Aprilia Boss Romano Albesiano Interview: "We Know It Takes Three Years To Be Competitive In MotoGP"

Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano has big shoes to fill. Taking over from Gigi Dall'Igna, Albesiano must continue the legacy of success which his predecessor left for him. He got off to a good start, Sylvain Guintoli lifting the World Superbike title in Albesiano's first year at the helm. Now comes the hard part, following up on that success and expanding into MotoGP.

A small group of journalists spoke to Albesiano at the Aprilia launch in Milan. In a wide-ranging conversation, the Aprilia boss covered many topics, including explaining why the Noale firm came back to MotoGP a year ahead of schedule, touching on what the new bike Aprilia is working on for 2016 and beyond might look like, and the 2016 rules in MotoGP. Albesiano also talked about the World Superbike season, the return of Troy Bayliss, and what it takes to be successful as a racer at this level. Finally, Albesiano discussed the future of two stroke engines, and whether he could see them making a return to racing.

Q: Aprilia has some ambitious plans for 2015?

Romano Albesiano: I think it's very clear from the presence here. We race in all the top categories, big bikes everywhere. But the main project is to develop this MotoGP target, that's the main point.

Q: The objective for this year is to focus on development, preparing for 2016?

RA: Yes, sure. We need to be realistic. We cannot expect big results this year. But we also don't want to be on the last row! But you need to be somewhere and fight with the good guys in order to check your level, to stress your people, to stress the parts, to make progress quicker than any other way.

Q: Next year, the MotoGP regulations will change dramatically: new electronics, different tires. So how much information can you gather this year to develop a better bike for next year if everything is changing so much?

RA: It's very important for us to be there, because we are doing all the Michelin tests, so we are collecting information for the new bike doing the tests. Many tests are planned, and we already did two tests. This is the best way to get information about the new tires, and to follow the development of the new tires. Because the tires we are testing now are probably different from what we will be using next year or at the end of the season. On the electronics side, it's good to be there because we are discussing with the other manufacturers the development of the electronics. We maybe will race one bike with the new electronics from halfway through this season. Why not? That could be a strategy. Or maybe our customer team, IODA, will race the Marelli software. So being there allows us to learn so many lessons.

Q: Isn't it an expensive way of getting a seat at the table to learn those lessons?

RA: Sure it is. Sure it is.

Q: Especially when you have so much success in Superbikes. It must be easier to keep winning in World Superbikes than to try to do the same in MotoGP?

RA: Yes, but you know winning one year more in Superbikes... before, I mentioned the tactics and the strategy. So the short term program and the long term. For the long term, our president has said we must go to MotoGP. And we know it takes at least three years to be competitive in MotoGP. If we start now, it's three years. If we start the year after, it's three years plus one. So I will be close to the retirement age by then! So we needed to speed up the process.

Q: Does this bike have the pneumatic valves and 81mm bore?

RA: Yes.

Q: There was also a question about the configuration, about the layout of the bike, will the V angle stay the same?

RA: This year? Yes. Because this crankcase is the same as the production crankcases.

Q: What about next year? Is changing the V angle something you would think about, going larger, going narrower?

RA: We will go larger. The design office is already making the details of the new engine.

Q: Can you tell us what the new angle will be, or do we have to wait for spy photos?

RA: No! [laughs].

Q: Can you explain a little bit more about how the new electronics are going to work?

RA: There is a software, Marelli delivered a software in Sepang 2, which is the base for next year. On this base, the manufacturers will add some proposals in some areas, for example throttle demand, traction control, whatever. So all the manufacturers - to be honest, the three manufacturers which are allowed to do this - will accept this implementation, single implementation. This will make the new software for next year. And from mid-season everybody will be able to start this.

Q: You won't be able to submit code, you will only be able to submit algorithms.

RA: We can submit code, sure. We can do that. But we can't impose code...

Q: Because [MotoGP director of technology] Corrado Cecchinelli has the final stay in what goes in and what stays out.

RA: Yes.

Q: how do you feel about that situation, is it acceptable?

RA: The situation is like that. We cannot change the situation, so we accept it.

Q: But what's the reason behind only three manufacturers saying what goes in the software?

RA: Aha! [laughs] That's the same question we asked! Because it was decided some years before, before we came, so.... This is going to change in the future for sure.

Q: And the engines? You're going to fight for 9 engines per season?

RA: The basic rule for everybody next year... we asked for 9 engines, the Japanese are asking for 6. But there will be an exception for those who have not got five podiums or win. We will probably be in that situation ... [laughs] so we will be allowed to have 9 engines next year and free development of the engines.

Q: To turn to Superbike for a moment, Phillip Island is a very special track, it's very difficult to draw conclusions because it's such a sweeping track. Do you think Aragon will be the real measure of where everyone stands this year?

RA: Even Thailand. I've never been there, but looking at the circuit map and watching some videos, it looks like it is more stop-and-go kind of race track, very different to Phillip Island, which is more sweeping. It's fast and stop-and-go track, so it will say many things about the technical situation.

Q: What is it you fear most about the new regulations? The lack of power, the software?

RA: What we fear most is the fact that just before Christmas, suddenly the air restrictor disappeared from the twins. That's strange, because in all the drafts of the regulations, the 50mm air intake was included, and then suddenly it's gone. That can be a problem.

Q: What do you think about Troy Bayliss' return?

RA: I like these things! It's romantic, it's a nice thing! Best wishes to him...

Q: Troy Bayliss did something unprecedented in the second race, by being close to the front at 46 years of age. What does that say about the level of current riders?

RA: It's not a marathon race, it's motorcycling. It's only in the rider's head. So physically, you can be 50 and able to do the same thing as a kid 18 years old can do.

Q: So it's about desire?

RA: Yes, and the willingness to risk, that's the point. If you are 46, you are rich, you are happy with your family, whatever, maybe you don't want to risk. That's maybe why I'm not a rider! [laughs] You have to be hungry... and crazy...

Q: Would you be willing to do the same for Max Biaggi that Ducati did for Bayliss?

RA: [Smiles] Who knows... We'll see.

Q: A completely different question. Aprilia has a very long and proud history of two strokes. Honda basically killed off two strokes in racing. Could you see two stroke racing returning in some form or another? Because there are areas, like outboard motors, where two stroke engines are becoming more clean that four strokes, with direct injection etc.

RA: It's something like [another journalist] asked before, there are some dreams that engineers would really like to develop, but the reality is different. Myself, I would be very interested to develop clean two stroke technology in the future. The technology is there, but it's not in our plan.

Q: Also not in the road bikes?

RA: I believe that the only way the two stroke to come back is in the off road probably. In the off road, when the four stroke came, everybody used the four stroke, but very soon many people went back, because the first four strokes off road engines were delicate and very expensive in repairs and maintenance. Many many people have come back from four strokes to two strokes in off road. So in that kind of motorcycle, the step to clean two strokes would be very reasonable.

Q: But also in Moto3, you see at the national levels, it costs so much to maintain and race these bikes, the expenses are crazy.

RA: It's crazy, I know. But sometimes there is a mainstream, which is not what you believe is the correct way, but that's the mainstream.

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He is stressing that central to being here this yr is being in on the Michelin tests and electronics/software development. That makes lots of sense. Perhaps this helps us know about Melandri being there too. I had thought he and Torres were in the wrong seats from a performance and finishing standpoint. Now I see something else. Marco may be THE guy Aprilia has on tap for development with Michelins. He can do that better than Torres. And Haslam looks at have a great go at the helm of the WSBK project. Apologies to all concerned from me for muttering that you have your head in your arse on that one. Thanks for the bigger perspective.

I liked seeing Davies and the free breathing Ducati battling up front at PI! The new rules look GREAT! Now can we get 848's and Triumph triples going in WSS with something similar please?

Why doesn't Albesiano just say the new V-engine will be 90-degrees? The 90-degrees or 0-degrees dichotomy is in plain sight (literally, thanks to Honda). And he already tipped everyone off that Aprilia currently have an exception because they are using a production crankcase, and the new v-angle will be larger.

The spy games are growing tiresome, like Vlad Putin playing KGB 20 years after the collapse of the USSR. The war is over. You're all cooperating to put on a vaudevillian pageant. Tell everyone it's a 90-degree V4, and then unveil the bike on a stage with lots of tigers and pyrotechnics. No one will be able to resist.

BTW, I hope they prove me wrong.

Hi Motoshrink

I think you will find that Triumph 675cc triples have been raced in WSS several times.

And a 675cc triple is currently leading this year's championship. So what is it that you want?

My thought was specifically about the rule changes in WSBK ringing the field closer together, and then the Ducati air restriction reduction seeming to be a good development (to the extent that PI is a good measuring stick for now). Then a thought I have had a bunch which is that there should be 848's in WSS. So why not do something simple and similar there too. I don't know the WSS regulations for twins, so I don't have a specific rule change I want other than remembering that twins could not be over 750cc which seems like a poor arrangement that could use a review. Then, another thought, that the 2013 on Triumph 675 triple is an amazing bike (have you ridden the new R version? It is a GEM!) that won Supersport shootouts as I recall by a good stretch. But it isn't represented as such on the WSS grid. Yes, Cluzel is doing well with the MV Augusta triple. I do not know the specific regulations for WSS that correlate, but would like to see the organizers give WSS the same sort of makeover they just did for WSBK. Thassit. What do you think they could/should do there Baron? Anyone have thoughts and recommendations? Anyone consider running a twin or triple under similar regulations?

Minimum weight change? All the bikes have the same 161kg min weight. The Triumph 675r is lighter than the 4's as I recall. Is that a poor penalty to ask them to fatten them up?

Triumph 675r transmission issue - there is a flaw in the trans as homologated, and this has been addressed with aftermarket parts on bikes I know folks are racing. Has this been addressed in WSS, or are they forced to use the defective stock arrangement?

Et al...

WSBK just got the WSS makeover for this year (more or less). If WSS needs anything, it might be free camshaft. Ducati and Triumph are just disinterested. They don't need help to compete.

The 848 hasn't been raced because it isn't homolagated to the rules (twins=750cc) Plus the 848 is an old platform. Ducati's middleweight machine is the 899 Pannigale. FIM should restructure the WSS regs. and get with the current times in relation to the current middleweight sport bike market. I'd go
700cc-fours (Ninja zx636rr)
800cc-triples (F3 800)
900cc-twins (899 Pannigale)
This way there would be a boost in new development for the next decade of middleweight sportbike tech. and it would boost sales for the new platforms.

A 900cc twin is not a middle weight bike though. If anything, I think they'd be better off going smaller. SE Asia is a major market now, and they won't sell anything that looks like a Pannigale there.

there's a working group evaluating the possibilities of what realistically is a no brainer. I wonder how long it would take to get up and running...in time for next year?

would love to see small displacement development get the same love as 600s and 1000s, and it would be a product relevant way to leverage racing in SE asia. I personally think we're going to see big things coming from the japanese factories to satisfy a growing want for more power while staying within local restrictions.

Aprilia's approach seems very patient. Waiting to see if Melandri stays in his depression when the racing starts. If he does I cannot see how they can justify keeping him on the Motogp team.

Surprised they are not just going to start with the new electronics system period. If everything they are doing is testing for the new bike then why not just go in with as much as possible preset for the future. Michelin tests ought to help quite a bit in the development of the new chassis, but testing the tires without the new electronics, (which what I assume they are doing, just an assumption not based on facts that I know for sure), may cause more issues. Wishing them better luck than they have been having. Suzuki seem to be getting it together quite rapidly, and I would like to see Aprilia catch up to them.