Having already taken a grand prix win in the opening five rounds of 2022, Aprilia has just one podium to its credit in 2023 so far – a second for Maverick Vinales in the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Espargaro has had a particularly mixed start to 2023, achieving a best of fifth in the Spanish and French GPs having started on pole at Jerez, and currently sits 52 points off championship leader Francesco Bagnaia in 11th in the standings.
The Spaniard believes Aprilia’s gap to Ducati right now is “not that big”, but the manufacturer has to start proving this after a “much-needed” strong showing at Le Mans.
“I needed a race like this, feeling strong, faster than the guys in front of me,” Espargaro said.
“Obviously the result doesn’t shine at all, fifth place is not fantastic. But it’s a race I really [think was] much-needed.
“I was feeling strong, fast. After this crazy start to the season we have no big injuries, so we can breathe a bit and come back to a very special GP as Mugello will be for us.
“It’s not that big [the gap to Ducati].
“I feel I have to perform a little bit better in the races. I believe we can do it, because I feel we have a really, really good bike right now.
“But I keep saying this and I keep saying that bike is good, that we are not far from Ducati. But we have to prove that.”
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Espargaro added that he hopes his Le Mans grand prix result is “just the beginning” of a proper resurgence in his 2023 form.
“I can’t be happy with fifth, but I’m satisfied after a lot of ups and downs during the start of this season, especially after my mistake in qualifying [when I crashed] and lost a lot of places on the grid,” he said after Sunday’s grand prix.
“I’m satisfied with the speed I showed, I did some progress, a lot of overtakes.
“So, I hope it’s just the beginning. We are getting more points, getting closer to the top guys.
“So, hopefully I can do three solid races after this stop and in the summer break I hope I can be in the top five in the championship.”