Aleix Espargaro cut a confident figure ahead of the Portuguese MotoGP curtain raiser in Portimao as he bids to build on the momentum of a race-winning breakthrough campaign in 2022.
The experienced Spaniard kicks off his 14th season of MotoGP at the Algarve venue with lofty targets after both he and Aprilia emerged as Fabio Quartararo’s closest title challenger during the first half of the year.
It’s a trend the Italian manufacturer appears capable of maintaining on the basis of pre-season testing, with Aprilia joining Ducati in being considered pace setters heading to Portugal.
Branding the 2023 Aprilia RS-GP a well-judged ‘step forward’ in the areas it was lacking last year, Espargaro is certain both he and the team can handle the ‘extra pressure’ piled on by heightened expectations.
“I obviously felt more confident and more ready than ever in my career, but on the other hand I know last year everything was good and now we have this extra pressure, but it’s OK,” he said in the pre-event press conference.
“The 2023 bike is an evolution of what we were missing last year. We have some extra horsepower, the aerodynamics are a little bit better, the cooling has been improved as well.
“Immediately the bike felt one step more competitive but you have to wait for the races because you could improve one step and the rest has improved three steps, so it means the bike is worse than last year
“We will see, pre-season has been good so far, I felt competitive. Testing is testing, but we are ready.”
Espargaro puts spotlight on FP to Q2 format amid changes
With this weekend’s opener heralding the debut of MotoGP’s new double-header format - which now includes half-distance sprint race on Saturday - while Espargaro is open-minded about the expanded race schedule, he reiterated his grievance about Free Practice’s influence on Qualifying.
“I hate the combination of the practices that make the chance to go straight to Q2 [Top 10], I hate it.
“We have said many times in the safety commission, but it is the rules and the sprint race is the same. It will be very demanding physically, we already said that last year, but the calendar is like this.
“The main thing is to be relaxed and positive and do the maximum you can. That’s racing.”
Espargaro completed the 2022 MotoGP World Championship season in a career-best fourth position overall, a campaign that also yielded his maiden MotoGP win in Argentina.