MotoGP: The beautiful story of Aprilia, from the innovative RS Cube to victory in MotoGP after hard work by the Noale brand


Aleix Espargaró claimed his first victory after his 200th start in MotoGP on Sunday at the Termas circuit in Río Hondo, Argentina, riding an increasingly accomplished Aprilia RS-GP. Indeed, it was until then the only machine on the MotoGP grid not to have won yet. And for good reason, Aprilia’s road to glory in MotoGP was one of the most difficult of all time!

Aprilia is a brand no stranger to victory though, with the Noale factory tallying up countless wins and world titles in so many classes, yet for some reason victory eluded them in the premier class. . The road has been long and remarkable, and a retrospective is essential, because the story is not new.

At the dawn of the MotoGP era, in 2002, Aprilia entered the scene with the legendary RS Cube. This is one of those machines that has gone down in history for being beautifully flawed, arguably too far ahead of its time.

It was also a machine far ahead of its time, powered by a 990cc 4-stroke inline-3 developed with F1 spin-off entities via Cosworth, bringing many features never before seen in motorcycle development, such as the pneumatic valves, the traction control as well as the ride-by-wire. Rumors in the paddock heralded it as the most powerful motorcycle at the time.

Unfortunately, the phenomenal power of the engine is the source of Aprilia’s worries in MotoGP: this engine associated with a very innovative control system was poorly adapted to the chassis, which was too rigid and unforgiving. The tires of the time were not able to handle such power: there was not yet an anti-wheelie system or advanced traction control. The only way to try and tame that crazy, spiritedly delivered power was to hitch them up in the best possible chassis. But unfortunately, Aprilia may be the master of motorcycle frames, but the brand hasn’t been able to find a compromise that works. Not even when the RSV 1000 Superbike project was also shut down to channel all Racing department resources into the MotoGP project.

As the project progressed, Aprilia tried tirelessly to tame the RS Cube and its demonic power, with little success.

Régis Laconi made his debut on the RS3 in 2002, without success. In 2003, newly crowned SBK World Champion Colin Edwards proclaimed that she was « badly born », and had « so many things that need to be rethought », including her appetite for wheelies, lack of feel up front, chattering at both ends, and an unpredictable response from its ride-by-wire throttle. His teammate in the 2003 Aprilia team, Nori Haga, crashed with the Cube no less than 28 times in a single season.

But despite being in the hands of many pilots, each with their own riding style, no one has managed to tame it.

Unfortunately without great results, it is also, or above all, the reason why the Venetian company withdrew from MotoGP at the end of the 2004 season: too much money spent compared to the fruits harvested, this decreed death of the project and the abandonment of the competition for the firm of Noale, which had developed one of the most interesting machines of the modern era of MotoGP, but too ahead of its time. And it will be necessary to wait 11 long years before seeing Aprilia sign its return to the premier category.

Thus, 11 years later, Aprilia signed its return to the MotoGP category with its own machine in 2015.

Nevertheless, from 2012, Aprilia was involved in the CRT (Claiming Rules Team) category, via the ART team, then in the Open category which it later became. From the start of the season, Aleix Espargaró didn’t need to be asked: top ART driver, he had a fantastic year. Overall, he is in 11th position ahead of the satellite pilots! It was the success they found here that led to their full-scale comeback in 2015: the Spanish rider won the CRT class championship in 2013, then the open class in 2014, finishing 7th overall in 2014 !

And so for 2015 the Aprilia RS-GP project was born, largely based on the RSV4 superbike and therefore had a 75º V4 engine and a general philosophy very similar to the RSV4.

Alvaro Bautista, Marco Melandri and Stefan Bradl rode the bike throughout the season. As the riders consistently managed to finish in the points, it was clear the bike had a long way to go to catch up with the class leaders.

The 2016 season saw real progress for Aprilia. They might still be at the back of the pack, but between Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl, Aprilia managed to break into the top 10 16 times.

Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes joined the Aprilia team in 2017. It was a difficult year for Sam Lowes, arriving from Moto2 he struggled to adapt to the self-defeating Aprilia. An unfortunate relationship breakdown between the rider and the team saw him return to Moto2 after just one season in the premier class and never really be able to show his potential.

Aleix Espargaro meanwhile had a decent first year with Aprilia, but in the third year of the project Aprilia was still stagnating at a similar level to what it was at the end of 2015. A lack of acceleration and Top speed saw them battling at the back of the pack, and it didn’t improve the year after.

2018 was probably Aprilia’s toughest season to date. After developing the 2018 prototype, they quickly discovered they had gotten lost in development, with Aleix Espargaro often saying he felt his machine had taken a step backwards.

It’s been a tough season with Noale’s team only finishing in the top 10 four times. Aprilia had their work cut out to get back on track for 2019.

Indeed, the Noale team started the 2019 season with an RS-GP equipped with many developments. Granted it still had the 75º V4 but the engine was better, the chassis, swingarm and aerodynamics were all reworked over the winter and Aleix Espargaro felt that was the technical level they should have been have in 2018.

Nevertheless, 2019 was the last year of this generation of RS-GP. Aprilia’s technical teams felt they had reached the pinnacle of evolution with this philosophy and so it was time for a change.

Although the 2019 bike may not have had the acceleration or top speed of the other machines, it did in fact have an excellent chassis, this point not being more evident than when Andrea Iannone led the GP. from Australia for a few laps and fought for a very nice 6and place, less than a second from the podium.

In 2020, Aprilia’s new philosophy ushered in a new era. The 75º V4 disappeared and was replaced by a more powerful 90º V4. He simply transformed the machine.

Noale’s team now had an engine in line with the competition, developing similar power and acceleration. But while the technical teams made strides in some areas, problems remained.

The 2020 prototype had a big flaw: it suffered from a lack of rear grip. On its handlebars, riders couldn’t exit corners well and therefore weren’t able to use all the power the machine offered them, and there were other issues. The engine specification they hoped to use at the start of 2020 had reliability issues, so they had to start the year with a technical definition that was not as good as expected.

But there were also positives: its chassis felt good, stable in curves and offered great stability on the brakes.

While the 2020 prototype was a revolution, the 2021 prototype was an evolution based on the previous year’s RS-GP. Everything the Noale teams learned from 2020 allowed them to evolve their machine into 2021, yet with a prototype that literally shared no parts with the 2020 RS-GP. It was a complete overhaul and it was the Aprilia’s masterstroke to return to competitiveness.

A new engine, a new chassis, their first carbon swingarm, a new aero package. All of this gave the RS-GP better acceleration, grip and handling, which Aleix Espargaro exploited brilliantly. Every time he’s finished a race in 2021 he’s finished in the top 10, something no Aprilia rider has ever done in the MotoGP class so far.

Make way for the latest evolution of the Aprilia RS-GP, which finally took them to the top of the premier class. Last year’s changes are harder to spot than previous years, but there are still plenty of them. Slight changes have made the Aprilia more nimble, better on the tire sidewall, more stable and with better rear grip.

This prototype now looks like a solid package, the result of all those years Aprilia spent looking for solutions. It has a great engine, is efficient out of corners, stable under braking and is one of the best V4s in twisty bits. The 2022 Aprilia RS-GP is the culmination of more than 20 years of hard work and knowledge, and all that work was rewarded in Argentina last weekend.

It also highlighted the hard work of a pilot, Aleix Espargaro, who always believed in this project, suffered ups and downs, and never gave up!

Photos: Dorna Sports



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