The 2019 MotoGP season was a long, hard road for Aprilia. The hiring of Massimo Rivola as CEO of Aprilia meant that the development of the RS-GP came to a standstill while he first straightened out Aprilia's organization, and allowing Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new machine, with a 90° V4 engine, from the ground up.
It was a major gamble. Aprilia was throwing away four years of development in MotoGP, and starting almost from scratch again. The Noale factory had a lot of new data to go on, but they had to make the right choices in so many areas that it would be easy to find themselves chasing down a blind alley.
The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith were wildly enthusiastic about the new RS-GP. "I didn't really expect that with a bike as new as this, that I would be as competitive as I am," Espargaro said. "Even with 20 laps on the tires, I can do 1'59s, it's unbelievable how fast I was. I think that with this RS-GP, the bike is a lot more close to the podium."
Bradley Smith was equally positive. "The new bike was much awaited," the Aprilia test rider said at Sepang. "It was delayed from what we originally expected, but it was worth the wait, it was worth the time and extra engineering hours to get all the info we had last year. The guys understood and managed to implement in a lot of areas all the improvement we needed. In a MotoGP bike there is so much you can do and so many variables, and they were able to refine a lot of things."
To find out more about the new Aprilia, and the development process, I spoke to Aprilia Racing Technical Director Romano Albesiano at the Sepang test. Albesiano, and Massimo Rivola, Aprilia Racing CEO, explained why they had changed the engine angle of the Aprilia, how that had affected the power delivery, and their main aim with the RS-GP. We also discussed the pros and cons of a satellite team, and how data from racing makes its way back into production.
Q: You have to be pleased with how the bike is reacting, and also the way that the riders are reacting because Aleix is always either here or here but right now I don’t think I’ve ever seen him…
Romano Albesiano: Yeah, we are really pleased to notice that the new bike is definitely a step from the previous one, in many areas: Stability, turning, engine response, stopping performance. It’s definitely what we were looking for, even maybe more than what we were expecting. Then we don’t know where we are in the ranking because everybody has improved. We’ll see. Anyway, we are in the field.
Q: One of the big changes was the change of the engine angle. You opened it up a little bit. How important was that? Why did you make that choice?
RA: We made this in order to be more free to play with firing orders without having to struggle with balance issues. Also to play more with the exhaust valve. Some places we are lacking engine brake level, so with the exhaust valve it will increase it. It was not possible with the previous layout and now it’s possible. We have not yet started using it, so I hope there will be another step.
Q: It’s such a new bike that it’s really difficult to tell where the journey ends. You can see this is much better, but how far along in the development process do you think you are?
RA: The development process has just started here. We have a lot of stuff that we are designing, many things engine-wise and chassis-wise. I think it’s very important now that we have found this good balance, and we mustn't lose it. But we have many components. We have a new cylinder head we hope to implement by mid-season. We have a new, different solution of frames. We are developing a new carbon fiber swingarm. So a lot of new ideas are in the pipeline.
Q: You started from a clean sheet of paper, from basically nothing, just the lessons learned over the years and then starting from nothing again. Where did you start when you were designing the bike? What areas?
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