The Power Electronics Aspar team have seized the opportunity offered by the CRT rules with both hands. By teaming up with Aprilia and employing two talented and fast riders, Aspar has helped turn the RSV4-based ART machine into a genuinely competitive machine, in every respect except for horsepower. At Assen, Aleix Espargaro finished eighth, ahead of two factory Ducatis and three other satellite MotoGP machines. The bike is clearly good.
For 2014, however, Aspar must face a dilemma. With the introduction of the spec electronics system, teams choosing to race the ART bikes will lose the current advantage those machines have, a highly-developed and very effective electronics package. Teams running ART machines must choose, either to accept the Magneti Marelli developed software, and keep 24 liters of fuel and 12 engines, or persuade Aprilia to port their software to the spec Marelli ECU, and try to race with 20 liters of fuel and either 5 or 9 engines, depending on whether the Grand Prix Commission decided Aprilia had already been competing in MotoGP as an MSMA member or not.
The subject is highly sensitive in the Aspar team. When I asked team manager Gino Borsoi about the team's plans for 2014, his first response was to deflect the question with a joke: "I will be on holiday, so I don't know what the team is doing!" More seriously, Borsoi said the team faced some serious decisions ahead of them.
"We haven't decided yet, right now," Borsoi said. "We have to study with Aprilia what will be the future of our electronics. And after that, we have a clear situation, we can decide if it's better to stay or move to another project like a Yamaha or Honda." The announcement of the Honda production racer and the option to lease Yamaha engines were options which could steer Aspar away from the Aprilia ART bike, Borsoi admitted. "There are three good projects at the moment. Honda, for sure everybody know that when Honda do something, they make a really good job. The Yamaha option for sure is one of the best solutions, because you can get an engine with as much performance as the factory, and you can have 24 liters [of fuel]."
But staying with the Aprilia ART was still a very serious option, especially given the proven competitiveness of the bike. "Our bike now is at a really good level," Borsoi said. "We are fighting with the factory bikes. We have information, we have data, we have a lot of material too, in our truck, so for us it would be a little bit easier if we continue in the same way. But the new rules are really important for us to decide which kind of situation we want to be in." Borsoi agreed that the new rules were hardest on their team, with the Aspar bikes already so competitive.
The key decision for the Aspar team to make is whether they would stay as a non-MSMA entry, and use the standard software, or continue to use the Aprilia software package as an MSMA entry, and accept the cut in fuel allowance to 20 liters and the reduction in engines. Using less fuel would be hard, but it would not provide an insurmountable problem. Were Aspar currently using too much fuel, over the current allowance of 21 liters for the factory prototypes? "Not too much fuel, no," Borsoi admitted. "We are near the limit, but if we have to go with 20 liters, we will have to work a lot." It would be a major challenge, though not impossible. "Not a big step, but definitely not easy," Borsoi said.
The question of engine reliability would be much more difficult if Aspar decided to compete as an MSMA entry. At present, it is unclear whether Aprilia will be regarded as a new factory, who have not raced in MotoGP since 2007 and will therefore be allowed a total of 9 engines, or whether they will be regarded as an existing factory, and have to survive with just 5 engines. In the latter case, it would be almost impossible for Aspar to manage the season, Borsoi admitted. "Five engines, at the moment it's impossible," the Italian former rider said. "Maybe Aprilia decide to change this engine, to make some upgrade to it. But for us, nine engines should be a perfect number. Less [than nine], it's a risk for us."
If Aspar wish to switch to Yamaha, they will have to make a decision soon, as the Japanese factory has indicated they want to know by the summer break which teams will be using their leased engine options. If they decide to switch to Honda or stay with Aprilia, they have a little more time. But at some point, they will have to face up to that dilemma, and make a choice for the future.