Aleix Espargaro is riding the crest of a wave at Aprilia after securing his second MotoGP podium and sitting third in the championship standings.
Heading into his first home race of the 2022 season, and the first at Jerez with returning fans since the pandemic, Espargaro is relishing a continuation of his recent form.
“I feel good,” the 32-year-old confirmed. “I'm really enjoying this season. From already the preseason I felt quite good with the bike. Was not easy to imagine that I would be able to reach this level but I'm very happy. Working, enjoying a lot every time I go on track.
“We know we have to improve in some areas but overall, I'm satisfied. I feel good with the bike and I can't wait to go on track tomorrow in FP1 to see how the bike reacts here in Jerez. Last season here was very good for us, we were quite close from the podium and the victory so I hope with this year's bike that improves quite a lot, we can be even more competitive.
“Yes I am,” he said, on feeling optimistic for his chances in the coming race. “But you know this year things have changed a lot for us but also for the rest of the riders of the grid. The level is very high and we know how tough is this category. I remember the FP3 last season here, in just three or four tenths we were 15 riders! So it's going to be difficult, it's going to be very important to be focused from FP1.
“With the system of the first three sessions, to be in top ten is very important, we know, so every session will count. Just trying to enjoy from lap one tomorrow morning and see how prepared we can arrive on Sunday.
“Is going to be tight. We know Jerez is always tight, always difficult, but in the race, it's normal the difference are bigger than on test and on practice. Testing is testing, we know how many World Championship of testing we have but then racing is racing and the differences on the race day are a lot bigger. So the important thing is to be focused on where it matters and to get the bike ready for 25 or 27 laps, whatever. Not forcing the lap, because the different in the last ten laps normally are bigger.”
Despite is consistent front running pace this season, Espargaro, and more importantly the Aprilia, are not yet considered title challengers by many in the paddock. The Spaniard, however, is far from concerned.
“It's quite normal,” Espargaro confirmed. “Neither Aprilia or myself will be fighting on the past for the championship, so is quite normal. We have to keep working, doing my best, staying on front every single race, enjoying the moment, and we have to value who is the main guy to win the title on race 15/16 but not now. Now I want to just try to enjoy and keep the momentum.”
The level of the current championship and the increasing technical improvements have seen the racing closer than ever this season, with many commenting on the difficulties involved in overtaking - despite the impressive showcases put on by both Alex Rins and Marc Marquez recently.
“It's a little bit more difficult.,” Espargaro confirmed. “Due to the wings and the aerodynamics, it's also difficult to stop the bike when you are complete behind - you normally have to move a little bit forward to receive the air and stop the bike is not easy. At the same time, not just because the aerodynamics, also because the level of the category, every rider brakes really in the limit. So it's difficult to make the difference, because he's already braking very, very late. So this is the reason why a little bit more difficult but you can overtake anyway.
"The last three laps of Fabio and Marc in America are also an example you can overtake and the tracks we go are big enough to overtake clean. So yeah, a little bit more difficult but I think this sport is still fantastic and the battles are good.”
While things are going well at Aprilia there is always room for improvement, with Monday hosting the first in-season official test.
“We have quite a lot of things to try sincerely, I don't know if we will have time enough on Monday,” he explained. “Lorenzo Savadori is racing here again, like in Portimao and his bike is quite different than Maverick’s [Viñales] and mine. So hopefully everything that he tried and he feels interesting we will be able to try on Monday but it's important to don't lose the focus. The base of the bike is quite good. It's always good to try to improve, there is always room to improve but we have to be very careful as well.
“It's the same for everybody,” he said on the recent announcement of six days of testing for 2023 - especially as Aprilia look set to lose their concessions with the RS-GP’s impressive performance. “You have to adapt. If you have less days you have to try to work smarter, not sometimes to work more is better. You have to work smarter to try to decide which is your priority or the bike priority. So for me how it is not bad, is enough.”
And while things are going well with the Noale brand, and Espargaro has spent two of the past five races on the rostrum, his future remains unclear.
“Yes, I'm really happy with the stability that we found,” he confirmed. “I said from the beginning when I arrived in Aprilia that for me a big example was Dovi [Andrea Dovizioso] and Ducati - when he arrived Marc [Marquez] was ten times faster but step by step, Dovi and Ducati did a great job, found the stability and they were able to fight with him for the title a couple of years. So for me that example was quite good.
“I'm not at that level at all yet, but we are on the way and this is the most important thing. Makes me happy to arrive to this level with Aprilia. I said in the past that I would like to do two more years here in MotoGP and I would like that they are with Aprilia, but I don't really have a clear offer yet. That's the reality. So it doesn't depend on me.
“The only thing that I can do is to be fast every weekend, try to win more races, to finish more times in the podium and we will see the situation and the market, in which direction it goes.”