Aleix Espargaro

MotoGP And WorldSBK Back On Track: Three Days Of Testing At Misano

World championship motorcycle racing takes another step back to the season returning at Misano. The next three days sees both MotoGP and WorldSBK teams testing at the Italian circuit, preparing for the resumption of hostilities at Jerez in July and August.

Present are the MotoGP teams of KTM and Aprilia, allowed extra testing due to their status as concessions teams. Aleix Espargaro and Bradley Smith are riding for Aprilia, the second test for the Italian factory. Espargaro was forced to miss the first test, unable to travel to Misano, and so waited for this test to get back on track, as he explained to Tammy Gorali in an interview a week ago. He joins Bradley Smith, promoted from test rider to permanent rider for 2020, to replace Andrea Iannone, still suspended after a positive doping test.

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Aleix Espargaro Interview, Part 2: On Doping, Teammates, Strategies For A Shortened Season, And 2021

In the first part of the interview with Aleix Espargaro, the Aprilia Gresini rider talked about life and training in Andorra, finally getting back on a motorcycle in Andorra and at Barcelona, the plans for testing, and the financial impact of the pandemic for him and his sponsors.

In the second part, the eldest of the two racing Espargaro brothers talks about what happened to teammate Andrea Iannone, and who might replace the Italian at Aprilia, about rumors of brother Pol leaving KTM to head to Repsol, and about the strategy for coping with a short season featuring a lot of back-to-back races. Finally, Aleix Espargaro talks about how much he is looking forward to 2021, even more than 2020.

Q: You actually don't know who is going to be your teammate, either this season or next season. It's a very awkward situation.

AE: The situation for Aprilia right now is not easy, not easy at all. Andrea Iannone is a very, very fast rider, everybody knows that, but his future doesn't look very bright because now WADA are pushing even more [WADA has appealed the reduction of Iannone's ban by the FIM CDI]. So the situation for Massimo Rivola, for Aprilia is not easy. I would say that almost all top riders have already decided about their future; to take a talented guy coming from Moto2 would not be easy for the first year; to take an old guy from MotoGP with experience but with a better bike, it's not going to be easy. The situation is very difficult.

Q: Did you talk with Iannone?

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Aleix Espargaro Interview, Part 1: On Training, Retirement, New Contracts, And The Financial Consequences Of The Pandemic

Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia RS-GP at the 2019 MotoGP round at Valencia. Photo: @CormacGP

Aleix Espargaro speaks to me seated in the living room of his Andorra home, in the middle of a very lively and hectic family life. Max and Mia, the Espargaro twins who just turned two years old a few days earlier, are talkative and active playing just a few meters away. Their joyful squeaking punctuates the interview, providing a unique soundtrack. Behind him hangs the Aspar ART bike he was given as a present from Jorge Martinez for his wedding - a location he had to negotiate with his interior designer wife Laura, before she agreed to have it stood pointing skyward, front wheel vertical. When asked, Espargaro said that Aspar was upset when he left for team Forward (2014) and only forgave him when he invited his former team to the wedding.

The older of the two Espargaro brothers has been racing at world championship level since 2005 – it's easy to forget that Aleix Espargaro was the youngest ever Spanish 125cc champion of the 125 all the way back in 2004. He has ridden for some of the biggest teams in the last 15 years, but undoubtedly his contribution to the development of the Aprilia RS-GP in the last three seasons (and before that to the Suzuki) has brought him a well earned third contract with the Italian manufacturer.

Espargaro was never afraid to speak his mind. He was not shy to talk about politics, stand against bullfighting and also share his thoughts about his own team. Lack of staff, mistakes in the development., promises broken by the team and lack of support for the riders with early dismissal of his teammates. He was also the first to commend them about the changes done in the team’s structure.

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Aleix Espargaro Stays To Lead Aprilia MotoGP Project For Two More Years

It was a day of good news and bad news for Aprilia. On the day that the Court of Arbitration of Sport announced that WADA had appealed against the penalty imposed on Andrea Iannone, demanding his suspension be extended to the full four years set out in the doping code, the Italian factory was also able to announce a two-year contract extension with Aleix Espargaro. The Spaniard will remain with Aprilia for the 2021 and 2022 seasons in MotoGP.

The move was widely expected. Espargaro has been the mainstay of Aprilia's MotoGP project since arriving at the Noale factory in 2017. In the first three years of his contract with Aprilia, he has had three different teammates, starting with Sam Lowes, then Scott Redding, and finally, last year, Andrea Iannone. Thanks to Iannone's suspension, it looks like Espargaro will have a fourth teammate in 2020, almost certainly Bradley Smith. And that could change again in 2021, if Iannone does not have his doping ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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What Does The Delayed Start To The 2020 MotoGP Season Mean To The Factories?

On Sunday, at 6pm, the desert night will erupt in a cacophony of sound, as Grand Prix motorcycle racing gets underway for the start of the 2020 season. But it won't be the vicious bellow of MotoGP machines which will shatter the desert silence; instead, the more modest howl (118 dB compared to 130 dB of the MotoGP bikes) of the Triumph triple-engined Moto2 machines will scream away from the lights and around the floodlit track.

It wasn't meant to be that way, of course. The Moto2 machines were supposed to race an hour and forty minutes earlier, their original start time planned for 4:20pm local time. Now, it will be the Moto3 riders starting their race at that time, and not the 3pm slot originally scheduled. The MotoGP machines will be sitting in packing crates, waiting to be shipped to the next race.

As I write this, it is not entirely clear where that will be. It might be Austin, Texas, unless the US authorities impose further restrictions. It might be Termas De Rio Honda, in Argentina, unless the Argentinian government changes its mind about allowing entry from Italy, or Japan, or anywhere else. It might even be Jerez, if international air travel is subject to sudden and extreme restrictions.

Evolution

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Qatar MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: Assessing All Six Factories After Qatar

So testing is done and dusted – at Qatar, quite literally, once the wind picks up – and the pile of parts each factory brought has been sifted through, approved, or discarded. The factories are as ready as they are ever going to be for the first race in Qatar, at which point the real work starts. Testing will only tell you so much; it is only in the race that the last, most crucial bits of data are revealed: how bikes behave in the slipstream; how aggressive racing lines treat tires in comparison to fast qualifying and testing lines; whether all those fancy new holeshot devices will help anyone to get into the Turn 1 ahead of the pack. Only during the race do factories and riders find out whether the strategy they have chosen to pursue will actually work.

Fabio Quartararo at the 2020 Qatar MotoGP Test

So after three days of the Qatar test, what have we learned? In these notes:

Honda, from catastrophe to optimism courtesy of old bodywork

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Qatar MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: A Fast Yamaha, Ducati's Holeshot Squatter, And Aprilia Aggro

If there is one thing that we learned from the Sepang test, it is that the field is even closer this year. In Malaysia, 18 riders finished within a second of one another. That pattern has continued at Qatar, Pol Espargaro in fourteenth just 0.987 second behind the fastest man, Alex Rins. As comparison, the KTM rider was the last rider within a second of the fastest man after the first day of this test in 2019, but then, there were just eight riders ahead of him, rather than thirteen. And there was a gap of nearly four tenths of a second between the riders in second and third last year. Not so in 2020.

But if the single lap times were close, the race pace was a lot less so. Maverick Viñales towered over the rest in terms of consistent pace, with only the Suzukis of Alex Rins and Joan Mir getting anywhere near the pace of the Monster Energy Yamaha rider. Viñales laid down a real benchmark, with ten of his 47 laps in the 1'54s, which is under the race lap record. That included a run of ten laps, seven of which were 1'54s, five of which were consecutive. That is a rather terrifying race pace for the Spaniard to lay down, just two weeks ahead of the first race.

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Romano Albesiano On Why Aprilia Changed The Engine Angle, Satellite Teams, And Measuring Success

The 2019 MotoGP season was a long, hard road for Aprilia. The hiring of Massimo Rivola as CEO of Aprilia meant that the development of the RS-GP came to a standstill while he first straightened out Aprilia's organization, and allowing Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new machine, with a 90° V4 engine, from the ground up.

The 2020 prototype of the Aprilia RS-GP, at the Sepang MotoGP test

It was a major gamble. Aprilia was throwing away four years of development in MotoGP, and starting almost from scratch again. The Noale factory had a lot of new data to go on, but they had to make the right choices in so many areas that it would be easy to find themselves chasing down a blind alley.

The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith were wildly enthusiastic about the new RS-GP. "I didn't really expect that with a bike as new as this, that I would be as competitive as I am," Espargaro said. "Even with 20 laps on the tires, I can do 1'59s, it's unbelievable how fast I was. I think that with this RS-GP, the bike is a lot more close to the podium."

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MotoGP Silly Season Grinds To A Halt: What Next For Ducati?

It had promised to be a spectacular Silly Season in MotoGP this year. With all 22 rider contracts up for renewal at the end of this season, several long months of hard bargaining was expected, resulting in a major shakeup of the grid. Few seats were expected to be left untouched.

Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at the Sepang MotoGP test

Yamaha dealt the first body blow to any major grid shakeup, moving quickly to extend Maverick Viñales' contract through 2022, then moving rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo to race alongside him in the Monster Energy Yamaha team. Valentino Rossi was promised full factory support from Yamaha in a satellite team if he decided to continue racing after 2020 instead of retiring.

Yamaha's hand had been forced by Ducati. The Italian factory had made an aggressive play for both Viñales and Quartararo, and Yamaha had brought the decision on their future plans forward to early January. Yamaha decided to go with youth over experience, and Ducati was left empty-handed.

Next stop Hamamatsu

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