Aleix Espargaro leads Aprilia 1-2 but ‘the bike is not good here!’

Aprilia made a perfect return to the scene of their debut MotoGP victory with Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales first and second in Friday practice at Termas de Rio Hondo.
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia MotoGP Argentina 2023
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia MotoGP Argentina 2023

But the Spaniard was keen to play down expectations of a victory repeat, pointing out that ‘it’s just Friday’ and highlighting that the RS-GP didn’t feel good to ride on the low grip surface.

Indeed, Espargaro’s 1m 38.518s was 0.274s slower than he had done in the same session last season. On the other hand, he did more laps in the 1m 39s with used tyres (six) than any other rider today.

“I’m satisfied but we have to remember it's Friday, even if the day helped to remind us of the good feelings and settings we have here in Argentina. It seems for Maverick as well this time,” said Espargaro, who turned the tables on his team-mate in the afternoon.

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“This morning I was losing time to him in various aspects and I spent an hour with the telemetry trying to understand where to improve. It’s called teamwork. Maybe if it comes down to fighting for a world championship then probably some sparks will fly [between us] but now it’s about respect. The closer we are together the better, the same for Raul. Today I helped Raul a bit. Anything for this brand.”

Espargaro smiled: “The bike is not good here, sincerely! Maybe it is less bad than the other bikes. In Portimao I felt ten times better: it was grippy, turning, good on the brakes. Here it is all the time like ice, sliding, sliding, moving. My fastest lap today, 38.5, is still very slow. Slower than last year. [But] looks like the others are worse.

“I had some confidence arriving here [after last year] but you never know, you have some doubts and questions. It’s a different bike and the level of the field is super-high. This morning I started in a way where I didn’t want to over-ride. I made a big mistake last year in Silverstone when I fell extremely fast and lost a chance of the title there.

“So here I tried to be a bit more relaxed and then in the afternoon I pushed a little bit more and the pace was strong with the used tyre, and the fast lap.”

Asked why the lap times are not as fast as last season, Espargaro pointed not only to grip levels but worsening bumps.

“The track is clean, but the grip is worse and the bumps are also bigger than last year,” he said. “There is a big bump in corner 3 and also in corner 11, where you lose a lot of acceleration in fast and important points of the circuit. You lose easily half a second in these two points because the bike is not able to accelerate. It moves like hell.

“[You’ll see] in corner 3 - before the back straight - the normal lines go to the edge of the curve, but we stay in the middle of the track because there are big bumps and you can fly. Actually, the Ducatis are not even using the rear height device there.

“The other reason is that there has not been any activity on the track so we are cleaning it and when it’s clean we go back home.”

Vinales, seventh in Argentina last season, was delighted to build on his second place in Portimao on Sunday.

“Our objective was to be fighting at the front and we did it, so fantastic,” he said.

“It's just the first day, but I don't know [why the Aprilia goes so well here] – maybe the layout, long corners. Of course I was also struggling, I was not just going riding! The bike was moving, we have a few things to improve.

“What I can say is that we have the chance to fight for the victory and I see the potential, so we must work very cleverly tonight, see if we can improve these small details for tomorrow and this will bring us the opportunity to fight for the victory.”

Best-of-the-rest Marco Bezzecchi didn’t hesitate to call Aprilia favourites, but the VR46 Ducati rider was a close match for Espargaro on used tyres, setting five laps in the 1m 39s.

“Well, they won last year, so for sure they are the favourite,” he said. “Because Aleix is very quick but Maverick is also in very good shape. And their bike looks like it suits this track very well.

“I have good pace, but I think they have maybe something more. I didn't check yet, so I don't know! Anyway, it's better for us to say they are the favourites!”

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