Some of 2017’s frustrations may remain, but Aleix Espargaro believes Friday’s on-track action at the Chang International Circuit confirmed Aprilia’s new RS-GP is capable of outperforming its predecessor after ending the day 15th fastest.

Now one kilo lighter than his racing weight a year ago, Espargaro saw mechanical gremlins disrupt the first day of 2018’s second MotoGP test, while the ’17 engine he was using – Aprilia’s new spec is not yet ready – was no match for his peers in the first half of the 2.8-mile track.

Even still, the ’18 RS-GP replete with a year old engine was lighter and more agile through the flowing, sinewy third and fourth sectors. “There we are quite close to the top guys,” said a reasonably content Espargaro, who admitted neither he nor team-mate Scott Redding is likely to have the new engine before the first race.

What’s more, those technical frustrations forced the Catalan onto his 2017 bike on Friday afternoon, giving him a chance to make a direct comparison between the two specs. According to Espargaro-the-elder, the year-old bike is “heavier, more lazy, [and] has less turning," when analysed against Aprilia's new machine. "I’m really happy about this,” he said.

“I was a bit surprised,” began 28-year old Espargaro. “The track is a bit fun. The first and second split are very boring – two long straights, three corners. It’s very difficult for us. We lose half a second in those splits.

“But then the third and fourth sector are quite fun, not that bad. We are very close to the top guys there. We know what we have to do. It will be difficult to improve in the next three weeks, but we will try.

“Unfortunately in the last part of the day we had a small problem that didn’t allow us to work on the ’18 bike so I decided to stop. I did just five or six laps with the ’17 bike to try the bike. We still have two more days.”

Losing considerable time in the track’s fast, open first half, it was clear Aprilia was still lacking bite in early acceleration, a plight that was an issue throughout ’17. Improving this with the new motor remains the Noale factory’s target for the coming weeks.

“It’s our goal,” said Espargaro of the acceleration issues. “The new spec engine didn’t arrive yet so right now we are focusing on the new ’18 bike. The full bike is different, except for the engine. The bike, I like quite a lot in the corners part of the track, which is 50 percent of the track, and there we are quite close to the top guys. This is very, very nice.

“It confirms to us the Aprilia is very competitive and improving from last season. But in sector one and two there are three straights of almost a [kilometre]. It’s full throttle. There is nothing I can do. I wish I could improve something.”

On the improvements from the ’18 Aprilia’s chassis, Espargaro continued, “We are working on the weight. We improved the weight more from last season and there is more to come in Qatar. In Qatar I think we’ll be super good in the weight but already I think the bike is better than last season.

“The frame is better than last season. I’m happy with the riding style. Today we could be closer if we were able to use the third tyre with the ’18 bike. Unfortunately I couldn’t. We used the ’17 bike and it was good to confirm that the bike is heavier, more lazy, has less turning. So I’m really happy about this.”

Asked whether the ’18-spec engine would be ready for Qatar, Espargaro was resigned: “I don’t think so,” he said.

And on the factory's mechanical issues that also afflicted Redding on Friday, It’s never nice to have problems. If we have to have them it’s now. As you say, this is the ’17 spec engine. We had both small problems today and I’m not worried. I’m completely sure and confident the ’18 spec will be better and we will receive it in Qatar so I can’t wait."


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