How impressed is Aleix Espargaro with the all-new 2020 Aprilia RS-GP?

After finishing the opening test of the season at Sepang, the Spaniard thought he'd be able to fight for the podium if the Malaysian MotoGP took place tomorrow.

Not bad for a brand new bike that, in previous years, hasn’t finished higher than sixth place.

Espargaro's optimism was fuelled by how quick the revised machine had been straight out of the crate, including a long run that was "better than the Ducatis, better than Quartararo."

Unfortunately, that race simulation ended prematurely due to a technical problem and reliability remains the Achilles' heel for the new machine.

"If the race was here tomorrow, I think I could fight for the podium. Sure. But we will not race here in the next ten months," Espargaro said.

"We have to go to another track and see what happens and we have to see if the bike can finish the races because every time I stress the bike for more than ten laps something is happening.

"So it’s not about how fast you can be. You have to arrive to the end and this is our priority right now.

"But the lap time we did with the bike of just three days, the 1m 58.6 and the twelve-lap race simulation that I think has been the strongest – we have proved that our competitiveness has been high.

"Maybe now I’m too motivated, too happy, too excited," he grinned. "The fast lap I put in a difficult circuit like this - I lose two or three tenths every time in the fourth split against the Ducatis - even like this I did the strongest 12-14 lap race simulation. Better than the Ducatis, better than what Quartararo did before.

"You never know what can happen in Qatar but for the moment I’m satisfied. I’m happy."

The engine problem that halted his long run wasn't a surprise, the Aprilia engineers warning of such a possibility beforehand.

"I was pushing the engineers to try the engine for a long run," Espargaro said. "They were not very sure but for me it was very important to understand the bike’s temperature, the bike’s feeling.

"After the fresh tyres that we threw in this morning this was the priority. The race simulation has been really good until lap 13. Just seven laps to the end I felt the power started to drop a lot a lot a lot.

"We had a problem with the exhaust and we had to stop.

"Anyway we have to discover all of this. The bike is quite new. It’s a shame because I felt very competitive and felt like I could stay in the 1m 59s all the laps. But the bike is very young so we have to give it time."

But time is not on Aprilia's side, with only one more official test (at Losail) before the season begins in Qatar on March 8.

"For me the priority is the reliability now," Espargaro said. "I can understand that these problems are happening. I remember when Marc [Marquez] tried his new bike in Brno and Misano last year and they had many, many laps before they put the bike in the maximum stress here at the Sepang test.

"Aprilia did a really, really good job. I remember they were packing the bikes in the last minutes in Noale to ship it to Sepang. So it’s quite normal [to face some technical problems].

"Now we have to do a very important meeting with the engineers and have to see how we can improve the problems we had during these three days. There is not much time before the Qatar test and the first race.

"I hate testing but I really wish we had one or two months more of testing before the first race. The bike is very competitive but the engineers need more time to understand the reliability of the new parts. We will not have this time so we will see what happens when we stress the bike in the race."

Apart from reliability, Espargaro's only concern with the new 90-degree V4 engine is acceleration, which is yet to improve compared to the former narrow-V engine design.

"I think the bike is strong in fourth, fifth, sixth gear but we are suffering in the low gears," said Espargaro, an impressive eighth on the top speed charts and only 4.1km/h from the top Ducati of Jack Miller.

"I’m missing torque in the bottom, especially in first and second gear. I feel that is where especially the Ducati and Honda are super strong. They’re like rockets. Then the top speed is not bad but for me it’s difficult because you cannot overtake them.

"Yesterday I did two laps with Alex Marquez [Honda] and I almost hit him because there is no way I could overtake. I arrived too far on the brakes and this is a problem. Testing is not racing. Testing you are alone and in the races you have to overtake. This is something we have to improve."

Espargaro was the only Aprilia race rider present at Sepang due to Andrea Iannone ongoing suspension after failing an anti-doping test.

"Bradley has been working on many new things, trying to help me. Also Savadori was doing some laps. Obviously with Andrea he’s a very strong rider and he stresses the material more. We know his situation and I hope he can fix it and be in Qatar," Espargaro said.

The Qatar test takes place from February 22-24.

 

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