Aprilia To Return To MotoGP In 2016 - Just In Time For A Rule Change?

There is a lot of fascinating news coming out of this week's EICMA motorcycle show in Milan: the boom in smaller capacity motorcycles, an upgraded Fireblade, a massive push from MV Agusta, details of which can be found on our favorite general motorcycling website Asphalt & Rubber. But the show is also making headlines which will affect motorcycle racing as well.

Today at the EICMA, during a presentation on Aprilia's future plans, Piaggio CEO Roberto Colaninno announced that the Italian manufacturer is aiming to make a return to the MotoGP class as a factory entry in 2016. The goal, Colaninno told his audience, was 'to achieve the same success we have enjoyed in World Superbikes', while recognizing that the factory had two years of hard work ahead of them. The aim is for Aprilia to race in MotoGP from 2016 with a pure prototype machine, according to GPone.com, with the objective of winning races.

The task facing Aprilia is sizable. With the defection of Aspar to Honda, Aprilia lost its most important technical partner in MotoGP. Having two strong riders in Aspar helped move development rapidly. However, doubts over whether there was any internal support for Aprilia's ambitious development program for their ART machine came to a head with the defection of Aprilia Racing head Gigi Dall'Igna to Ducati, where he is set to shake up the Ducati Corse department. The loss of the Cardion AB team to Honda leaves only Paul Bird's PBM team still using Aprilia machinery in MotoGP, a team which has much less experience in MotoGP and much less budget for development.

Aprilia's development program is still dependent on outside partners. In an interview with German language website Speedweek, Aprilia Racing's new boss, Romano Albesiano said that the factory was looking for partners to help develop technology for their MotoGP bike. At present, the ART bike - based on championship-winning Aprilia's RSV4 World Superbike machine - uses metal valve springs and a conventional gearbox, instead of the pneumatic (or Desmodromic) valves and seamless gearboxes which are now standard issue on the other factory prototypes. Getting those technologies right on their own will be difficult and time-consuming, as the development of Yamaha's seamless gearbox demonstrated. Even more difficult will be managing to compete with just the 20 liters of fuel allowed in 2014. That proved to be the stumbling point for expanded participation next year, and will remain a massive obstacle to any new factory seeking to join the series.

Aprilia already has experience of just how difficult competing in MotoGP can be. Their first attempt lasted just three seasons, Aprilia entering with the RS3 Cube in 2002, only to leave again at the end of 2004. The Cube was a fire breathing monster of a machine: the 990cc triple, built by Cosworth, made the most ferocious sound of all the MotoGP bikes, and the infamous photo of Colin Edwards riding a ball of flame moments before leaping off at the Sachsenring added to its mystique. But it was never competitive - its riders said it was barely rideable - and Aprilia was forced to abandon the project once it became apparent it would be impossible to make it competitive. 

There is good reason to be sceptical of this announcement, however. 2016 is an odd deadline for joining the series, given that the current rule framework has been agreed until 2017. Dorna is known to be pushing hard to have the spec ECU software made compulsory for all MotoGP entries, as well as wanting a rev limit to be imposed and the fuel limits raised. Carmelo Ezpeleta has spoken in the past about more radical changes coming for 2017 and onwards, so for Aprilia to develop a MotoGP machine for just a single year ahead of a major rule shake up seems less than cost effective.

The announcement by Colaninno should perhaps also be seen in the light of the fact that none of the major motorcycle marques operated by the Piaggio Group had a new bike to present. The line up for Aprilia and Moto Guzzi remains unchanged for 2014, and there was little else to report, apart from officially presenting Marco Melandri as Aprilia's new World Superbike rider. A cynic might suggest that announcing Aprilia's MotoGP plans - vague, surrounded by uncertainty, aiming for a date several years in the future - was a classic piece of marketing misdirection. The media is now buzzing with the news of a possible return to MotoGP by Aprilia in the future, rather than the lack of new bikes for the new year. Time will tell whether Aprilia's MotoGP plans are a pipe dream, or a concrete program aimed squarely at the future.

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If Aprillia waited for the rules to be stable, they'd never join MotoGP.

The question is, is Aprilia willing to pay for it? Albesiano told Speedweek they were looking for partners to help fund this...

Along with the odd date, the comment that Aprilia is looking for partners to help (pay for) development supports the assertion this is smoke and mirrors.

They have just lost the best placed partner, presumably as they were unable to convince Aspar of their commitment. If they could not be convinced it seems unlikely for others to be.

PBM is a not starter. They do not have much budget and have said from point one they intend to develop their own machine to be a British team.

Stating the desire and necessity for a partner also suggests an inbuilt excuse for not following through.

Agreed, although I do think they hope to be able to make this happen, maybe with no real expectation of making it by 2016, but I guess two years seems like a reasonable amount of time and doesn't give the impression that it's too far off in the future. That's the only remotely plausible reason I can dream up for picking such a peculiar date. There's a big difference between two and three years.

When the Aspar/Hayden deal fell through, it made a potentially bad situation worse. Word had already leaked out that Piaggio was considering restructuring and possibly contracting the Aprilia brand. Losing Dall'Igna to its rival was disasterous in itself. None of this provides much confidence to potential buyers of Aprilia bikes. This seems to be a weakness of public companies with short-term, quarter-to-quarter management; you lose a lot of control over brand perception when the warts are exposed.

At this point, this seems a lot like misdirection/damage control and a bit of wishful thinking.

As David's written above:

"The media is now buzzing with the news of a possible return to MotoGP by Aprilia in the future, rather than the lack of new bikes for the new year."


IIRC, the rule makers banned dual clutch gearboxes to limit costs by forcing the teams to run conventional gearboxes. Honda spent megabucks in developing their current seamless system, and the competitive advantage of being able to reduce gear change time to negligible so that the bike can effectively stay on the power while changing rations even in corners has forced Yamaha to also throw big bucks at developing a comparable box. Maybe it is time to ditch the ban on dual clutch systems so that the other teams can catch up without developing brand new tech.

IMHO, there should be fewer technical limitations in this formula, not more. And this crazy situation shows that rules put in to save costs often have the opposite effect.

A good year to bring out the new bikes from all the brands especially the Big 4 Japanese brands! So why not Aprilia too? The RVS4 will be crap in WSB with the new rules in place so Aprilia better have a good plan in effect starting next year! Honda already has their V4 killer ready to go (new Fireblade in 2016) ... they are just shelving it til 2015... trying to keep talk of it down to a minimum for a while. Yamaha? The R1/R6 are overdue for new models same as Suzuki's line-up. Now that GiGi is gone, what will Aprilia do for new bike development? Melandri is running out of time to get himself a title. Marco jumps ships more than anybody I've ever seen and has yet to get the jod done. Aprilia will take Ducati's place within a couple of season of being nowhere...

Isn't it about that time of the year when we here the announcement that "reborn" Norton has two spots reserved for next year's grid.........

With Suzuki coming back in 2015 and Aprilia in 2016, one can only hope that Kawasaki restart its MotoGP/ZX-RR program and potentially finally lure BMW in.

Speaking of, a little while back Lotus announced that it was now building road bikes(C-01). If anything this call into question as whether we'll see them on the grid in future.

They haven't paid Kimi the €8m he's owed so far this year, what makes you think they can afford to engineer and build a MotoGP bike from scratch

I am afraid that this is one more casualty of the upcoming spec ECU and choking 20-litre fuel limit, plus the 5-engines-per-season rule, which severely restricts the possibility of development over the season.

Of course the economic crisis is a big factor as well, limiting the available budget. But that is something that the GP organisers cannot control; they do however control the rules.

The MSMA is responsible for the fuel capacity and 5-engine limits, and particularly Honda by most accounts. That's why 2017, when the current rule-making framework agreement with the manufacturers expires, is such a pivotal year. Dorna wants to raise the maximum fuel capacity, have all teams using the spec ECU and software, and possibly introduce a rev limit.

Daivid, you wrote that Gigi Dall'Igna was always fighting for every Euro in the budget and that is (partly/mostly) why he left. Is it possible that Roberto Colaninno is just making this claim as an FU directed at Dall'Igna for his defection to Ducati? The timing seems personal.....or coincidence.

to Piaggio, of course. But as the saying goes, no-one is indispensable. Aprilia have done good things over the years with both their road and track machines. Ducati need Philip Morris just as Piaggio need a major supporter. I am hoping that it's not a 'pop' at Luigi Dall'Igna, or a marketing ploy, but a serious intent to stay in both WSB and MGP. As in : Life Goes On.
I also hope that he is Ducati's (part) saviour. I'm glad that PM seem to be 'hanging in there' with their cheque book; and I hope that he can sort out whether the frameless/offset shock idea was either just great marketing/an engineering solution looking for a problem; or actually worth it. Ditto, whether the worlds-highest-output-twin is actually better than the (relatively) long-stroke torque-monster that won them so many prizes and fans. I suspect that he will find as many answers to the MGP problem in WSB as he will in MGP itself.
Or, maybe he has a photographic memory and can just sketch a frame/chassis and steer a path to success, whilst smiling ironically and thinking that all he needed was freedom and money.

Despite the projected entry-date, which is asynchronous with with cadence of technical regulations, Aprilia's entry could be plausible.

Perhaps the 2017 rules have already been agreed in principle, and the MSMA will only stay if the regulations are backwards compatible with the current engines. Perhaps the MSMA have a regulatory draft of their own, but Dorna will not approve the regulations without participatory contracts from at least 5 manufacturers; therefore, Aprilia must enter by 2016 to advance the MSMA agenda and retain de facto ownership of the rulebook.

Aprilia's plans look suspect, but contingencies and alliances can motivate manufacturers to perform in ways the fans may not expect. Furthermore, all signs in SBK point to a series that promotes sales of racing equipment, not prototype development. Companies will have to dissolve their prototyping operations/relationships or jump to MotoGP. IF the sales model works in SBK, perhaps Aprilia will not need as much outside funding as pundits predict.