Aprilia has debuted an updated version of the RS-GP in pre-season testing at Sepang, with a lot of work put in on introducing new aerodynamic devices on the bike.
Espargaro finished a strong fifth on the final day of the test, and was the top non-Ducati rider on the timesheets as he set a lap that was only four tenths down on pacesetter Francesco Bagnaia.
While admitting that the new bike is “definitely more competitive” than last year as well as more “stable” in corners, the 34-year-old singled out engine performance as one area where the Italian marque must improve in order to close the gap to the front.
“I hope [they can improve it],” he said at the end of the Malaysia test. “We need torque in mid-range, definitely. After the change of gear we need a little bit more torque, a little bit more power.
“The ’24 bike is definitely much better than the ’23 but our weakness is still the engine. If we want to fight with the bigs, we need to raise the power of the engine.”
Espargaro reported mid-corner pace as a strong point for the RS-GP, but he may not be able to take full advantage of it if he is stuck behind a slower bike going into a turn.
The Spanish rider admitted it was a concern for him, but he and Aprilia engineers are yet to find a solution for this problem.
“Now in the meeting with the aerodynamic guys they ask me the same question, ‘how do you think you can manage this bike in a group how can you stop the bike, how can you change the line?’
“I said this is a very good question. I have no answer yet.
“I love this bike, the character is amazing. I can ride a lot in mid-corner, which is my riding style. But I think it’s not gonna be really easy to change direction, to fight.
“I have a lot of stability, which is good. If you want to attempt an overtake and you want to risk more in a corner, that’s good to have the extra stability. But the bike is very heavy, so we are gonna see it in Qatar.”
Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Maverick Vinales couldn’t match the pace of his team-mate Espargaro at Sepang, ending up 12th in the order on Thursday. His best effort of 1m57.528s was four tenths off the pace of his countryman, having also trailed him on the second day of the test.
Vinales said he wasn’t as happy with the RS GP as he was when he last tested the 2024 prototype at Valencia in November, as he struggled with both braking and corner entry.
Explaining his problems, the nine-time race winner said: “For me [on] the entry on the corner the balance is still not great,” he explained. “I have a very unstable bike, so I cannot push.
“So basically I cannot ride the bike, the bike is riding me.
“I know very well the feeling I had when I left Valencia, as well as the first laps here with the old bike. I know very clearly what we need. We are trying to share. We are also working a lot with the aerodynamics to see if this can affect this feeling or not.
He added: “Right now for me it’s very tough to stop the bike because it’s not stable and I cannot brake really hard until the corner.
“But there’s something we always have in mind to improve, because you always see Ducati to be very strong in this part.
“But if we get the correct balance then we can have more engine brake and it will help to stop the bike.”