MotoGP Sepang: Espargaro set to make 300th start ‘one to remember’

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Aleix Espargaro prepares for his 300th Grand Prix start this weekend as MotoGP’s penultimate round hits Sepang in Malaysia.

Joining the illustrious ranks of Valentino Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso, Loris Capirossi, Simone Corsi and Tom Luthi, Espargaro has so far racked up 215 premier class starts, 61 intermediate and 23 in the lightweight category since his debut in 2004.

“I’m happy and proud,” Espargaro commented on his achievement. “Because to arrive in the MotoGP World Championship is the dream of every kid who loves bikes, but to be able to stay for such a long career is even more difficult, and 300 Grands Prix is crazy. I saw the stats last week, I saw the five names in front of me, and it’s unbelievable. I’m extremely happy and proud and hopefully I can make it one to remember here in Malaysia.”

His sights still set on the 2022 title fight, albeit now 27 points down on Pecco Bagnaia with 13 to Fabio Quartararo, Espargaro knows the Ducatis will be tough to top after their recent run of form as the championship nears conclusion, but at least with pre-season testing at the Malaysian track under his belt, he has experience to draw on this weekend.

“The goal is to try and stop Pecco,” the Spaniard confirmed. “Try to the best thing possible. Try to finish in front of number 63. Which is going to be difficult because the form he showed in recent races - actually, the second part of the championship - has been amazing, but I will try my best.

“I have the feeling that it’s more lost than won, this title, for me, so I can risk a little bit more, be a little bit more aggressive on race day, and hopefully bring it to Valencia.

“I mean, testing is testing, but in pre-season we were very strong, very fast, and we did a fast lap, but also we had consistency regarding the pace. But, from last February to here, everybody has improved quite a lot.

“I think it’s a track where the bike will work well,” he said of the RS-GP’s return to the Kuala Lumpur circuit after a two year absence in race trim. “We have a lot of data that we didn’t have in Australia, Thailand, Japan, so, from the pre-season, here in Malaysia we have some data, even if we haven’t raced here since 2019. So, I think the Aprilia will be competitive here.

“We saw that in the races we didn’t have data, we struggled a lot,” he continued on his current season. “We lost a lot of time doing basic things like gearbox and many other things because the data we have from ’19 is completely useless for us – we have changed completely. We lost a lot of points in recent races, but if we are able to learn about this and change, a little bit, the way we work on these new tracks and we have the data for the future, I think we’re going to be stronger next season.”

It’s a criticism he’s made clear of late, both directly to the Noale factory and to the surrounding press.

“I always say what I feel, so when I say that we are doing a good job, that the bike improves, is because I feel this and when I have to be critical with the team, I am,” Espargaro admitted. “I have the feeling that on the last races we were not in a really high level in general, we lose a lot of points and when you don’t have the speed - that for example, I didn’t have the speed in Misano and in Austria, I was not fast. The bike was not that bad but I was not at the level, so no problem for me to accept it. But for me it’s very frustrating when you have the speed, when you are able to, for example, I did the second fast lap in Australia but then we faced some problems that we didn’t have to happen, because I feel are quite basic problems. This is what I’m saying that we still have room to improve as a team, if we want together, me and the bike and engineers, if we want to fight for this title or for the future.

“The improvements made by Aprilia this year are incredible,” the 32-year-old elaborated. “I’m extremely proud of what Aprilia achieved, but I was not talking about finish second or third in the constructor, I was talking about win the title!

“If you want to win the title, you cannot concede 100 points in eight races, as we did with Pecco.

“The feeling that I have is that on the last four or five GP’s we did too many mistakes, too many mistakes in general and we were a little bit slow to adapt on a new track. I didn’t pretend to be harsh on my comments, but just accepting that we were not at the level of Pecco and Ducati at this moment, is like this. They work better than us and hopefully we can take this season to learn for the future. Ducati and Pecco, they are now on top of the championship but with Dovi they did a good job on the last years, so it’s not new for them, also in Yamaha, so for us is everything new and I think we can learn and improve.”