With Ducati hogging all of the technical limelight with their latest gadget, it is easy to overlook what was going on elsewhere in pit lane at the Sepang MotoGP test. Yet there was plenty of interesting tech on display, some of it working well, other parts not quite so much. So here's a look at what the other MotoGP manufacturers were up to in Malaysia.
Aprilia – lighter, slimmer, but more chatter
Aprilia face a major challenge in 2022. For the past two years, their rivals have been unable to develop their engines, engine design having been frozen during the pandemic. 2022 is the first season where the factories without concessions have been able to bring updated engines. So the Noale factory is about to find out whether it has done enough over the past two years to close the gap and be competitive.
The evidence so far points to them being successful. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales topped the first day of the official test, and finished second and fifth respectively on the second day, Viñales just 0.130 behind Enea Bastianini, and on the same time as fourth-placed Alex Rins.
Even more impressive were their long runs on the second day. Espargaro did a run of 12 laps, all of which were under the race lap record set by Valentino Rossi in 2019, and included a 1'58.9 and three 1'59.0s. Viñales did 11 laps, also starting with a 1'58.9, and with just one lap over the race lap record, when he made a mistake in the third sector. Based on their times, they are in good shape.
Where has that improvement come from? The bike is lighter and narrower, and a new chassis corrects the mistake made at the last test in Jerez. Gains have been made with the engine, and a new exhaust with a valve in the end to manage back pressure and torque.
The new frame was a big improvement, Aleix Espargaro told us. "We tried something in Jerez and it didn’t work. Then they developed the new frame in another direction. The bike is better, especially in turning and handling. It’s more agile. The engine is a little bit stronger."
Making the bike narrower made it easier to get to turn, Espargaro said. "The best thing is the turning. The bike is a lot more narrow and they did a good job because it’s not easy with these bikes because the engine, electronics, many things are very big and it’s not easy to reduce and put everything in the chassis. So they did a good job. The bike is not a revolution, it’s a continuation of the RS-GP21 but more narrow and more agile."
Espargaro had done a long run to find out how the bike managed its tires. "I requested to do a long run to see how the bike reacts and during the long run I did 12 laps. You could see the difference between last year's bike and this year’s bike. Just pushing for one single lap the [new] bike is better, it turns more and the engine is a little bit stronger. But you cannot feel a huge difference."
There was a much bigger difference over a long run, Espargaro said. "During a race simulation the way it affects the tire is different. I arrive more into the middle of the corner, the corner speed of the bike allows me to do. Also the way that the tire decreases in the construction of the tire is a bit different. So it’s interesting to put more laps onto it at the next test and see how it’s going."
The downside to the new bike is chatter. The new Aprilia may be more agile, but the price they have to pay is more vibration from the tires. "What we have to improve is still I have a lot of chattering," Espargaro said. "Here in Malaysia in 2020 I remember also having chattering, so chattering is something we need to improve."
Espargaro believed the issue may be related to the very high corner speeds the RS-GP was capable of. "From the first lap I did in this circuit, especially in the fast corner you could feel the bike fall into the corner. This helps you a lot. But also, it creates a problem because especially in the fast corner, the speed I’m able to carry is unbelievable, it’s crazy. So, I create more chattering. But I think it’s the first time I rode here in Malaysia without ever going wide. It’s impossible to go wide mid-corner. You can carry as much speed as you want."
Or at least as much until you hit the chatter. "It’s unbelievable how the bike turns but I’m limited by the chattering. Even in our fast laps, Maverick and myself have to close the throttle a bit and enter into the corner slower to avoid the vibration, but not because I will go wide." The chatter remained, on new tires, used tires, with a full tank and an empty tank, and with two different chassis. Aprilia face a lot of work to try to dial that out.
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