Aprilia rain woes: ‘Crazy, one of my worst races ever’

When Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales finished first and second in both Friday practice sessions in Argentina, Aprilia looked on course for a repeat of its 2022 MotoGP victory.
Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, Argentina MotoGP, 02 April
Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, Argentina MotoGP, 02 April

But as the weather deteriorated, so did the RS-GP’s form.

After fifth (Vinales) and ninth (Espargaro) in the damp qualifying, a break in the rain provided hope for the Saturday Sprint. However, Vinales lost a wing during early contact on his way to seventh, while Espargaro crashed out of sixth while trying to catch the group ahead.

Worse was to follow.

When the heaviest rain of the weekend arrived on Sunday, the pair were left just 14th (Espargaro) and 16th (Vinales) in warm-up. The chronic lack of grip continued in the 25-lap race, which Vinales finished as the top Aprilia in twelfth and Espargaro 15th.

Just ahead of Espargaro was Raul Fernandez, who struggled with similar issues on the 2022-spec machine.

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Maverick Vinales, MotoGP, Argentina MotoGP, 2 April
Maverick Vinales, MotoGP, Argentina MotoGP, 2 April

Vinales: ‘Zero traction on acceleration’

“It was tough because I could not do the race I wanted,” said Vinales, runner-up to reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia a week earlier at Portimao. “It is something we must understand, learn and improve.

“It did not seem that bad in mixed conditions when it was more dry, but with a lot of water I had zero traction on acceleration.

“When I did 3-4 laps in warm-up I thought ‘OK, maybe the tyre is cold or whatever…’ but then in the race I saw it very clearly from lap one. It was something common for all the Aprilias and I just took out the maximum. I was the first Aprilia in the first two races.”

Pressed on the root cause of the problem, the Spaniard added: “The guys need to learn and understand. I touched the gas and the bike didn’t want to go forward. That was the feeling.”

Vinales insisted he was not frustrated “because I gave my best on the track! I could not give more. I tried, I changed maps every lap, picked up the bike. It was the conditions so I could not do better.”

“Fortunately, it’s just the second race, so we can improve. The speed we had in the dry [here] – even without the wing – is the speed to win races so that’s fantastic,” added Vinales, now fifth in the world championship and 18 points from Bezzecchi.

Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, Argentina MotoGP, 2 April
Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, Argentina MotoGP, 2 April

Espargaro: ‘I thought I had a flat tyre’

While Vinales was 26-seconds from race winner Marco Bezzecchi (VR46 Ducati), with defending event winner Espargaro slipped 36-seconds adrift.

The #41’s traction issues were so bad he feared a flat tyre.

“It's difficult to understand really. In some stage of the race, I thought I had a flat tyre,” Espargaro said.

“It was crazy. I couldn't open the throttle even in the straight. I mean, even in the straight the bike was spinning. I had to change gear at 10,000 rpm, before the limiter, because the bike doesn't go forward.

“It was one of my worst races ever. And a really long one.”

Espargaro added: “I think I was P4 at the beginning and the first two laps I felt OK. But then when everybody started to put some temperature into the tyres and push, we just spin, spin, spin and I just recover time on the brakes.

“But by lap 4-5, when everybody starts to get more feeling and also brake in the limit, there's nothing more I can do.”

Espargaro had also struggled, to 11th, in MotoGP’s previous wet race at Buriram last season. The RS-GP had then performed reasonably in the wet at the Sepang pre-season test, but “not everybody was riding. It was not that bad. But today was really a nightmare.”

While unsure if the bike needs more mechanical grip or better electronics, Espargaro is leaning towards the former: “The bike doesn't really pitch, so it's like super rigid.”

Compounding Espargaro’s difficulties was a lack of vision, although he didn’t think he suffered worse than anyone else.

“It was very difficult to see in front. It was a matter of dust and also fog. But I think everybody had the same problem. For me it was not worse than them. I couldn't see anything, but like everybody!

“Also for the helmets it’s not easy because he bikes give off a lot of heat and you cannot open the air ducts because the dust goes inside. So it's difficult to find a solution.”

All of which means Espargaro has scored just 12 out of a possible 74 points in the opening rounds.

“It's been really frustrating first two races. In Portimao I had really good speed but I couldn't do a solid result. Here I got also the fastest lap of the weekend in the dry but then it rained. I'm a little bit sad, disappointed, but this is a long season and I will believe. There is a lot of races still.”

Raul Fernandez, MotoGP race, Argentina MotoGP, 2 April
Raul Fernandez, MotoGP race, Argentina MotoGP, 2 April

Fernandez: ‘Happy, but frustrated’

With Miguel Oliveira sidelined by injury, Raul Fernandez was the only RNF rider in Argentina.

Eleventh in the Sprint, Fernandez battled the same rain issues as the factory riders, but was at least satisfied to match their pace.

“Super difficult,” Fernandez said. “I'm happy because at the end I was fighting with the factory boys. But I am frustrated because it was in the last places. Three different riders, three different styles, three different settings on the bike, same result.

“I think our bike, to be honest, it's really competitive, I'm really happy with how our bike is, but the bike character in some points is too aggressive and it's something that we have to understand why with three different styles, three different riders, we get the same result [in the wet.”

“We have a good engine, we have the speed, but in some places we don't have the grip.

“This is just one race. I like Aprilia's mentality, and for sure they will bring us something for the future to improve this problem.

“I think more than the electronics, it's the character of the bike. It's something that we have to improve. Especially because if we want the torque, we use the tyre too much, and we lose a lot of time.”


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