The next part of Motorsport Week’s review of the 2020 MotoGP season focusses on the trials and tribulations of Aprilia during its quest to introduce an all new premier class machine as it aims to challenge the front running manufacturers.
Hopes were high for an Aprilia ascent through the field ahead of 2020, the Italian manufacturers prospects being dependent on the success of its all new RS-GP designed for its seventh season since rejoining MotoGP ahead of ’15.
Headlining the updated material fitted to the new machine was an upgraded 90 degree V4 powertrain, designed to provide more power as well as greater drivability for its riders.
The RS-GP also received updated improved aerodynamics, as illustrated by the much more prominent aero elements that adorned the front of the bike relative to its predecessor, while improvements to the electronics and other minor enhancements in pretty much every aspect were also implemented.
Aleix Espargaro undertook the entirety of Aprilia’s pre-season test programme as far as the race riders went, with Andrea Iannone receiving a provisional 18 month ban for doping in late December, thus meaning he couldn’t test the machine at all ahead of ‘20.
His provisional ban would ultimately become an enforced one, with test rider Bradley Smith called up to replace the one-time MotoGP race winner while he and Aprilia appealed his suspension.
Testing seemed to promise much for the new RS-GP, Espargaro left confident of glory following the Sepang test in February-so much so that he reckoned he could have ridden the bike onto the podium should the Malaysian GP have taken place the week after.
The ’20 spec RS-GP’s competition debut would have to wait until July at Jerez following the ever tightening grip of the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the first round of the year at Qatar to be cancelled, with the bulk of the opening European and American rounds soon following.
Things didn’t start smoothly for the Noale-based marque, Espargaro retiring from both Jerez encounters in addition to Aprilia having to run its motors with less revs for the rest of the year due to reliability concerns.
Smith at least managed to bring the second steed home in the points in both races in what was a muted start for the RS-GP to say the least.
A run to tenth in the Czech GP at Brno for Espargaro was encouraging as the Gresini-run squad continued to gather important data on its challenger early on, with points finishes also coming in the following three events for the Spaniard.
Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola had stated pre-season that he expected things to pick up after mid-season after the squad had gathered more information on the bike, saying after testing,
“We will most likely have a complicated early part of the season with an bike that is very much still wet behind the ears, but I am certain that from mid-season, we will be able to see the true value of the hard work done in Noale.”
Rivola’s rosy forecast unfortunately failed to come to pass as the RS-GP’s rear traction limitations continued to haunt the organisation all year, though Espargaro at least managed to add a pair of top ten results in the final two events of the year, his season best of eighth coming in the season finale at Portimao.
Smith meanwhile was only able to capture points five times in his 11 starts across the year, Aprilia electing to replace him with its second test rider Lorenzo Savadori for the final triple header of the season as a reward for his strong run to the title in the Italian Superbike series.
Savadori failed to add to Aprilia’s points account after only taking the chequered flag once with 18th in the second Valencia contest, though impressed with a run to fourth during opening practice for the Portuguese GP just behind team-mate Espargaro, the latter even ending the day in the same position after lowering his lap time once again in FP2.
Iannone ultimately never returned to competition in ’20 after losing his appeal to have his ban dropped, instead having his original 18 month suspension increased to a mammoth four years by the World Anti Doping Agency-likely ending his professional motorcycle racing career.
Aprilia can be somewhat forgiven for an ultimately disappointing first campaign with the revised RS-GP considering it was the only manufacturer to enter the year with an all-new machine, plus the unbelievable closeness of the competition in the premier class that saw most of the field covered by less than a second all season.
It will be important for Aprilia to make a good step forward with its updated ’21 challenger though with currently very little to show for its latest seven year stint in the premier class, indeed it remains the only marque of the ‘new’ entries to not score a win thanks to the success of Suzuki and KTM in recent seasons.
Aprilia seems committed to making a success of its MotoGP adventure, illustrated by a test with a ’21 prototype RS-GP at Jerez just a day after the Portuguese season finale to try and iron out the ’20 machine’s foibles, as well as the fact its taking all its racing operations in house after electing to split with long-time partners Gresini at the end of next year.
We’ll have to wait until competition gets underway in Qatar in a few months time to truly see whether Aprilia can squeeze enough from the RS-GP to thrust itself into the conversation for rostrums, although one thing is for certain-Aprilia is running out of time to prove it can cut it in the premier class.