good riders as Scott Redding who's always so aggressive and it was difficult for me to stay calm watching when the racing was so hard. I felt like I was riding the championship with him. But this year it will be different.
Do you discuss your bikes?

Aleix Espargaro:
No we're not really comparing bikes. He will sometimes ask me how you do this or that, or how to brake for a particular corner or in Malaysia where I followed him around to give him advice about braking points.

We're on very different bikes though so I can't be too specific. I have to say that I'm really interested in how his bike will compare to mine in terms of speed but we'll have to wait for Qatar to find out.
Which of you started racing first?

Aleix Espargaro:
We started at a very similar time, I was four when I had my first bike and he was too and we started racing at five. I usually got a new bike every two years and my old one went to Pol, it's a bit like hand me down clothes. Our family was not rich so we didn't have enough money to buy two bikes at once.

My father also raced bikes when he was young but didn't do it professionally; he just raced with his friends but like so often it was him who inspired us both to race. Our presents were usually bikes and while other lads played football we rode bikes. It naturally became more professional. Our mother is also into bikes and rides a motorbike on the streets but she doesn't race.
Imagine in the first race it's the last lap and you're in fourth place behind Pol, do you go for the pass and the podium or will you be a good brother and let him have it?

Aleix Espargaro:
The pass for sure. I'd be on him at every corner. Maybe I'd be a bit more polite than with other riders but I certainly wouldn't let him have the podium without a fight, there'd be no cooperation.
You, Dani Pedrosa, Toni Elias, Carlos Checa and Marc Marquez all come from Catalonia, why does this small area of Spain produce so many top riders?

Aleix Espargaro:
It's the Catalonia Federation there which is bringing on so many young riders, it helps so much with all the things you need when you start. If you want to know your level as a young rider you need to go to Catalonia because you'll find out there. Even the eleven and twelve year olds there are very, very fast.

There is also a sponsor called RACC Automovile Club which has helped a lot of young riders. For example Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez are only here now because they got help from them.

There's also the weather because for me weather in Catalonia is the best in Spain and even the world for riding and training. It's not too hot or cold and it means you can ride most of the year.

There's nothing in the food here that makes people fast or anything it's just a combination of many things

I've actually now started to be recognised more in the streets in Catalonia because my brother and me have done so well over the past two years. Sometimes it's nice because it's great to get best wishes from people but sometimes when you just want to be alone and relaxed it's more difficult. But we've become public people now so it's all part of the job.
Do you feel Catalan or Spanish?

Aleix Espargaro:
I have no problem with that and don't really want to get involved with those politics but I'm a Catalan from Catalonia but I've got no problems racing under the Spanish flag. I know that a lot of people from Catalonia want to be independent but I'm quite relaxed about it and have Spanish sponsors too. I can speak Catalan though and speak it at home with my family.
Talking of languages, your English is really good and should be useful for those post-race podium interviews...

Aleix Espargaro:
I first learned it at school and also did extra classes, but when I was riding in the Spanish championship I had an American team mate and my father asked him to stay at our house because he was so far from home and I could practice my English with him.

I'm riding in the world championship so I think it's right to be able to speak some English because it's the universal language.

As regards post-race interviews, let's see, let's see.
Thanks a lot Aleix and good luck for the first race.

Aleix Espargaro:



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