Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s fortunes have changed in 2021. A brand-new, razor-sharp RS-GP has enabled the Spaniard and Noale factory to compete with the very best in MotoGP™ this season, as they currently occupy P7 in the overall standings after four rounds.
However, speaking to MotoGP™ Podcast’s Matt Dunn and Fran Wyld, Aleix Espargaro reveals he nearly quit MotoGP™ before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. His journey with Aprilia has never been easy, and the duo are only just beginning to reap the rewards of all their hard work in the last five years. But the elder Espargaro brother nearly didn’t see the fruits of his labour, with the thought of walking away from Grand Prix racing a real possibility not so long ago.
“Yeah, it's been different. And since when I arrived in Aprilia, I never felt that I was competitive. I struggled a lot. Sincerely, two years ago, before the Covid-19 arrived. I was seriously thinking to retire or to go to Superbike and try to do other things like, I didn't know but I was not enjoying it, I was suffering a lot. I was 29 years old and I was crying every Monday when I arrive at home and I was not enjoying life. And for me the most important thing - yes, being a MotoGP rider is my passion - but life is short,” says Aleix Espargaro.
The life of a MotoGP™ rider isn’t all glitz and glamour, especially when you’re not winning races or challenging for titles. It’s a job – like many others – you dedicate your heart and soul to, so when you’re risking your life every time you head out on track and not enjoying the thrill of riding a MotoGP™ bike for a living, tough decisions have to be made. And the number 41 had pretty much made up his mind about stepping away, but then in came Massimo Rivola.
“So doesn't matter if you're riding a bike or making some business or riding a bicycle, but you have to enjoy life. So at that moment I decide, okay, I think I will not continue. Then when Rivola arrived, the perspectives start to change a little bit, Aprilia has to start to organise in a different way, we start to work a lot more and I start to see the light at the end of the tunnel last year. And sincerely the approach of this year is another story, I’m enjoying more than ever.
“The feeling that I have is that I have the passion and the happiness of rookie, a rookie rider. Because to arrive and in any weekend, knowing that you can fight for the top is completely another story. It's a lot more easy for the mind, a lot more easy. It's very difficult to finish every race in 15th because I know that the guys that are finishing there, they’re maybe working even harder than the ones that are winning. So to stay there is very difficult and I suffer a lot the previous years.”
Espargaro continues to explain what it means for him and Aprilia to finally having realistic aims of standing on a premier class podium every weekend. It’s a real ‘started from the bottom, now we’re here’ sort of vibe in the Noale camp in 2021, and Espargaro is rightly proud of how far they’ve come as a team.
“Yeah, yeah, I feel very proud of what we achieved because when I arrived to Suzuki obviously was a new project but Suzuki has a big history behind them. So they already, I mean, they don't start from zero - let's say like this. But when I arrived at Aprilia, they had just two years in MotoGP, but they had no story in MotoGP. So everything was brand new.
“So to work with them till this year that we are fighting with the best brands of the world, it's something that makes me super proud. Very, very happy about myself and all the people around me. But yes, it’s something that makes you very proud. I know a win is a win, and if you win with Ducati is very nice. Or with Honda it’s very nice for sure. But if we are able to put the Aprilia for the first time in its MotoGP story on the podium and fight for some races, this is unbelievable.”
And of course, Espargaro feels like he’s part of the project’s core, noting how much everyone at Aprilia believes in him: “I’ve been with them on the downs. Now we are a little bit more up, but I feel that I'm an important part of Aprilia. But you know, then I know how fast I am or how hard I work for this. But the important thing is that everybody knows Aprilia believes a lot in me. And they always show up to me they always applaud when I arrive in the garage.
“After a good race on the meetings, they always speak very well about me. They believe a lot in me, everything I need, I have it. So this is a support that really helped me a lot to grow and to keep going. This is why when I suffered a lot, too, because I was low. We were not competitive in the last two years. The reason why I stayed and I re-signed is because they believe a lot in me. This gives me a lot of strength.”
Head over to your favoured MotoGP™ Podcast streaming platform to listen or watch the episode with Aleix Espargaro, as well as catching up on any you might have missed.
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