Aleix: Aprilia not far from Ducati, "but we have to prove it!"

Ten races into the 2023 MotoGP season and Aprilia has just one podium to show for the efforts of its four riders.
Aleix Espargaro
Aleix Espargaro

That came at the hands of Maverick Vinales at the Portimao season opener. Vinales looked perfectly placed to add to that tally at Le Mans on Sunday, only to crash out on lap 6 in a tangle with title leader Francesco Bagnaia.

While Vinales is at least seven places higher in the riders standings than after round five last season, 7th compared to 14th, team-mate Aleix Espargaro has slipped from third to eleventh.

Espargaro made history with Aprilia’s first and so far only MotoGP win at round three in Argentina last year, remaining in the title fight until the penultimate round.

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The RS-GP has been further enhanced for 2023, but while Ducati has won seven races this season, with two victories for KTM and one for Honda, Aprilia - like Yamaha - is yet to stand on the top step of a sprint or Sunday race.

Espargaro, who took pole position at Jerez but has a best finish of fourth this season at COTA, insists the gap between Aprilia and Ducati is “not that big” but that they need to “prove it”.

“I feel that I have to perform a little bit better in the races. I believe that we can do it, because I feel I have a really, really good bike right now,” Espargaro said.

“I keep saying that the bike is good, that we are not far from Ducati, but we have to prove that! So hopefully I will do it at Mugello.”

While eighth (sprint) and fifth (GP) places were nothing to get excited about at Le Mans, it was Espargaro’s highest-scoring weekend this season and the first time he had taken points in both races since the Portimao opener.

“I can’t be happy with fifth place, obviously, but I'm satisfied after a lot of up and downs at the beginning of the season, and especially after my mistake in qualifying, losing a lot of places on the grid,” said Espargaro, who started from eleventh.

“Obviously the result doesn't shine at all. Fifth place is not fantastic, but it’s a race that I really needed. Feeling strong, feeling fast. I did a lot of overtakes, so I hope it's just the beginning.”

Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, French MotoGP, 14 May
Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, French MotoGP, 14 May

Espargaro, who had been lucky to walk away from a fast Saturday accident at turn one, added: “I just have a big bruise on the arm. It was difficult to sleep because I felt quite a lot of pain that I didn't expect. But on the bike, I felt nothing.

“After this crazy beginning of the season, I have no big injuries. So now we can breathe a bit and come back in a very special GP, as Mugello will be for us.”

Espargaro starts the ‘spring break’, ahead of Mugello on June 9-11, eleventh in the world championship and 52 points behind Ducati’s title leader and reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia.

The Spaniard’s aim is to break into the top five during the remaining three events before the MotoGP summer break.

“We are getting more points, getting closer to the top guys, so hopefully I can do three solid races after this break and, by the summer break, I hope I can I be top five in the championship,” he said.

Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco is currently fifth in the world championship, 24 points ahead of Espargaro.

Vinales is seven points ahead of Espargaro.

Aprilia, which has doubled its MotoGP presence to four bikes with the addition of RNF as a satellite team, is currently third in the constructors’ standings, behind Ducati and KTM.

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