With Ducati refining the already competitive GP15 into the Desmo16, and Suzuki bringing a seamless gearbox and new, more powerful engine for the GSX-RR, the battle among the manufacturers in MotoGP is getting closer. The one exception so far has been Aprilia, who soldiered on through 2015 with an uprated version of the ART machine, which was still based on the RSV4 production bike, while they worked on a brand new prototype.
That prototype has at last made its debut at the track. On Wednesday, Aprilia test rider Mike Di Meglio took the 2016 Aprilia RS-GP out for its first official spin. Di Meglio was performing a basic shakedown test, making sure that everything worked and there were no unexpected problems with the bike, giving Aprilia time to address them before factory Aprilia riders Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl get their first chance to ride the bike at a private test at Qatar, two weeks before the official IRTA test at the circuit.
There was no press release after the shakedown test, as the bike will be officially launched later this month, along with the first official photos. However, our Italian friends over at GPOne.com managed to obtain a single snap of the RS-GP. That picture does not reveal very much: the bike looks physically smaller and more compact than the ART machine it is based on, and bearing more of a resemblance to the Honda RC213V than the ART from previous seasons.
Aprilia have said very little about the new bike, other than to acknowledge that it will be some 10kg lighter than last year's bike, bringing it in line with the rest of the bikes on the grid. Romano Albesiano has said that he would be changing the angle between the cylinders as well, though he would not be drawn into precise details. Paddock speculation suggests that the RS-GP will sport a 75º V4, rather than the 65º V4 the ART bike inherited from the RSV4 road bike. There is also speculation that the Aprilia uses a counter-rotating crankshaft, as both Ducati and Yamaha are believed to do. The benefits of a counter-rotating crankshaft are that it makes the bike easier to turn, the gyroscopic forces of the wheels being counteracted, and it helps to reduce wheelies. Whether any MotoGP bike uses a counter-rotating crankshaft remains a matter of speculation: journalists may draw conclusions from photographs, or be passed information by engineers, but they have no way of checking and independently verifying such information.
Though the shakedown of the 2016 Aprilia RS-GP was a private affair, away from the prying eyes of the world's media, a few details did emerge. Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano told both GPOne.com and Speedweek that the test had been a success, and had encountered few problems. The only minor issue was a crash for Mike Di Meglio, the Frenchman falling due to a cold tire. The crash was serious enough for Di Meglio to be taken to a local hospital for a check up, bringing the test prematurely to an end.
The test plan now is to have Bradl and Bautista ride the bike at a private test on 21st-23rd February at Losail in Qatar. The Gresini Aprilia riders will then join the official IRTA test from 2nd-4th March, the aim being to be able to verify the findings of the initial test at the same track and under similar conditions.