Aleix Espargaro rode to his first MotoGP front row start in six years at the Sachsenring this afternoon and the first for Aprilia since 2000.
Exuding confidence across the German Grand Prix weekend, the Catalan has remained in touch of the top-five across the four practice sessions before claiming third in Saturday’s qualifying battle, just two-tenths adrift of pole.
“It’s just qualifying, is just Saturday,” Espargaro said, trying to play down his achievement.
“Unfortunately no points today but anyway, to finish in the Parc Fermê and to see everybody from Aprilia, all my guys there, smiling, very happy, this makes me very, very proud. This is the most important thing today. At the end, starting from second, third, fourth, fifth is not a big difference - even if it's important here in Sachsenring, because it’s not an easy circuit to overtake - but to give a nice moment to all of my people, this makes me very, very happy.
“I think we are showing everybody that the Aprilia is getting to be a serious bike, improving, getting closer to the top guys in every single circuit, so I'm happy, and tomorrow for sure is going to be a little bit easier starting from the first row!
“I said from yesterday that I felt good here. Normally it's a circuit where the Aprilia is quite competitive. It's not a very demanding circuit for the engine and the stability of the RS-GP 21 is the highest, so, especially in the second part of the track, I feel that I'm competitive. You never know what can happen because in MotoGP with the quality that there is now, everything can happen on Sunday. We saw, for example in Barcelona, Fabio has super pace. I thought that he could win with 10 seconds, and then it's not easy to put everything together in the race. Also, the temperatures are very high so the tyres will suffer tomorrow. For sure, will be much better starting from third place on the grid, and then try to follow the podium group till the end. Then let's see if I have enough tyre to fight.
“Obviously I'm very happy to finish today on the first row but the good thing is that - at least I feel like this - it’s not like a huge surprise. We've been very close in the previous races, not far from the fast guys on Saturday at many circuits, so it looks like the balance of this new bike, and the competitiveness of this new bike is much better. It allows me to be fast, more or less, in every circuit. Obviously I'm very proud because I knew that in this circuit we had a good chance.
“For the moment I am enjoying riding here in Sachsenring, feeling good with the bike, and tomorrow you never know - everything can happen in a MotoGP Sunday.
“I feel that maybe Fabio and Oliveira have really good pace but we know how fast the Ducatis are in the races, also maybe the Suzukis, everything can happen, but we are there. We have no bad pace, we are strong, and I think the top five is realistic. I will try to hold on from the beginning and see how far I can go.
“It’s unbelievable how close everybody is and I think it’s just fantastic. It means that the competition is in the best moment, I will say ever in the top class. Top three today in Sachsenring are three different bikes. On the pole position is one bike that historically, on a tight track like this, has to suffer. This is fantastic and I think for the show, for everybody, is great, we are in a good moment.”
Espargaro, like a number of riders, underwent arm pump surgery last month with the Catalan suffering across the Mugello and Barcelona weekends with continued pain and repeatedly needing the wound drained and attended to. The week-long break between the last double-header, however, seems to have provided enough time for recovery with the 31-year-old feeling confident ahead of the German race.
“After Barcelona, I was very, very worried,” he admitted.
“I had a complete disaster on the arm, I couldn't test on Monday because my arm was huge. I couldn't even put my leathers on so I was quite worried for a couple of days, but then the arm started to lose a little bit of the liquid, then gets a little bit hard, and now it looks like it's again back to normal. I didn't suffer anything during these two days here in Germany. I know it's not a very demanding track for the arm pump but anyway, I'm very happy because I was very worried, the week after Barcelona,” he concluded.