The Gresini Aprilia Team had a fairly successful season in 2016, picking up a best result of 7th by both Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl. However, with both former champions moving on from Aprilia, 2017 could be a bit more of a learning year for the team. Aleix Espargaro comes across from Suzuki and Sam Lowes graduates from Fausto Gresini’s Moto2 outfit. A great mix of experience and excitement could see Aprilia produce something a little bit special this year and how good would it be if they could step on the podium?
Aleix Espargaro had quite a fall out with Suzuki last season, particularly when it came to a contract renewal. Having been with Suzuki since their return, the Catalan was unceremoniously dumped by the Japanese manufacturer, leaving him with no ride. After speculation about replacing Tom Sykes at Kawasaki, Aleix signed for Aprilia – staying in the paddock for two more years. Aleix has been one of the unluckiest riders in MotoGP but a 4th last year has been his best result of the last two seasons. Yet to get a podium since his incredible Aragon performance in 2014, Aleix has looked good in testing, putting the Aprilia in the top half-dozen during the Phillip Island test. The 27-year-old has a wealth of knowledge and could improve the Aprilia, having ridden a Ducati, Suzuki and ART Aprilia. Can Espargaro take Aprilia to their first ever podium in MotoGP?
Sam Lowes joins Aleix in the Factory Aprilia set up, having finished 5th in last year’s Moto2 championship, with two wins and a further four podiums. The former World Supersport champion has been doing the most of his testing on the old bike, leaving it more-or-less up to Espargaro to test the new machine – as Lowes gets used to riding a MotoGP prototype. The big question for Sam will be whether he can calm his aggressive riding style. Six crashes last season meant that Lowes’ otherwise consistent performances just didn’t amount to a title challenge. He will be looking at Bautista and Bradl’s data from last year to see if he is in the same ball park but also to see if the bike can be improved. The Pramac Ducati’s have to be the target come the end of the year for Sam, whether or not he takes points early on is yet to be discovered but I think he could be a bit of an underdog.
The Aprilia has been a bit of a dog over that last two seasons. However, Alvaro Bautista made the bike shine on many occasions towards the end of the year, putting it in the top 10 to be seeded into the 2nd round of qualifying in both Japan and Malaysia. The bike cracked the top 10 14 times with both riders breaking into the top 10 at the same time on four occasions. The bar has definitely been set high for the team but the team will be more concerned with the distance to the winner than their actual track position. It has been developed from cumbersome to nimble rather rapidly and the top speed of the bike is now 350kmh or 218mph to us Brits. The bike could then be rather rapid when we get to Mugello.
The Aprilia definitely got stronger throughout the year but there are a few circuits it seems to be able to do well at. Catalunya has been good to Bautista, finishing 10th in 2015 and 8th in 2016 – just 1.5s off Andrea Dovizioso’s Factory Ducati. The team have a pretty good record at Aragon, with a double top 10 finish in 2016, as well as Motegi. Phillip Island was kind to them, with their best qualifying since their return to the series. The pattern seems to be that circuits with long, sweeping corners suit the bike, maybe because it is rather long, allowing for stability.