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Dec 15, 2012

Top MotoGP CRT Rider Aleix Espargaro Credits His Team As Key To His Success In 2012

Aleix Espargaro sitting on his Power Electronics Aspar Team Aprilia/ART at Indianapolis.
'JORGE HAS HELPED TO ME MATURE AND MADE ME MORE CALM AND CONFIDENT'

At just 23 years of age Aleix Espargaró is already a veteran of World Championship competition, having made his debut back in 2004. The Spaniard has competed at every level of Grand Prix racing and his happy go lucky nature and constant smile have made him one of the most well loved and charismatic riders in the paddock. This season has seen the POWER ELECTRONICS Aspar Team rider curb his natural enthusiasm and find the inner calm and confidence needed to make progress as a rider and as a person. In this interview he reveals some of his most carefully guarded secrets and reflects back on his best ever season, which saw him crowned as the first ever CRT 'champion' in MotoGP.


First of all what is your reaction to the Espargaró brothers being handed the Shoya Tomizawa Fair Play Award for your sportsmanship and support of each other?

It makes me very proud. Pol and I are always together and we're not afraid to show our devotion to each other, not to win awards but because that's how we feel. Even so, it gives me pride that this is recognised. It is a nice and natural thing - we've been close ever since we were little.


Doesn't it distract you to watch your brother race and then have to go out yourself?

It doesn't distract me but clearly it's not the best way to settle your nerves. If my brother's race hasn't gone well I try to stay focused and not lose concentration even though I might be angry. Whenever he has a good race, which is usually the case, I'm even more fired up for the MotoGP race.


I can see you don't have any nails left!

It's true [laughs]! It is the only way I can channel my nerves when I am watching the races. I almost chew my own fingers off.


Why do you run with number 41?

It was Youichi Ui's number and he was my hero when I started out in racing. Coincidentally we also shared a manager at the time and Youichi was really nice to me. He gave me leathers, helmets... from that point on I was his number one fan and I started using the number 41, which I still have to this day.


Where did your obsession with the colour pink come from?

We're quite used to seeing riders using fluorescent yellows and oranges but I have always liked to be a bit different and since nobody was using pink I decided to go for it. I love the colour and it gives me that bit of exclusivity. I suppose most people don't dare to use it but I really like it.


And why do they call you 'Pippo'?

When I was born my father gave me a hippopotamus teddy that I used to sleep with and that's what they used to call it. My friends found out and started to call me 'Pippo' until in the end it stuck. I've still got the teddy!


At the end of the season you announced your plans to marry. Don't you think it's a bit soon?

I don't think it's a matter of finding the right time but of finding the right person. I have been with my girlfriend for a long time, we get on really well together and we are ready to take this step. We have been through a lot of things together and we think it's the right time for us. Also, as a professional rider I don't have the same lifestyle as most guys my age.


The 'Espargarins' form one of the biggest and oldest rider fan clubs in Spain. How proud does that make you?

I have said it a thousand times before and I never tire of saying it: it is a source of huge pride for us to have a fan club like the 'Espargarins'. The really nice thing is that they started following us long before we started competing in the World Championship. They were there in Catalunya, Albacete, Jerez, Jarama... well before we became Grand Prix riders. Now they come along to a lot of GPs, regardless of the distance they have to travel. We really appreciate it and both Pol and I are very proud. This year was their tenth anniversary!


Nine years of hard work at World Championship level have finally paid off for you. What does this CRT title mean to you?

I am happy because we achieved the objective we set for ourselves at the start of last season. I am particularly satisfied to have beaten my team-mate on the same bike. Randy De Puniet is a really top rider and he demonstrated that throughout the season. I think we have had a brilliant season and I am more happy about the fact that I was able to enjoy it so much than I am about the title itself.


'Aspar' said at the start of the season that you were a rider to watch and that you had potential. You proved him right...

Last winter I didn't know if I was going to be riding in Moto2 or in MotoGP but I did know that it would be with the POWER ELECTRONICS Aspar Team so I was already happy with that. I was given great support from the first moment, with an experienced team of mechanics and constant backing from Aprilia's engineers. I know that Jorge had high hopes for me so that added a little pressure but we were able to manage it well.


You seem to have grown up this year. In what ways has Aleix Espargaró matured in 2012?

Jorge has helped me in this aspect. He has made me more calm and confident, which is really important for a rider, and he has shown me how to take things more easily. These are basically the most significant changes this season and they are what have allowed me to improve as a rider.


It seems as though the 'triple A' combo - Aspar Team, Aleix Espargaró and ART - was a good one. . .

'A' was the letter of choice this year! At the start of last season, even when I didn't know what bike I would be riding, I wasn't worried because I knew that as long as I was with the POWER ELECTRONICS Aspar Team I would be on something competitive. It is a top team, that always insists on the very best material. Clearly we made the right choice in going for the ART, which has been the best bike by some distance, but credit has to go to the team because the same bike has not been as competitive in other hands.


When was the turning point last season? When did you really start to think that you could finish the year as the top CRT?

To be honest at Jerez I didn't deserve to win in the way I won. My team-mate was forced to retire but that gave me a boost in confidence, seeing myself up there. From that race I started to change the way I was thinking and started to believe that we had to keep working even harder because anything was possible. After that I loosened up and was able to ride faster and be more consistent.


By the flyaways it seemed like you were even a step ahead. . .

Randy and I came into the final stages of the season with very little between us. I knew that any mistake or lack of concentration could cost me points or a position in the championship. I realised that if I wanted to finish with the CRT title I would have to win three of the last four races and get to Valencia with relative calm. We simply had to put a good run together on the flyaways so myself and the team were very focused on this. We thought through our engine strategy to the most minute detail and had a clear idea when and where to use each one. Everything went perfectly to plan.


Which race did you enjoy the most?

Montmeló. Racing in MotoGP is always special but even more so at your home track. On top of that it was a great weekend for us. We set a really fast pace in practice and finished as the top CRT in the race on Sunday. After that it has to be Valencia, when we were really able to savour what we had achieved. A lot of my friends came to share in what was a special moment for me so it was just complete joy. I was really nervous when it was raining on the grid but when I crossed the finish line I felt an enormous release of pressure.


Did you expect to win nine races in CRT?

Honestly, before I found out who my team-mate was going to be I wasn't so sure but I knew that whoever got to grips with the new bikes the soonest would dominate. As soon as I knew that my team-mate was Randy I realised it was going to be even more difficult. He's a top rider and I knew he wouldn't make life easy for me. As the year progressed I grew in confidence and from that point the objective became to win as many as I could.


What is the ART 2012 like and what were you able to learn about the 2013 model at Valencia, even though you couldn't ride it much?

The best thing about the ART is definitely the chassis. It is an agile motorcycle that is really easy to turn. You can also brake really late, right into the corner, and this is its strong point, comparable to some of the MotoGP bikes. We only got to try the 2013 bike in the wet at Valencia and couldn't draw too many conclusions.


How will you celebrate this great season over the winter?

I just want to be at home with my family, take things easy and recharge my batteries. 2014 will be an important year with a lot of changes so we just have to make sure we stay on our toes in 2013, put together another strong season and be prepared for the next one.