After a disappointing season in 2017 for the Milwaukee Aprilia squad in WorldSBK, especially with a rider of the proven winning talents of Eugene Laverty on board, several back-room changes gave been made in the run-up to 2018.
As far as the bike itself, its make up and set-up, is concerned changes started some time ago according to Laverty. The recent Spanish and Portuguese tests took things to a different level again.
“It has been a progression since Laguna Seca (in July 2017),” said Laverty after finishing two days on track at the hilly Portimao circuit. “That is where we understood the direction. We were lost before that. And when you are lost you do not know the way. We found the way in Laguna Seca. It has been too slow, the progress, and the steps have been too small. In November and then the test in Jerez last week we just went strong in that (new) direction. I think we surprised the engineers just how extreme we went. But it was right.”
It is thought major weight distribution changes, and upward ride height geometry are the main areas of change, but Laverty was more general in his answer to exactly what had been done for 2018.
“The main thing is to allow me to brake hard. Like Chaz or Johnny and Tom, and like the Yamahas started to do at the end of last year. To not be able to brake with those guys you are not going to be able to race them or pass them. So you are in a different race almost. I have been able to brake harder and also improve in other areas, so that was our focus in the Jerez tests.”
Aprilia did not lose as much in the way of its upper RPM limit for 2018 as they may have under more strict rule calculations, but Laverty is already missing some pep from his engine compared to 2017. “The RPM has an effect on us but the one manufacturer it helps most is Yamaha. They have kept the same RPM, so nothing has changed. It has hurt us a lot and I think it has hurt Ducati a lot. It has not affected Kawasaki at all, as I expected. So, it is unfortunate that it has thrown another spanner in the works for us and made out job tougher. I knew it would not affect them (Kawasaki) because of you take the RPM off the top they had power everywhere. The rest of us were maybe empty at the bottom and needing to rev get up there. Kawasaki has changed the RPM, but still has power.”
Gearing is the potential big problem for some teams in 2018, even the supposedly grunty 120cc Ducati. It is actually, as Melandri explained at one stage last season, almost like a two-stroke. It has had to rev to make peak power against the fours, and now its peak revs have been trimmed too…
Which final selection of Aprilia’s fixed gear ratios to use is an issue Laverty and crew will have to work hard on in 2018. Especially as he says Kawasaki already had an advantage in that area. “The gear pattern they were using at Laguna Seca, and we were trying to use, none of us could,” said Laverty. “They were using second gear in every corner because it did not matter if it was high rpm or low RPM, they had grunt. I think to bring in an RPM limit with Kawasaki was never going to affect them.”
Everybody will get to see the reality of the new season-starting rev limit rules on track at Phillip Island, in the final official tests and then the first round of the championship in late February.