Aprilia has a new challenge: MotoGP. The Italian company, which boasts 54 world titles, returns to the premier class of motorcycling after an 11-year absence.
The president of the Piaggio Group, Roberto Colannino, explained the decision to go MotoGP racing one year earlier than expected: “To challenge the Japanese giants, you need technology, innovation and, above all, invention. We are pioneering new paths, we want to give the customers what they dream of, going beyond the borders of the two wheels.”
Colaninno stressed the importance of Aprilia’s partnership with SAP, a world leader in software technology that also has good experience in Formula 1 racing. “We are working at the technology of the future with a special attention to the young generation. I will define this new era as “3001: Aprilia Odyssey.” It’s the future and we want to win.”
In FIM World Superbike, Aprilia’s Leon Haslam won race 2 at Phillip Island, and Spaniard Jordi Torres has shown good speed. In Superstock 1000, the Aprilia duo of Lorenzo Savadori and Kevin Calia can fight for the title. But the MotoGP project is struggling.
Romano Albesiano, who took over Aprilia Racing after Gigi Dall’Igna moved to Ducati, has only one mission—building a competitive machine. MotoGP is the future, and Aprilia plans to use this season to develop the RS-GP bike before the company unleash its “full-factory” prototype machine in 2016.
“We are starting on a solid foundation, which is the result of our winning experience in Superbike and the ART project, the only CRT that was able to show potential close to ‘real’ MotoGP bikes,” said Albesiano. “We chose to move up our start date…to become competitive as quickly as possible. This season we will focus on developing the bike. Already in Qatar we will bring some new items doing one step at the time. We aim at fighting for the top 10 in the second part of the season.”
During the winter test, Aprilia MotoGP rider Alvaro Bautista was able to lap two seconds off the fastest pace, while teammate Marco Melandri was four seconds behind.
“I prefer to develop a factory bike rather than to compete with a satellite machine that has reached its limit,” said Bautista. “We know we have to be patient. The project is still young and needs to be improved in all its aspects: chassis, electronics, and engine. I’m confident, because we start from a good base.”
Melandri had one more year to race in Superbike with Aprilia, but the change in plans for the Italian manufacturer meant he had to switch to MotoGP even though he would have preferred to remain in the SBK.
“I have to change my mentality from rider into a tester,” Melandri said, who spent four years World Superbike. “At Sepang, I simply had no front feeling, and when I lack confidence I cannot push.”
Away from the microphones, Melandri added: “If you were in my place, what would you have chosen? I left the world championship bike… But don’t think that I’m sad or depressed. On track I’m angry because I cannot ride as I would like to express my full potential. Off track I really enjoy life. I have a lot fun with my friends doing all kind of sports, from pit bikes to jet skis and I love flying. At home I enjoy my family: Manuela, my wife and my little daughter. Anyway, I hope to give my contribution to the development of the bike.”
Melandri doesn’t want to make any predictions for 2015, but this much is clear: “I saw Marc Marquez and it’s the first time in my racing career that I was so impressed by a rider: He has a control of the machine that goes beyond any imagination. He can do in a natural way things that are extremely difficult or even impossible. Valentino [Rossi] and [Jorge] Lorenzo are stronger than last year and they will give him a hard time, but in my opinion Marquez is still the man to beat.”