Aleix Espargaro secured Aprilia’s first MotoGP pole position in two decades on Saturday for the Argentina GP, securing one of the Noale factory’s two coveted goals in the progression of its modern project.
While the race win is yet to come, Espargaro’s confidence and pace across all of Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions at Termas de Rio Hondo leaves little doubt that it will arrive, and if he gets his way, sooner rather than later.
“I’m very happy, especially proud of what we are achieving,” Espargaro admitted from Argentina’s qualifying press conference. “It’s my sixth season in Aprilia and I know how far we come from and I know how I suffer. So today to prove that at least today we did the fastest bike in the world is something that makes me happy.
“I know it’s not super important because the points will come tomorrow but for a rider to feel the speed, to feel that you are the fastest one, it’s always great. It’s the first one for Aprilia. So it’s a very nice moment. So I would like to dedicate this pole position to everybody involved to the MotoGP project, not just on track but also at Noale. So I’m very happy and this is my present to everybody from Aprilia.”
While the pole position marks a fundamental step in the Aprilia project, it’s also a significant moment for the Catalan, with Espargaro making MotoGP history as the first rider to claim three pole positions on three different manufacturers, after his early success with both Forward Racing Yamaha and Suzuki Ecstar, in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
“Yeah, I’m happy, I’m satisfied,” he confirmed, “but sincerely for the rider is nice to be fast on Saturday - because the feeling you get on that lap is always special, is great to do to feel the adrenaline, the speed. But what really makes me happy will be tomorrow, I can achieve a good result and keep making history for Aprilia, because it’s just Saturday. So more than for me, I’m happy for Aprilia. When you, for example, if Jorge [Martin, who has failed to qualify lower than second so far this season] makes pole position, they are normal in the garage because he’s in pole position every weekend but when Aprilia for first time did pole position, when you arrive in the garage and you see the faces of everybody there, is completely another story.
“They are super happy, six years working on this project and this small moment of joy and of happiness is fantastic.
“I see these faces every day. I’ve been working long time with them so I feel more like part of my second family. So to see them happy like this is something that makes me very happy. And then everybody on this paddock, the journalists, the teams, everybody was very happy, everybody congratulates us. So that is something that makes me very happy, very proud but once again it’s just Saturday.”
Espargaro has come out of the blocks fighting as 2022 gets up to speed. Impressive performances across preseason testing led to a near-miss in his hunt for the podium at the opening round in Qatar, with the 32-year-old in charge of every session across Saturday’s compact schedule in Argentina. So what is he expecting for Sunday’s contest?
“The bike, especially with the hard front tyre, I felt extremely good today,” he explained. “I can brake late and I can maintain a very high corner speed. So the bike sincerely works good today, the race pace is quite strong. But I mean feet on the ground, is just Saturday and it’s a special GP because just one day of practices.
“We have a lot of things to analyse during tonight, and tomorrow warm up is longer so you know, step by step. Obviously, today’s pole position is an extra boost of confidence to myself and tomorrow I will try my best just to push from lap one. The tyre consumption is quite good. We did a good job in FP2 and the pace is quite strong so just try to be as maximum relaxed as possible and do the best.
“In Qatar I felt in the race I was, I don’t know if the strongest one but I felt really, really good on the race,” Espargaro continued. “But I was not fast enough in the middle of the race and I missed the podium. Indonesia in the wet I was not also really fast. The level of the bike, the potential of the bike on the wet was better, but on dry I felt that I could fight for the podium in Malaysia and here once again. So yes, more than happy, for not just Argentina.
“What makes me happy is that if we are good and we do no mistakes during the season, I have the feeling inside that - I don’t want to talk about top three or championship or whatever but I have the feeling that we can achieve many, many points. And again, if we are able to make no mistakes, at the end of the season in Valencia we can be in top five of the championship. This is improvements of the bike that allows you to be fast and consistent in every track and that’s great for the rider.
“I feel that I’m riding good,” he reflected on his own performance. “The confidence, it’s not a button. I mean, you cannot push the button that give you confidence, you have to build this, day by day, race by race. Today after the FP2 I was very confident. I was sitting there and I was saying ‘Come on, try to activate yourself’ because I was like too confident in myself and that’s good. That’s something that I never had on the past and immediately the first lap out on track I did ‘38.1. So this means that the confidence that I have with this RS-GP is high.
“I’m not the one who have to say if I’m riding in a super high level or not, but I feel good, I feel that I’m competitive. Tomorrow I don’t think I have to analyse a lot the data and the pace of the rest because this weekend has been quite special, just one day of testing. But my pace I think is quite strong. I did 14 laps in ‘39 very low. So that’s very, very fast pace.
“I think it’s going to be important that the first laps, try to make the race fast because I think that many riders have not a very strong pace.
“So if we are able, the two or three riders that we have pace, we are able to push from the beginning and make a fast race. I think it’s gonna be good for us and this is what I want to try. To start and push from corner one.”
The pole position wasn’t the only impressive performance by the Aprilia outfit at the Termas track, first and second in the combined practice times and first and fifth on the grid for Sunday’s race proves Maverick Viñales is getting to grips with the RS-GP too.
“It’s a good combination, the perfect one will be one-two but yeah, it’s good,” Espargaro said of his teammate. “I proved today, not just by the pole position but also for the lap time we achieved. Jorge has been very close but then the gap to the others was close to half second. So ‘37.6 in just one day of practice proved the level of the bike for sure, 100 per cent.
“Obviously Maverick has been strong all day. He told me he had some issues, lack of grip on the qualifying but yeah, I mean coming from different bike, first time here for him in Aprilia, finishing in fifth place is quite remarkable. Aprilia I think have a solid combination of riders and also the bike is growing up, so the results have to arrive.”