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?
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.
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.