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The history of Aprilia in the World Championship

The history of Aprilia in the World Championship

In 2015, the MotoGP™ grid will expand with the return of two major brands: Suzuki and Aprilia. Following the recent announcement by Aprilia and Gresini Racing on their four-year MotoGP agreement, we recall the long and illustrious history of Aprilia in the World Championship.

The name Aprilia is inextricably linked to racing and they are now set to return to the premier class, thanks to the support of Piaggio Group management and the collaboration with Gresini. Aprilia have been part of Piaggio Group since 2004, the year of their last appearance in the premier class.

Grand Prix racing is familiar territory for the Aprilia brand, the factory having made its way into the World Championship in the 1980s in the 125cc and 250cc classes. Riders such as Loris Reggiani and Alessandro Gramigni helped to initiate a successful path in racing for Aprilia, with Italian riders on Italian bikes being key to the manufacturer’s philosophy of ‘Made in Italy’.

With Gramigni in 1992, Aprilia won their first world title in 125cc, followed by further success stories, such as the title achieved by Kazuto Sakata two years later in the same category.

But it was in the quarter-litre class where Aprilia really made headway, with Max Biaggi’s triumphs marking the start of a highly successful era.

After three consecutive 250cc World titles for Aprilia with Biaggi from 1994 to 1996 the Venice factory won a further intermediate class title with Loris Capirossi in 1998, as he beat fellow Aprilia rider Tetsuya Harada on the last corner of the last race in Argentina.

The late 1990s also saw Valentino Rossi thrilling race fans on Aprilia machines as he won the first two of his total of nine World Championships, in the smaller classes. Rossi spent his first four years in Grand Prix racing on Aprilia bikes, winning the 125cc title in 1997 and the 250cc crown in 1999, before he moved up to the premier class.

Aprilia had also decided to take the big leap and move up to the 500cc category, which had been dominated by the Japanese factories for more than a quarter of a century. Of course, the challenge was not easy and in the early years (1996-2000) the Noale factory - with president Ivano Beggio leading the way and the Dutch engineer Jan Witteveen as technical manager – worked hard to make any progress they could, as riders such as Reggiani, Harada, Doriano Romboni and Jeremy McWilliams represented them on the track.

In the smaller categories the run of success continued, thanks to a new wave of Italian talent. Another 125cc title came courtesy of Roberto Locatelli (2000) and in 250cc Marco Melandri and Manuel Poggiali were the victors (in 2002 and 2003 respectively).

Meanwhile, Aprilia’s quest for success in the premier class continued. The technical regulations changed and the switch was made from 500 to 990cc, the MotoGP™ era had begun and the Aprilia project was ambitious. Hoping to challenge the Japanese giants Honda and Yamaha, Aprilia ran with a light 3-cylinder prototype, the RS Cube.

However, despite the efforts of the likes of Regis Laconi, Colin Edwards, Noriyuki Haga, Garry McCoy and McWilliams, the desired results did not quite come and Aprilia departed from the top category at the end of the 2004 season.

Nonetheless there was still great focus on 125cc and 250cc from Aprilia and the emergence of a number of rising stars in neighboring Spain had not gone unnoticed by the Italian manufacturer.

Acquiring the services of Spaniard Alvaro Bautista delivered the 125cc title in 2006 and with Jorge Lorenzo two further 250cc titles were won, in 2006 and 2007.

Two additional Spaniards - Julian Simon in 2009 and Nico Terol in 2011 – took Aprilia’s final two 125cc titles before the introduction of the Moto3™ format. Aprilia eventually departed from both the smaller classes of Grand Prix racing, marking the end of a highly successful era.

An involvement in the World Championship was continued with the Italian company serving as a CRT supplier in the premier class with their ART machine being used by Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet in the Aspar team - and this year with Danilo Petrucci (Octo IodaRacing Team) in the Open category.

Last weekend, at Round 13 of the 2014 season at Misano, Aprilia made the announcement that they will make a full return to MotoGP with a prototype machine in 2015. Several aspects of the project remain to be defined. However, Aprilia and Gresini Racing have been quick to announce that Alvaro Bautista will be one of the riders representing them on track next year.

Aprilia’s Sporting Managing Director Romano Albesiano will be pulling the strings behind the scenes, working closely with Gresini Racing manager Fausto Gresini. Indeed, Gresini himself was once an Aprilia rider, having competed on the factory’s machinery in the 125cc ranks in 1989 - and 25 years later the Italian team manager will be reunited with the famous Italian brand.

MotoGP, 2014

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