Aleix Espargarò's Saturday at Jerez was a swing of emotions, going in the space of a few hours from the thrill experienced in FP3, when he crashed after almost running over a cat, to the euphoria of having conquered pole position, in the rain, on his home track. Ending up by finishing the day with the disappointment of a crash, which put an early end to his sprint race.
“I was very happy for the pole. When I saw the rain I thought it would be like in Argentina, where I was very fast in the dry, but not as competitive in the wet. I missed an opportunity there and I didn't believe it was happening here too. It was very complicated because we couldn't touch the curbs and the white line and we were setting very fast times. I didn't change the rear tire because there wasn't time, I just took the bike from FP3. I managed to do a good lap at the end and not kill the cat, so it was a good first part of the day" commented Espargarò, recounting the pitfalls of qualifying.
“Unfortunately in the sprint I crashed. It's difficult because you have to make a perfect start to be in front, otherwise it's very complicated to overtake - explained the Spanish rider - Today my bike was fantastic, I think one of the best on the track, but I can't do the 'stop & go' used by the KTM guys, who brake hard, get the bike up and accelerate. This is not how you ride the Aprilia, but unfortunately this is how you ride it in the Sprint Race. I lost ground at the start and then crashed trying to recover, but I hope I can start better tomorrow and fight at the top."
The difficulties at the start were the key factor in the Aprilia rider's race, as he himself recounted when explaining the causes of the crash in Turn 9, which ended his race when he was fifth behind Jorge Martin.
“I tried to do my best at the start, but the KTM riders did a fantastic job. They have great launch control and a lot of torque and both Brad and Jack got off to a great start and I couldn't stop them. I recovered a few positions, trying to get closer to the Ducatis, but then I lost the front - he observed - I didn't do anything in particular, my pace wasn't particularly fast. It was a strange crash, but it can happen. If you are too close to the riders in front of you, you lose some downforce and making a small mistake is enough to crash, when it is 55°C on the tarmac. I hope to have better luck tomorrow."
After the first four races of the season, only Bagnaia and Binder have managed to get their hands on the win in the short race and the Aprilia rider is convinced it's no coincidence.
“I think the way Brad rides allows him to be very aggressive and squeeze the tires to the max, without having to think about their durability. He is very good at this, so he didn't succeed due to a matter of luck or a coincidence, while Pecco is the World Champion. So, those are the two reasons. Whether I like it or not, the way we ride in the Sprint Race is completely different from the way we tackle the Grand Prix, so we have to try to improve in Aprilia and adapt" commented Aleix, then going into further detail.
“Our bike is at a very high level, undoubtedly higher than last year. I'd say it's among the best bikes on the grid, but it doesn't allow us to ride in a 'stop & go' style, braking and restarting, which is exactly what the KTM does and what you need for the Sprint Race, because if you don't brake so hard they pass you and you can't pass anyone. It's perfectly fine to have the bike we have, but we have to find a way to adapt more to this format - he underlined - Maverick and I have two very different ways of riding, but the result is the same, because you still have to adapt to the DNA of the bike, which wants you to carry corner speed, let go of the brake and enter a bend hard. It's a really good bike to do this, but the Sprint Race doesn't allow you to do it at times and we have to find a solution."
A fast race that in this start of the season is proving to be more risky on narrow tracks than on wide ones. A fact that doesn't worry the Aprilia rider too much, convinced that it's qualifying, rather than the circuit, that makes the difference.
“The narrow tracks are always difficult when braking into the first corner in the first few laps, no matter if it's the sprint or the long race. Instead of blaming the Sprint Race, or focusing on it, it's better to think about qualifying, because if you can start from the front row everything is easier and you can also keep away from any problems. Trying to be competitive in qualifying is just what I'm trying to do, because it's very important for the races,” explained the 33-year-old.
Despite his good will, however, the Catalan has not managed to have the same consistency of results at the beginning of the year that allowed him to fight for the title, almost until the end, in the last championship.
"I'm trying to do what Pecco did last year - Aleix said laughing - It went better for him than it did for me, so I'm trying to copy him and in a couple of races I hope to start winning".