A passionate warrior who could not give up

Nick Harris remembers the storied career of the soon to be retired Aleix Espargaro

Legendary status is acquired for many different reasons. In MotoGP™, Legends are crowned for world titles, Grand Prix wins and bravery. Perhaps that Legend title is too easily awarded these days in all walks of life and especially sport. That is definitely not the case with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing).

The 34-year-old Spaniard has won three Grands Prix and no world titles. He is a true and rightful legend of our sport for very different and rightful reasons. While the likes of Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Barry Sheene, Wayne Rainey, Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi, and Marc Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) tick all the correct legend boxes, Aleix comes from a very different place.

He is the true passionate warrior who never gave up in 20 years of Grand Prix racing. A rider who wore his heart on his sleeve both on and off the track. His passion and belief finally paid off but it was a long and tortuous journey.

No other rider in the 75-year history of the sport had to wait so long for that first GP win. After the 15-year-old made his Grand Prix debut in the 2004 125cc race in Valencia, Aleix competed in World Championship racing for another 17 years, 155 days before that first win finally arrived. On his 284th appearance he finally did it at an emotional 2022 Argentinian GP.  It was such a special day for everybody. Aleix had waited so much longer than anybody to see the chequered flag. The previous longest wait belonged to Jack Findlay who only had to endure a mere 189 GPs. It was Aprilia’s first victory in the premier class and it really set the ball rolling for the Italian factory.

It was tortuous emotional journey. Aleix always gave maximum love and support to his younger brother. While Pol won the Moto2™ title and 15 Grands Prix, Aleix just soldiered on through every adversity, injury, and disappointment. He never gave up the fight. After winning the FIM CEV he began Grand Prix racing in the 125cc and 250cc classes. He finished fourth in the 2009 250cc Dutch TT and got his first taste of MotoGP™ the same season, as a rider replacement in the Pramac team. He remained in the team the next season but returned to the intermediate class, now Moto2™, in 2011. After taking his first podium he returned to MotoGP™ a year later where he became a CRT frontrunner. In 2014 he joined the Forward Yamaha team and grabbed his first MotoGP™ podium and pole position. The momentum was picking up. In 2016 he was awarded his first contract with Suzuki. Aleix brought the team their first pole since 2007 before moving onto Aprilia. In 2021 they celebrated their first podium together at Silverstone. A year later history was made in Argentina. Two more Grands Prix wins arrived at Silverstone and Barcelona last year where he also won the Tissot Sprint.

There could have been no more appropriate venue for Aleix to make his retirement announcement last week at Circuit de Barcelona–Catalunya with its giant grandstand within sight of his hometown of Granollers. An emotional farewell after 20 years with his beloved family and children, friends and rivals. Of course it was not the final goodbye. Typically, Aleix is determined to go out with a bang. Pole position, the Sprint win and fourth place in the Grand Prix was just a start. He finally calls it a day at Valencia in November and so plenty more racing, hopefully wins and passionate displays of riding in the most competitive motorsport World Championship. By the end of the season, Aleix should have ridden in more premier class Grands Prix than any other rider, apart from Valentino Rossi.

Next year the MotoGP™ grid without Aleix Espargaro will be a strange place, because this one-off passionate warrior is a true MotoGP™ legend.

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