2019 was a long, hard year for Aprilia. The hiring of new Aprilia Race CEO Massimo Rivola signaled a year of rebuilding for the Italian factory, as Rivola took over the organizational side of the MotoGP project, freeing up Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new RS-GP from the ground up, and providing Albesiano with the resources to do so. That project forced Aprilia riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone to battle on through the 2019 season with a bike which was struggling to be competitive.
The wait came to an end at the MotoGP shakedown test at Sepang, where Aprilia rolled out the new RS-GP, in the hands of test rider Bradley Smith. "Those six or seven months of waiting were worth it," was Smith's verdict after the first full day of testing on the 2020 prototype.
"We had two or three big areas where we struggled," Smith told MotoMatters.com on Monday, "But the great thing is that the engineers managed to touch everything on the bike. They looked at every area¸and improved all the areas we were complaining about." Aprilia's engineers had not just addressed its main weaknesses, but had made steps forward in every part of the bike.
The change was badly needed, Smith said. "This was built in 2017, so it's a three year old bike," the Englishman said of the RS-GP campaigned last year. "Things have moved on since then, especially the Michelin tires, which have changed quite a bit. MotoGP sort of moved away from us. And if you look at Yamaha, they were struggling in 2017 and doing better now, things of sort of moved more in their direction."
Smith was very positive about the times set on the new bike. The Aprilia rider ended up just a tenth behind Suzuki test rider Sylvain Guintoli, the Frenchman riding a GSX-RR which proved capable of winning races in 2019. And Smith had been keeping a little bit in reserve. "The bike is so new that we only have two 2020 machines and a limited number of spares. When I was doing my time attack, there were a couple of places I was holding back a bit. The last thing I wanted was to hand the bike back in a box."
With just two bikes and limited spares, Smith was sharing his time between the old bike and the 2020 RS-GP. The Englishman was working on electronics with the old bike, to save mileage on the new machine. But it was on the 2020 RS-GP that Smith set his quickest time.
Having just two bikes available means Smith won't be riding on the last day of the shakedown test on Tuesday. He hands both machines over to Aleix Espargaro, who has not ridden so far during the shakedown test. Espargaro will be able to test both the old and the new bike together, as well as run back-to-back tests with the new bike to start working on base setup for the machine. Espargaro will be joined by Lorenzo Savadori, who is at Sepang learning to ride the MotoGP bike, and being evaluated as a possible future test rider.
Smith will be back in action at the official test, which starts on the 7th February.
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