Japanese MotoGP: Aleix: Crazy how much Aprilia has changed from 2019 | MotoGP

But the rate of the RS-GP’s evolution means Espargaro returns to Japan battling Fabio Quartararo and Francesco Bagnaia for the world title, with just five rounds to go.

That transformation was reflected on the opening day at Motegi, limited to a single 75-minute session due to the cramped travel schedule from Aragon, which Espargaro finished in fourth place but just 0.068s from fastest man Jack Miller.

“It’s unbelievable how much the bike changed,” Espargaro said. “In FP2 in 2019 most of the top guys did high ‘44s and I did a ‘45 high. Today I did a 1m 44.5s.

“Most people dropped half a second, but I dropped nearly 1.5s.”

That level of progress meant big changes were needed in terms of bike set-up.

“It has been difficult to set up the bike, but in the last part of the session the bike was quite good,” Espargaro said.

“We struggled a bit in the first two runs. The bike was super far in terms of electronics, in terms of power delivery. I was quite angry with the engineers, but they told me they tried as much as possible to adapt the ‘19 information to the ’22 bike.”

Illustrating the differences, the Argentine Grand Prix winner added: “We [overlaid the 2019] bike on top of the 22 bike. It’s like a motocross bike and MotoGP! The engine position was super high in 2019, now [the bike] is longer.

“It’s crazy how the bike’s changed, especially the Aprilia. The power delivery is a lot higher, but you’re able to use it. The torque is different, the aerodynamics…

“Wheelie was a problem at this track and now, with more power, it’s halved. This is the shocking thing. In the last 3 years, the bikes in general have made a big step.”

Despite such progress, and team-mate Maverick Vinales (+0.288s) also making the top ten today, Espargaro knows Motegi isn’t a track that naturally plays to the strengths of his machine.

“The level of the Aprilia is quite high. We can adapt more or less. But on the stop and go tracks, it’s not the best,” he said. “In S2, the fast chicanes after the bridge, that’s where I feel the Aprilia is really strong and where I gain time.

“But then on the stopping corners like 10, 11 downhill, I suffer there. But in general the level of the bike is good.

“I did the same lap time as Pecco and Fabio which is important. Looks like the tricky thing will be to decide the rear compound so if tomorrow it’s raining, it’s not going to be easy.”

Espargaro is currently 17 points from Quartararo (third on Friday) and 7 behind Bagnaia (second).

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