MotoGP Motegi: Espargaro ‘feeling relaxed, race will be demanding’

| | MotoGP
Picture: GeeBee Images

Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro is back in contention for the 2022 MotoGP title as the season returns to Japan for the first time since 2019.

A podium last time out at Aragon, at the start of a triple header, could provide the momentum the Spaniard needs to maintain his championship challenge, with just 17 points now separating him from series leader Fabio Quartararo and five races left to run.

“Yeah has been good to be back on the podium especially it was like an extra boost of confidence,” Espargaro said of his difficult weekend on home soil. “I struggled in Misano and Austria and I was quite satisfied about my performance - to finish sixth place in difficult circuits in MotoGP today is not that easy. So it was okay.

“To finish on the podium, especially after a very difficult weekend with two crashes on Friday, was out of the Q2, so it was not an easy weekend for me, but to manage and put the bike on the podium on Sunday was great!

“MotoGP is MotoGP, everything can happen,” he said of the task ahead of him. “We saw it with the crash of Fabio in the first lap in Aragon for example. He was leading the championship, always struggling in Aragon and then he had super strong pace and then he crashed in the race. So everything can happen.

“You have to be relaxed, try to handle everything in the most positive way possible. Let’s see how is the weekend because we have to deal with many new things, long time that we don’t race in Japan, different schedules, strange weather conditions, so it’s gonna be fun.”

While many in the class have yet to experience Mobility Resort Motegi on premier class machinery, Espargaro isn’t expecting it to make much of an impact.

“I don’t think it’s going to count so much,” the 32-year-old explained. “I mean, I was watching yesterday the race of ‘19 and Fabio [Quartararo] did super good race, always at just one second from Marc on his rookie year which is difficult to do and Pecco also raced once, but we raced both in the small classes so we know the track. The bikes have changed so much from ‘19. We have a lot of new items on the bikes. We have new carcass on the Michelin tyre so I think it’s going to be quite new for everybody.”

With three riders split by just 17 points, and Aprilia eying its first MotoGP World Championship title in the modern age, how is Espargaro finding the building pressure to deliver?

“I have to say that at the beginning, or let’s say at the middle of the season, when I start to finish in the podium every race, I start to feel some pressure because I realised that I had some chances to fight for this title till the end,” he admitted. “But now I’m a little bit more relaxed. I’m enjoying a lot this year with my family, when I’m not racing, when I’m racing also. Every single minute of this year I will never forget in my life so this is why I feel relaxed.

“I know I will have my chances so just trying to do the same that I did from Qatar - make no mistakes, enjoy as much as possible and be relaxed.

“For sure, I’m 17 points behind so I if I want to recover some distance, I will have to risk a little bit more but I’m not sure if it’s the right moment already or if it’s better to wait a little bit. I think the races will tell me, during the race how the race is going, if is the time or not but still 125 points on the table so, it’s just five races but still long way.”

One added element this time around comes with the development of the ride height devices now firmly installed across the grid.

“Yeah, I was analysing the ‘19 data and we really were far from the top performance of the engine due to the wheelie in many places,” Espargaro acknowledged. “I think now with rear height device this is going to change, because the wheelie is a lot less with the rear device. We will be able to use a lot more power so the lap times I think will drop and it’s going to be quite demanding. I think we can use five or six times during a lap so it’s going to be very demanding for the riders.”