Sam Lowes, Aprilia's new MotoGP recruit, speaks to at the Noale factory's team launch about how testing has gone, where he can still improve, and how 'going under the radar' will work in his favour come the opening races of the season.
Does seeing the glitzy presentation really bring home the fact that you're a factory MotoGP rider?

Sam Lowes:
It's nice. I'm really impressed with the bike. It looks good. Honestly you feel it more and more. I'm looking forward to Qatar. We made a good step in Phillip Island. I feel quite - I don't know just how to put it - but a little bit under the radar at the minute and that's a real good thing. In the past I've been the opposite. OK, Moto2 is different, but I've always been fast and maybe not had the same pace. Now I've gone under the radar and have been learning the right way. I've been doing it the correct way and I'll have something more when I need to have it, which has given me more confidence.

It's a strange feeling. I feel good. I feel relaxed. If you look at the other rookies, I've taken confidence from seeing how fast they're going. If you take the Tech 3 guys, sure you've still got to set a MotoGP bike up, but they're just riding. We've had to do a lot of work. If we make the wrong decision now then our bike can be much different in six months. Their bike is more or less the same.

You asked me before about being a factory rider. Well, that's when you notice it. When you sit there the day before the test with an A4 sheet of paper with all these things [which say] 'You can't say that, you can't say this, we need to do this...' Some things are for performance. Others say, 'We need this to work with this'. It's like a whole new story and it's fantastic. Of course I'd have liked to be faster at the tests. But if there was a race in Phillip Island it wouldn't have been that bad. You've got to start somewhere. It's not easy coming into MotoGP.

The potential of the bike is really high. But maybe it's not the easiest to understand immediately. But once you do understand it, the potential is there. They're working a lot. So I'm looking forward to trying the new bike in Qatar. I've tried odd parts of it already for the team to give a direction. A lot of my comments in my debriefs now are nearly word for word what Bradl and Bautista were saying. That's really good for me to get on the same page as them.

In theory, the new bike fixes them problems. It's good for me to get to that level and to be in a position where I should feel the benefits with the new bike. If I had just ridden it to start with, it would have been different. I have tried some bits of it; the engine; the swingarm. I'm looking forward to it.
There were big improvements on the second and third days of the Phillip Island test. Was that coming mainly from you adapting to the bike?

Sam Lowes:
It's coming from me. Before the last day we changed some things. Then on the last day we didn't change too much. We just rode a bit more. We actually had a couple of issues with the bike but it was a real positive day. I put some new tyres in and my first time was a good lap. The next time, I was 0.4s up but then at the second to last corner I had a problem. We ran out of fuel. No problem.

But all these little things, my pace would have been into the 1m 29s, which is quite good. Also on the same tyre - I didn't do the tyre test in Phillip Island, so I didn't use the soft one - the gap wasn't so big. If you look at my best lap the gap was 0.8s team-mate to team-mate. But on the same tyre [the gap between us] was half that. That showed a good step for me.

I'm looking forward to Qatar because I like it there, I've gone good there in the past in Moto2. Phillip Island, I love it, but I had a disaster there in Moto2 [in 2016]. I need to make another step. It's more getting the bike picked up. I need to focus on that - getting it picked up out of the corners and using the power. The rest of it I'm doing quite good now.
So is that mainly shifting your body weight in the right way? Have you seen any other riders and thought, 'I need to do it more like that'?

Sam Lowes:
It's just not holding on to the angle. It's better to be 3kph slower at the apex but face [your body in the correct way] before hitting the gas. It's more like, 'Wait, go, wait, go.' When you're trying to go fast that's quite hard. So that's something I need to do a bit different. In Moto2 you say, 'I need to go, lad' and you don't do any of that. I've been on 600s for a long time. I also did Supersports before so it's all that way of riding. I'm quite confident. Now I know the theory, I need to make it natural.
What would you say the bike does well? Aleix speaks very highly of his feeling with the front.

Sam Lowes:
That is one area that they tried to improve and, judging by his comments, they have done. That's really good for me. With the old bike there's less [weight] transfer, less feeling on the front. With the new bike there is more transfer so you should have the sensation that you're pushing down into the track, which is what I'm looking for a bit. Now [on the '16 bike] that weight transfer from the front to the back feels a bit neutral, so when you've not go the confidence it's hard to build it more. When you have that movement it's easier to find the feeling. For him [Espargaro] he has more experience. For me, once I get that feeling, I should improve a lot.
With you using the '16 bike up until the Phillip Island test, it seems Aprilia has taken a patient approach to getting you comfortable and up to speed.

Sam Lowes:
I felt like the plan has been, 'Let's just keep everything inside. This is our little group. Don't worry about what people say. Don't worry about the position. We know you've not used this tyre. We know you've not used this engine.' These things make a big difference. They've said, 'Keep doing this and this, and we'll be there.' You want to be at the front, you want to be the fastest. So it's been good that they've come to me and said that. Don't get me wrong. When it gets to the racing it'll be a totally different ball game. It has to be. But it's good, the pressure isn't on me now. As long as the [performance] line is going [up steadily], that's the plan.
Was it a joint decision between you and the team to start with the 2016 bike and use it during the first two tests?

Sam Lowes:
Yeah, a little bit it was. After the first test it was. Then the second test it was one of them... Then we agreed together. Honestly, there were still some bits that I could do. It's not a satellite team. There's only us two. Aleix had two bikes in Phillip Island but we had that much to test that he had to have both, otherwise he'd have been in the garage half the time. I said, 'Look, I'm a team player. All the work we're doing now will help us during the season. So let's do what we have to do.' I've learnt the hard way. Testing means one thing. Racing is different. [Valentino] Rossi was twelfth. Do you reckon he's going to be there in Qatar? He's not, is he? Folger was fifth in the end. They won't be there. They'll be alright but they won't be [that high up]. They have a different situation. I've learnt that the hard way in the past, by hurting myself in testing, trying too hard. I feel part of a team now working towards something and that's different and encouraged me. I've taken a lot of confidence from that. We'll see.
You haven't had a team-mate for three years. It seems like you and Aleix get on quite well. How has that relationship been so far?

Sam Lowes:
I try and be quite nice. I don't cause problems for nothing. There's always a limit, of course, but I'm quite good on-track, off-track. Of course he wants to beat me. Say we get close in the middle of the year, it's normal that he wants to be me. I want to beat him and that's just racing. I try not to have too much of a personal thought about the riders on the track. Then it can be positive or negative, but you don't want to have that. I'm quite good at keeping the difference. I think that's important with the job we have in front of us. To develop we need to be on the same page. Looking at where we are, we're quite similar. There are traits that are quite different obviously but what we've asked for are quite similar, so that's a positive thing.
Aleix was fighting for podiums toward the tail end of 2016. I guess he's a pretty good yardstick to measure yourself against. Is that what you'll be aiming for, to get on a par with him as the season goes on?

Sam Lowes:
If you think that Vi?ales was his team-mate as a rookie on the Suzuki, and he beat him once in the first year. Now look at Vi?ales. He [Aleix] can ride. For me, the second half of the year, to be there, with him, when you think that Vi?ales did that, that's a good goal. OK, everyone is different. Every season is different. I don't expect to go and beat him straight away because he's a good rider. I think it's a good target, a good goal for me. I'll be there. I can see now how he rides, the whole situation, we'll be good. But he's a great rider and it's good to be part of the team and working in that way.



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