“WOW” - Has Aprilia finally made its MotoGP breakthrough?

Aleix Espargaro gushes about the all-new Aprilia RS-GP raising hopes the Italian firm can be a more competitive contender in MotoGP 2020

Aprilia RS-GP

The 2020 Aprilia RS-GP made its public bow for the first time this week and based on the first impressions of it from lead rider Aleix Espargaro, it represents a big step forward for the flagging team.

Having conquered WorldSBK with its RSV4 by claiming three titles between 2010 and 2014, Aprilia made the switch to MotoGP in 2015 as part of a works supply collaboration with Gresini Racing.

However, brand has struggled to mount a regular challenge beyond infrequent top ten results since then, with its best result during five seasons of competition still only a sixth-place finish. By contrast, Suzuki – which also returned to MotoGP in 2015 – has recorded three wins and finished fourth in the riders’ standings with Alex Rins in 2019.

With Aprilia also being out-performed by KTM in 2019 despite the Austrian project only launching from scratch in 2017, the manufacturer is throwing more resource and managerial expertise behind its 2020 model, which – compared to other bikes on this year’s grid – shares very little with its predecessor.

Indeed, while the outgoing RS-GP used elements of the ageing RSV4 superbike platform to bring it up to spec, the RS-GP is an entirely new concept that has been in development for several months. At its heart is a new 90-degree V4 engine, making Aprilia only the third team to use this format together with Ducati and Honda.

However, this week’s shakedown test in Sepang revealed an entirely new design too with an aggressive wings and aerodynamic aides designed to improve the RS-GP’s stability into corners, a frequent criticism of its predecessor.

Indeed, while we are certainly in the early days of the pre-season, Espargaro – who turned his first corners on the bike during the final day of testing – was very impressed with what he found…

Why the 2020 MotoGP season is so crucial for Aprilia

This is a pivotal season for Aprilia to show what it can do in MotoGP having largely made up the numbers since returning to the fray in 2015.

The Piaggio Group is one of the largest names in motorcycle racing and the Aprilia brand synonymous with racing, but the last few years have seen it comfortably left behind in the development race. However, a series of changes behind the scenes – including the signing of Massimo Rivola on the managerial side – are intended to see results this year.

Last season, Espargaro made several digs at Aprilia for failing to develop its existing package and urged Piaggio to pump more money into the project if they want to have a chance of challenging the likes of Ducati.

That call appears to have been heard with Gresini’s eponymous manager Fausto Gresini recently hinting Aprilia will go fully in-house from 2022 if it can prove its competitiveness with this latest mode. Gresini will likely shift to a satellite Aprilia role.

The RS-GP launch brings some positive publicity to the Aprilia effort in the wake of the revelation its rider Andrea Iannone has been provisionally suspended for a failed drugs test. With his hearing scheduled for today [February 4] a decision on whether he can continue racing or whether he’ll be banned for a longer period will be made in the coming days and weeks.

If he cannot compete, Aprilia has said it will promote test rider Bradley Smith – who has carried out much of the new bike’s development – to a race seat alongside Espargaro.