Argentina MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Long And Winding Road To Success

In November 2014, at the Valencia post-race test, there was something of a buzz. Aprilia to make a return to MotoGP as a factory team for the 2015 season, albeit under the umbrella of the Gresini squad. Up until that point, Aprilias had been racing in MotoGP, but they were modified versions of the Noale factory's RSV-4 superbike, with a lot of chassis work and a much more powerful engine. They would be racing more or less the same bikes in 2015, but the ambition was to step up development and build a genuinely competitive motorcycle.

To do that, they had abandoned their factory entry in the WorldSBK championship – a championship which Sylvain Guintoli had won for them the previous year – and drafted in Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri. Bautista was keen to push the project forward, but from the very first moment he appeared in the MotoGP paddock again, Melandri made it glaringly obvious he did not want to be there.

The Italian had signed a factory contract with Aprilia to win races and chase a WorldSBK title. He had exactly zero desire to be a backmarker on an uncompetitive Aprilia in MotoGP, and he was only there because buying his way out of the contract was too expensive. Heading down to talk to Melandri at the end of each day was a depressing experience, the Italian cloaked in an infectious feeling of gloom.

Eight years' wait

Fast forward to 2021, and the many, many years of hard work showed signs of finally paying off. Aleix Espargaro scored Aprilia's first podium in the MotoGP era at Silverstone, just rewards for his sticking with the project. Ironically, Espargaro had been one of the first riders to jump on Aprilia's ART machine in the CRT class back in 2012, the subcategory brought in to fill out the MotoGP grid from the 17 bikes which started the 2011 season, going on to take the CRT crown that season.

A year later, and Espargaro bagged the Italian factory's first pole position since 2000 at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. And a day after that, he took their first victory in the premier class, and his first win in grand prix racing. A fitting end to a long journey through the history of MotoGP, and Espargaro's long history in the premier class. History was made in more ways than one.

For Espargaro to take this victory for Aprilia is so fitting, for his history, Aprilia's history, and the transformation of MotoGP from a series scraping around for bikes to a thriving successful class with six competitive manufacturers are intimately intertwined. Espargaro made his MotoGP debut at the tender age of 20, replacing Mika Kallio on the Pramac Ducati at Indianapolis in 2009. He had a full season with Pramac in 2010, before being forced back to Moto2 the following year.

2012 was a watershed in MotoGP, for many reasons. It was the first year of the return to 1000cc engines for MotoGP, after the 800cc bikes had almost killed the class. The switch from 990cc to 800cc had been done to reduce speeds, but costs had spiraled, as factories threw all their efforts into producing as much power as possible from the smaller engines, and then using electronics to control it. After the global financial crisis, as grids thinned and the racing became ever more processional, it was clear that something had to be done.

The problem was that addressing MotoGP's weakness required loosening the vice-like grip which the manufacturers, and Honda in particular, had on the sport. So Dorna came up with a new set of rules and a new subcategory, the CRT or Claiming Rule Teams, bikes based on production engines in prototype chassis. Independent teams were encouraged to enter this category, with a separate subchampionship held to celebrate it. Aleix Espargaro would win that first CRT title.

The art of persuasion

Dorna's ploy – I say Dorna's, it was the brainchild of many people inside Dorna and IRTA – was successful. First, they managed to force a spec ECU on the class, against the wishes of Honda and the MSMA. That allowed them to replace the CRT category with the Open Class, MotoGP bikes running spec software on the spec ECU. Then the spec software was made compulsory, completing a transition to fully spec electronics.

Alongside the spec electronics, a system of concessions was introduced. Manufacturers who hadn't won a race would be allowed extra development, extra testing, and extra engines. It gave factories who lagged behind Honda and Yamaha – by that time the only consistently competitive manufacturers – a chance to catch up.

Ducati were the first factory to make use of it, the Italian manufacturer finding itself deep in the doldrums after Casey Stoner left for Honda. After Gigi Dall'Igna arrived in 2014 – leaving Aprilia – he spotted the opportunity offered by the Open Class and CRT, supplying bikes to a range of teams to gather data, while his engineering team worked on the factory bike. After five years without a win, Ducati finally scored their first victory in Austria in 2016.

Closing the gap

Suzuki followed suit, using the introduction of spec electronics to focus on building a competitive engine and frame, returning in 2015, and quickly becoming competitive, Maverick Viñales scoring the first win for the Japanese factory in 2016. Then came KTM, entering MotoGP in 2017, and progressing far enough to win three races in 2020.

All this time, Aprilia had been plodding along, making slow progress, the bike clearly getting better but also clearly flawed. Aleix Espargaro, who had signed for the Noale factory after leaving Suzuki at the end of 2016, ground through season after season of achingly slow progress hampered by continual mechanical problems.

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Source: 
year: 
2022
round_number: 
3

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Comments

Been waiting for this storybook day, didn't know it would ever happen. Welp, sometimes things just work out in the best ways.

Vamos 2022

Awesome performance. He was truly fast and worked hard for that victory. Richly deserved for the entire team!

Miller better watch out, I for one think that his seat is done and dusted. Martin is simply awesome. He was clearly  struggling with tyre wear but he was still really quick. The 2022 Ducati is coming to fore and it appears that while, yes, there are numerous winners now, they are going to be quite dominant with Pecco and Martin.

David, am I missing something or were the Ducati's not as fast on the straight. The Honda and Suzuki seem to draft past quite easily. I wonder which one of these seat's Fabio is going to be taking next year.

Also, Moto2 is getting interesting. Somkiat Chantra seems to be in the form of his life and Fermin Aldegeur is insanely fast. This is going to be a lovely season.

That was so deeply satisfying, to see Aleix and Aprilia finally do it. And the beauty of a winner literally embraced by not only P2 and P3 but even the other pit crews, was fantastic. Have to agree that Miller is at risk too, but he might be happier back at Pramac anyway (and Martin is so impressive with Bastianini just a mm behind ...) but surely someone else at Ducati factory has to take responsibility for the bloody awful form of the red bike so far. One can chant that the championship won't start till Europe all one likes but the red bikes are 30 and 33 points behind. Behind all the BS I wonder whether  the red bikes have homologated the wrong Duc engine spec too. 

The riders seemed to have some rear grip issues. Jack spoke about having to sit up on the fat part of the tyre more. The T3 through T4 run onto the straight seemed to be where Aleix had an advantage especially as the race wore on. Less so in T6 and T11...maybe all riders had issues. Fabio also spoke about a lack of rear grip. If the Yamaha can't get drive out of the turns then it's a bad day.

Excellent write up, sir. I find it interesting looking through the stats that Aleix and Aprilia did this with the fewest kms covered in practice (279) vs the tire-burning workhorse (!) Takaaki and LCR with an astounding 403.

... that Espargaro had been helping and mentoring Martin ever since his junior days. Good for both of them.

Still no pattern to emerge after 3 races, but some thoughts based on absolutely nothing more than my own personal feelings.

1- Fabio will not be on the Yam next year. Does he have time to wait and see if the 2023 bike is faster? or will he start to panic when other seats start being taken in June?

2- Miller out, Martin in at Factory Duc.

3- Dorna starts pushing Aprilia and Suzuki harder to add those other 2 bikes with Independent teams. This has 2 positive effects, more data for those factories with more talent pushing them forward and 4 less Ducs leveling the whole grid out.

4- Dovisioso retires, takes Alex Marquez with him.

5- Nakagami replaced by Ogura

6- Sadly still no competitive USA rider, as Roberts is going backwards and Baubier has not made any in roads.

7- Fernandez finally gets away from KTM and takes a Yam or Suz seat.

8- Acosta gets screwed and "has to" take the KTM

9- Marc takes one more spill and decides that's enough

10- Oliveira to Honda

I cant believe we're only  3 races in and I'm making ridiculous 2023 predictions!!!!

 

On point 3 I think Donna always wanted that ‘perfect balance’ of 6 factories having 4 bikes each, they didn’t step up. Rumours abounded that VR46 were close to running Suzuki and Aprilia simply weren’t ready/attractive enough. I’m impressed Ducati can field 8 bikes but wonder if they have infact overreached somewhat? That said it’s a bit silly seeing some folk moan that it’s a Ducati cup, they stepped up, t’others didn’t..

I no longer think Suzuki or Aprilia will have trouble persuading teams to take a year old package in 2023, but I don’t think the increased grid is viable in Dorna’s plan; if this is the case what would happen if they said to Ducati, ‘well anyway thanks for the 8 bikes but we only need 4 now thanks’. 
Reckon that could be horse’s head time…

Agree with several of your points. The others may well be correct but we'll have to wait a few months to know for sure!

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I think MM93 will either break Rossi's [Nick Harris voice] "NINE TIMES WORLD CHAMPION" record or he will die trying. The podiums tally is already out of reach.

I dont want to see MM93 hurt or have to consider retirement for many more years. I can think MM93 AND VR46 and Stoner are the greatest I've ever seen and be totally happy for them all.  The things Rossi did vs. the things Stoner did vs. the things Marquez still does amaze me no less, whoever it is.

They are all spectacular in their time lines.

 

That was some of the best story telling I've ever read about motorcycle racing. Everything from the history of Aleix and Aprilia to the post race comments by competitors. Obviously a very popular win! I expect Aprilia and their two riders to find more success in the near term and lose their concessions. I worry a little bit of the reliability of the new motor, but they seem to have the power cranked up fully now and both bikes were strong all day. Even though Vinales got snookered at the end, this race should have given him the confidence he needs to fight for the win. Very exciting prospects for me to see unfold.

Off to COTA. They ran a big NASCAR Cup road race there a couple weeks ago. Those big heavy cars can tear up a road course, so I fear the track won't be as smooth as people expect.   

Very happy to see Aleix and Aprilia get their first Moto GP class win

Lovely NBC quality 2021 COTA highlights cov'g -- can everyone see this? If I were doing a single primer for our race in Argentina Sunday? This video...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=V-1Ze-MQcJI

One eyed Marc Marquez w an eyepatch on this infant of a bike, he's better than ALL your 2nd riders and many of your 1st riders!

Prove me wrong (and for the record I detest HRC).

;)

This tracks is as great a disappointment as any Tilke - just yawn. Someone somewhere please sincerely say I am wrong eh?

Great write-up thanks David. Absolutely thrilled for Aleix especially after reading of his help for Jorge. Pleased to see MV progressing but until he learns how to pass other bikes  - no cake for him.

Does "leading the World Championship" pay any dividends until the end of the season? I would think it's just uneeded pressure on the rider(s).

Apparently WSBK will be racing this weekend. I had to go to their site to check the schedule, and, surprise! they're racing at Aragon! Unlike my other motorcycle racing subscription--Motogp, which sends me an avalanche of e-mails weekly--I haven't heard a word from WSBK, aside from an alert that my subscription was renewing.

Or from MotoMatters for that matter. Aaargh.

I really like WSBK, just sad that they seem to be fading away. I get that David is focusing on quality over quantity these days, but this is world championship level racing, three days from now. Bueller?

Can anyone suggest an alternative site that covers WSBK consistently and also approaches MM's quality?

Yes, saw that. Nice to see Mr. Ritchie's work again, also nice that it's written since I understand about a third of what he says when he's talking!

Is unobtanium. No other moto site (or for my money any other sports journalism) remotely approaches Mr Emmett's Motomatters. Nor does any other site for any purpose at all approach the quality, fun and enlightenment of the commenters (the 'Motomatterers').

I guess I knew the answer, but had to ask. Two things are true: MotoMatters is excellent, and WSBK gets no respect

or Motomutterers?  :-)

Agree with the earlier post about the best MotoGP site - Motomatters all the way.

Franco's suspicions are sounding a lot like sabotage conspiracy. I want to know more. 

What has Franco said ? I noticed something about suspicion but from the words I can find he stated he had a puncture and doesn't know where he picked it up from. He said he could have hit something or somebody could have hit him.

The memories re earlier Aprilia here are interesting. On the new Pocast too. Forcing Melandri here, what a miserable fit. 

While some would speak negatively of the early bike they had, do you also remember being impressed? A modified street bike was able to do some ok races! It got mid pack here and there. I have ALWAYS really liked the RSV4. It's only shortcoming seems to be their in house electronics. I have really missed having them in WSBK. Extra rejoicing then that teensy Noale bagged a dry win. With good old Aleix. 

I love it!