Bradley Smith had avoided any preconceived ideas of the Aprilia RS-GP, but after four days of MotoGP testing the Englishman “felt what he had seen” when watching the bike on track this season:
“But also we know how to make it better, so that’s exciting.”
Smith is switching to test riding duties for Aprilia (plus racing in the new FIM MotoE World Cup) after six seasons in the premier-class on Tech3 Yamaha and then factory KTM machinery.
Aprilia finished sixth and last in this year’s constructors’ standings, losing out to KTM by 13 points after Smith’s team-mate Pol Espargaro snatched a debut podium (16 points) at the final round.
“I tried not to have any preconceived ideas. That’s always a dangerous thing, but [the RS-GP] is as I would imagine, when you watch it out on track,” Smith said at Jerez.
“The front is already, I feel, a strong point on this bike. It’s able to brake late. Aleix has obviously developed it around being able to grab the brakes all the way to the apex.
“Let’s say at the moment the weakness is towards the rear, so that was our main focus.
“Putting power to the ground, not having so much wheelie and using the maximum potential of the engine is something you see they maybe struggled with once the tyre has gone off.”
One of the key ingredients to make the RS-GP better for 2019 is thus a change of engine character. Smith – who took on the added work of a sick Espargaro at Jerez – was heavily involved in helping select the favoured direction before the winter break.
“Aleix was still poorly so it was another busy day back-checking engine configurations and trying to make a firm decision on which way to go,” he said before leaving the circuit.
“In the end we got our head around what the bike needs and different bits and pieces, different ideas.”
The two different engine configurations on offer were “similar, but obviously different in certain areas. The main focus at the moment is driveability and making sure we’re getting as much grip from the rear tyre as possible.
“Obviously it was a weakness we saw from the Aprilia last season, in terms of destroying the rear tyre and maybe struggling a little bit more towards the end of the races.
“They are not trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s basically just refining and pointing things in the right direction so the guys are able to build a ’19 bike out of everything we’ve learned from this test.
“An important objective was ideally to get all three riders, but here two riders, agreeing on the same direction.
“I think that we did it. Now we need to see what the complete package is like at Sepang and move forward from there.”
When Espargaro returns to action in the new year, Smith will revert to working with the Aprilia test team, with which he is also set to make some wild-card appearances, starting at the Qatar season opener.
“My crew chief is Pietro [Caprara], who worked with Aleix during the second half of last year once Marcus [Eschenbacher] was no longer coming to the races,” Smith said.
“So he’s going to steer the ship and then the rest of the [test team] guys are mainly coming from the factory, but obviously we are trying to build-up the whole project now.
“The guys are doing a doing a good job, we’ve see them working here the last two days with Matteo [Baiocco] and things seem to be getting better and better over there. So it’s not completely new, but a revised test team from this year.”
Iannone, who has joined the team from Suzuki, was the top RS-GP rider at Jerez, in 16th place.