Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro was back on the podium at Motorland Aragon after a late-race fight for third.
Having launched from the head of the second row, Espargaro ran fifth for the opening stages of the Aragon Grand Prix. KTM’s Brad Binder having scored a lightning start from tenth to second before eventual winner Enea Bastianini dispatched the South African, and Ducati’s Jack Miller, into the path of the RS-GP.
“Expectations were high arriving to Aragon because I knew that it was one of the best tracks of the last part of the championship so maybe I started a bit hot,” Espargaro said of his rollercoaster weekend. “Crashed twice on Friday and lost my confidence. Saturday was tough, I couldn’t get into the top ten in FP3 and from then on I started to build my confidence again. Did a good qualifying, solid last place, and in the race too.
“I didn’t have the pace to follow Enea and Pecco [Bagnaia], I knew that they had something else but in the end third is super good for the championship and I’m happy to be back on the podium.”
Espargaro’s main issue in the 23-lap race was Binder on the RC-16, a battle he maintained from lap four until the penultimate revolution.
“Brad Binder is extremely good, one of the best riders on the grid without any doubt,” the Spaniard said of his race rival. “He doesn’t have the best bike at all without a doubt this year but he’s always strong, always extracting the best from the bike.
“The first part of the race it was difficult for me to overtake him. He was able to follow Enea! It was crazy.
“I decided to stay calm behind and wait for his tyre to drop and then in the last laps when I saw his pace started to drop I decided to overtake. Also knowing that with Fabio out of the game, you couldn’t make a mistake so I was relaxed in the second half of the race and took third as a really good bonus.”
As had been the case in Misano, the two at the front were on a different level around Aragon.
“It’s not easy what they are doing and what they are achieving,” he said of the Ducati duo. “It’s not just a single thing, it’s not that they just have the best bike, it’s a mix and a package.
“Pecco and Enea are riding at a really high level, I would say the best levels of their careers, and they have a very strong bike with strong teams and a lot of information.
“This is MotoGP. Ducati, Enea and Pecco are doing a great job and the results are there. But we’re doing a good job because I’m just seven points from Pecco so it means with Aprilia we’re doing a super job and I’m extremely proud and happy.”
With reigning champion Fabio Quartararo down and out after just three corners - due to a collision with the returning Marc Marquez - Espargaro’s podium return saw the title race tighten up with just 17 points covering the top three and five races to go.
“I never lost faith, I always believed,” he said on the world championship hunt. “Even on the most difficult weekends like Silverstone and Austria, I tried to not finish 15th, or crash, not 10th, always in the top five or six. This is what makes me proud of the championship I’m doing. I have 200 points because on bad days I was able to get really good results, so now I’m just trying to enjoy it and do the same in the next races.
“I know it’s not gonna be easy because now we’re going to completely different circuits far from Europe and these two guys next to me are very, very strong… but let’s play!”