Aprilia 'super happy' with Smith, five wild-cards

'The plan is a wild-card in Qatar. Then, in total, five wild-cards this season' - Romano Albesiano, Aprilia.
Aprilia 'super happy' with Smith, five wild-cards

Aprilia are 'super happy' with the work of new test rider Bradley Smith and plan five MotoGP wild-card race appearances for the Englishman during the 2019 season.

Speaking in the Aprilia garage during the Sepang Shakedown test, technical director Romano Albesiano confirmed that former Tech3 and KTM rider Smith will be back on track for the upcoming official Sepang test, the Qatar test and then the season-opening Qatar night race.

"We are absolutely super happy with Bradley," Albesiano said. "He has made a very positive contribution already with his approach to testing, his speed, his feedback… everything.

"The plan is [for Smith] to do the Qatar test and a wild-card in Qatar. Then we are planning, in total, five wild-cards this season.

"Comparing his performance against the others in a grand prix is the best way for him to stay at a high level and keep this maximum level of motivation."



The arrival of Smith and new race signing Andrea Iannone also means Aprilia is in no rush to find a satellite team.

"I think in the short-term we don’t strictly need a second team and having three very good riders - like we have - is more than enough I think," Albesiano said, "We prefer the quality of information, to the quantity.

"I think the quality we are getting this year is absolutely top level and this is the first brick for building upwards."

It is that quality of information and new test team structure that Albesiano credits for a 'very positive' debut by the 2019 RS-GP at the Shakedown, which concluded with Aleix Espargaro fastest of the 13 bikes on track, with Smith in sixth (+1.1s).

"It's been a very positive three days. We started from the results we had in the test at Jerez in November, where we found some very interesting points, and we confirmed those points here with Bradley," Albesiano explained.

"Then we tested some of these things with Aleix and he confirmed them as well.

"So it's like a circle that closes after a long time and a complicated process. It's very positive because it means to us that the system is working, meaning the test team is doing a job that is of good value.

"A racing bike is never finished but I think we have a really good base to start the season. Both from the chassis and some steps also on the electronics side, which are very positive. For the engine we will also do a further step for the racing season. So it looks good.

"The competition is even more tough this year, so we don't know, but I think we're made positive steps. If it's enough, we'll see."

But one Aprilia race rider is still to give his verdict on the 2019 machine.

Iannone, due to join Espargaro on track for the final day of the shakedown, was sidelined by a tooth infection.

But the seal of approval from Smith and then Espargaro means Albesiano is confident Iannone will deliver the same verdict. Especially as the Italian race winner's earlier feedback formed a heavy part of the winter development.

"Andrea has not tested yet but I am fully confident he will like the new one, like Bradley and Aleix," Albesiano said.

"When you take a new rider, especially a rider who has a great experience with very good bikes, like Andrea has, it gives you an overview of the latest development from the best competitors.

"This was the case with Andrea and for sure we understood many things after his comments. And e tried to put these comments into development of the chassis and electronics.

"Maybe electronics is not the right word. More correctly, I mean engine management.

"Andrea will start testing in two days so we'll see then, but [his feedback has] been our guide during the winter to make a bike that needs less control from the rider to deliver the best torque, the optimum torque, in an easier way.

"We need to ask the engine to deliver the correct torque and ask the [electronic] control to work less, because the engine itself is working closer to what you want. Then you just need some small corrections from the control."

Iannone and Espargaro will have one 2019 bike each, plus the 'old' RS-GP to try should they wish at the official test (some say the older bike is from 2017, since the 2018 was a backwards step). More 2019 machines will be built once the spec is finalised.

Finally, Albesiano also spoke about his change of role, moving from Aprilia Racing manager to technical director following the arrival of Massimo Rivola as CEO.

"Before I was involved in different kinds of aspects of the team life and to have the opportunity to fully concentrate on the technical side is, for me, like coming back to my job, the job that I always wanted to do.

"Massimo is a top-level professional in sport management, so I think we are much stronger after Massimo joined the team."