Another piece of the MotoGP puzzle fell into place yesterday, and another boost for the CRT rules aimed at getting more bikes on the grid. The Aspar team announced officially that they will be racing as a Claiming Rule Team in 2012, fielding riders Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro. The team is to use Aprilia engines in their MotoGP machines, though the press release makes no mention of which chassis they will use.
The announcement had been expected for some time. Aspar boss Jorge Martinez had made it clear he would be racing as a CRT entry at Phillip Island, the Spaniard calculating that he could race two CRT machine for the price of a satellite Ducati. The rider line up took longer to complete, but once the team added Toni Elias to the already-signed Moto2 duo of Nico Terol and Aleix Espargaro, it became evident that Espargaro was destined to move up to MotoGP on the CRT machine. Randy de Puniet's name was linked with the Aspar CRT ride after the Frenchman tested the Aprilia RSV4 on Bridgestone tires at Valencia and then later at Jerez. De Puniet set a lap of 1'41.5 on the Bridgestone-shod RSV4 at Jerez, 1.8 seconds slower than the time he set aboard the Pramac Ducati at Jerez back in April. That time may have convinced him that he had a chance of competing with some of the satellite riders as the 2012 season progresses.
Though the press release only mentions Aspar using Aprilia engines, it seems likely that the team will lease complete bikes from the Noale factory. The outings at Valencia and Jerez were aimed at obtaining data with the Bridgestone tires and carbon brakes to help with designing a chassis that Aprilia could race in MotoGP. The chassis tested at Jerez looked stock, but was covered with duct tape. What the tape was hiding is a mystery, but the place where modifications would be needed for a MotoGP chassis is the headstock, to deal with the greater braking forces from the carbon brakes. We will get a better idea of what Aspar will actually be racing when the MotoGP paddock rolls up at Sepang for the first MotoGP test on January 31st.
The announcement from Aspar brings the total number of confirmed entries up to 18, 12 factory prototypes (4 Hondas, 4 Yamahas and 4 Ducatis) and and 6 CRT entries - including 5 Aprilia-based entries. Though there has been no formal announcement yet, the BQR team are expected to contest 2 machines next year, the FTR Kawasaki ridden by Ivan Silva and Yonny Hernandez, and the Gresini team has also announced that they will be fielding a CRT bike built by FTR around a Honda CBR1000 engine, bringing the total number of bikes up to 21. With the Spanish Laglisse team also expected to enter two Suter BMWs, the grid so far is set to feature a total of 23 bikes. You can find the latest list of confirmed and unconfirmed MotoGP entries here.
Below is the official press release announcing the the Aspar team's plans for 2012:
ASPAR TEAM EXPANDS MOTOGP PROJECT FOR 2012
Valencian team to line up Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaró on Aprilia-powered machinery
With the dust having only settled on the 2011 campaign just three weeks ago the teams and riders have been hard at work with post-season testing at Valencia, immediately following the final Grand Prix of the season, and at Jerez earlier this week. Much of development has been aimed at changes to MotoGP next season, when 1000cc machines return to the grid to replace the 800s and new CRT prototypes join the factory machinery in a move to make the championship more competitive and open it up to new challengers. The goal is to improve the spectacle on track, with the sensational Moto2 series as the blueprint.
The Aspar Team remains faithful to its ideals of developing, expanding and embracing new technologies, which is why they will be moving with the times next season and embarking on a new adventure for MotoGP as a Claiming Rules Team (CRT). Not only that but the team will be expanding from one rider, as they have had for the past two seasons, to two with Aleix Espargaró and Randy de Puniet providing a combination of youth and experience. Both have previous experience with the team, the Spaniard in 2009 and the Frenchman in 2005, and just as they did in the 250cc class class they will be powered next season by Aprilia. The Spanish team has enjoyed a relationship with the Italian factory since 1996 and together they have won four world titles as well as finishing runners-up no fewer than seven times. The Noale-based manufacturer will provide engines for the new CRT project, which is already underway with De Puniet having begun testing duties.
Jorge Martínez 'Aspar': "We are really happy because we find ourselves with a brand new challenge ahead of us and we have full faith that CRT is the future of MotoGP, which is why we are amongst the first to join this initiative. As a team we continue to grow and after having a single rider for our first two seasons in MotoGP we will now have two in Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaró. I am pleased to welcome Randy back to the team; he was already with us back in 2005 and we have good memories. Aleix was also with us in 2009 although it was only for two races. We are sure that this will be a successful project with the riders we have but also with the engine supplier, which will be Aprilia. We always wanted to stick with them for this project because of the fabulous relationship we have with them and their pedigree in the smaller classes. Our objective this season is to be the best CRT team and to prepare for another step forward in 2013".
Randy de Puniet: "I am very happy to return to the Aspar Team, having already raced with them in 2005 during my 250cc career. I have very fond memories of that time and now we are taking on a new challenge together in the shape of CRT. I know that this is a very competitive team and they will be fighting to have the best material available. We have already tested and gathered a lot of good feedback. CRT is the future of MotoGP and even though we have a lot of work ahead of us it will be enjoyable. The objective for next season will be to adapt as soon as possible to this new prototype and gradually close the gap to the factory bikes. Testing at Jerez was very productive, we had good weather and managed to gather a lot of good data. The lap times were interesting even though we are obviously a long way off the motorcycle we will start the season with so I am very pleased with how everything is coming together."
Aleix Espargaró: "First of all I am very excited to join the Aspar Team and especially to be returning to MotoGP, which is a huge source of motivation for me. In 2010 I had a pretty positive season and I would have liked to continue for another year. I think that with my height and weight I should be more suited to the category and I am sure we'll have a good year and get some great results for the Aspar Team. CRT is a totally new concept and we will have a lot of work to do at the start but I have joined the Aspar Team because they comes with certain guarantees and I know they won't take this challenge lightly. They are very professional and I am sure they will develop a great motorcycle. I am delighted to be involved with this new project."