A day after wishing the 2018 season would finish as soon as possible, Aleix Espargaro celebrated 'one of the better days of his career' by matching the best ever MotoGP result for the Aprilia RS-GP.

Espargaro's Saturday misery had been caused by another injury for younger brother Pol, plus his own ongoing struggles with this year's RS-GP, leaving him 15th in qualifying at one of his favourite home tracks.

That became 13th on the grid after penalties for Maverick Vinales and Franco Morbidelli, then sixth place after a stunning start to the grand prix. A position Espargaro kept for the remainder of the race.

"I'm very happy. One of the better days of my career, sincerely, and it's just sixth place, but I'm struggling a lot this year. It's been difficult to maintain the happiness, to stay motivated," Espargaro said.

"This is one of my favourite tracks and the key to the race was the first laps, I made a super good start and for the first 5 laps I was very strong. Then I followed Pedrosa for most of the race. I hope I can do the same at the next races."


Espargaro also credited new crew chief Pietro Caprara for his attacking start to the grand prix, but warned he was still having to ride 'over the limit'.

"Pietro is helping a lot because he is young, new in the team, supporting me a lot and believing in me," Espargaro said. "Also we changed a lot the balance of the bike during the Misano test, trying to find better tyre temperature, which is one of the problems this year.

"We put more weight on the front and the bike is turning a little bit more. The bike has not had a revolution because it is what it is, but I feel a little bit better, I recover a little aggressivity.

"I was very aggressive in the first part of the race today and this is thanks to the changes we did, but it's still too on the limit.

"I know everybody is on the limit but I was over the limit, for the first 12 laps I was really risking a lot."

Espargaro was 9.396s from winner Marc Marquez (Honda), which compared with his previous sixth places at Qatar (+7.661s) and Aragon (+6.962s) last season. Those in turn matched Aprilia's top four-stroke MotoGP result by Colin Edwards on the RS Cube at Suzuka 2003 (+29.040s).

But having been no higher than ninth this year prior to Aragon, Sunday's result was the most satisfying for Espargaro.

"This year for me is better [than last year's sixth places] because last year I was competitive, I was many times in the top ten, many times in Qualifying 2. But this year nothing is working, the bike is not competitive. I'm struggling a lot. Difficult to be in the points.

"So it's not the sixth place that makes me very happy, it's that we were with the podium group for the first half of the race and the second half of the race I was just losing two or three tenths per lap with Pedrosa.

"This makes me very happy. I was super focused. Riding on the limit and I didn't make any mistakes, in a single corner. So I'm satisfied with myself."

'I cannot ride like this every weekend'

Despite admitting he was left bitterly disappointed when his request for a 2017-spec machine at Aragon was turned down, the Spaniard completed the 23-lap distance 13s quicker than last year.

But he underlined that major design changes are needed for 2019.

"I think the people around me, the Aprilia engineers, are clever enough to know which is the level of the RS-GP. Many riders have ridden this bike in the past and the results are there to be seen.

"I'm the only one who has been able to be competitive and I'm struggling a lot, a lot, a lot. So they know that we have to change the 2019 bike a lot and improve a lot to be there.

"But I don’t care, I always give my 100 percent.

"I did super good results in Misano and it was always just 14th place, but really I pushed from the first lap to the end, super good pace, but it was the maximum. Here I did the same, but in this track I'm stronger and I got sixth place.

"But still they know the bike is far.

"Last season I finished sixth and in the straight I was able to follow them. Today I overtook Pedrosa two or three times and he came in the straight, he was 10k faster than me. It was very difficult. I lost a lot of time in the straights and I destroyed the front tyre on the brakes to be with them.

"I was worried the tyre wouldn’t arrive at the end or that I'd crash, because for example in the last corner after the back straight I was braking later than in qualifying. It was every single lap risking a lot.

"So we need to improve the engine, because I cannot ride like this every weekend because I will crash ten times out of 19 races."

'We struggle in the same places as Yamaha'

While team-mate Scott Redding failed to score in 16th, Espargaro's result has put Aprilia just five points from KTM in the constructors' championship.

Suzuki was also celebrating on Sunday, with its strongest team result of the season courtesy of third and fourth places for Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins.

Does Espargaro think the GSX-RR, which he raced in 2015 and 2016, prefers similar circuits to the RS-GP?

"Suzuki has also been competitive in different layouts," he replied. "I think they are stronger than us a lot more right now.

"I think the Aprilia is more similar to the Yamaha. We struggle in the same places.

"Also, in the many meetings with Romano [Albesiano], looking at the other bikes compared with our bike - the geometries, the lengths - our bike looks closer to the Yamaha than the Suzuki, but it's difficult to compare.

"Iannone and Rins were very strong in the first part of the race on the brakes and they arrived very easy to Marc and Dovi. But it's true that sometimes the brand more close to us with the tyre choice is Suzuki, so maybe it's similar in some ways."