Is ‘super fast’ Aprilia finally primed for its MotoGP breakthrough in 2022

Aprilia's impressive turn of pace out of the box during pre-season 2022 MotoGP testing in Malaysia catches the eye and earns praise from Fabio Quartararo

Maverick Vinales - Aprilia Racing

The start of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship season may still be a month away but the first test of the pre-season in Sepang has already set in motion the initial threads that may well go on to tell the tales for the year ahead.

While the old adage ‘testing is testing’ was never far from the lips of riders and team bosses as they sought to play down their own performance, while simultaneously keeping one eye on what the competition is doing, the two-day outing certainly threw up some interesting talking points worth discussing.

Chief among these was the eye-catching form of Aprilia, the Italian team topping the timesheets on day one with Aleix Espargaro marginally ahead of Maverick Vinales.

While some of the instant pace could be explained by the Italian manufacturer squeezing in two days of track time prior to the weekend - the benefit of its concessionary status with regards to testing allowance - the 2022-specification RS-GP was certainly catching the attention of rivals over the two days.

With this season marking its first as a full factory in-house operation following its split with Gresini Racing, Aprilia has adopted an evolutionary yet thorough approach for 2022 in the hope of mounting a more regular podium challenge this season.

Espargaro - heading into a fifth season with Aprilia - was a particular standout throughout the weekend, consolidating his top time on Saturday with the second quickest time on Sunday.

Notably, he was able to sustain his pace over longer runs - an area where the Aprilia has struggled in previous seasons - with 70% of his laps set in the 1m 58s (aka. within a second of the fastest lap from the entire test).

Among those impressed by Aprilia’s turn of form was defending champion Fabio Quartararo, who ranked the Italian team - together with Suzuki and Honda - as having made the biggest initial step over the winter.

"If you check top speed, the RS-GP is super-fast. I was behind Aleix for half a lap and the turning was a lot. I’m impressed by them. For me Aprilia, Honda and Suzuki made a massive step."

"Ducati were already super-fast at the end of the season. But the three that impressed me more are Aprilia, Honda and Suzuki.

Aprilia’s breakthrough… or a typical MotoGP red herring?

As we say, there are no prizes for topping the timesheets in testing and it’s true teams will approach these valuable but limited days on track very differently to others.

Indeed, for firms such as Yamaha, which has brought a typical evolution of the M1 to Sepang, and Ducati, which is already very familiar with the GP22, there is less time spent understanding the full potential of their machines, leaving them to focus on laborious longer runs.

By contrast, the new Honda RC213V represents a break from tradition for the firm for this season, meaning a meticulous programme to work through, perhaps at the expense of going for quick times.

However, for a team as Aprilia, which operates on a smaller budget than that of its rivals, it has regularly courted winter headlines with fast sticky-tyre single lap runs, only to disappear into the pack when it matters come round one… often the result of having to tune the engine down for fear of failures over a race distance.

Coupled with Espargaro and Vinales’ additional two days of track time on Wednesday and Thursday, and perhaps it is no surprise to see the Italian bikes circulating so well. 

Even so, as Quartararo points out, it was the characteristics of the RS-GP - rather than just the lap times - that have caught his eye, describing the Aprilia as looking agile and balanced, while remaining one of the fastest bikes through the speed traps too.

Indeed, Aprilia finds itself in a good position coming into the 2022 MotoGP season. A single podium at Silverstone belied a bike that regularly ran in the upper echelons in the hands of Espargaro. Moreover, Aprilia has maintained its testing day concessions, which allow it to continue operating outside MotoGP’s handful of mandated official tests.

With one of MotoGP’s most dedicated workhorses in Vinales joining the ranks too and Aprilia - after six straight seasons bringing up the rear in the manufacturers’ standings - is making all the right noises for a memorable campaign.

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