Aprilia’s dominance in World Championship Racing

In 1985 Aprilia entered the Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship in the 250cc class. The Aprilia 250 was built with a double-sided aluminum alloy beam frame, coupled with Marzocchi forks and a rear shock-absorber mounted on a pro-lever rising rate suspension system. The engine was built by Rotax and featured twin parallel cylinders laid down horizontally. The debut for the radical all-new Aprilia was on 23 March at Kyalami, in South Africa, where Loris Reggiani qualified 17th and finished 12th in the race. As the championship continued the bike became more and more reliable and successful, Reggiani finished in 4th at Mugello round and 3rd at both Rijeka and Imola.

After Aprilia’s success in 1985 more development on the Aprilia 250 (now named AF1) was scheduled for 1986 however development was held up when Reggiani had a serious road accident. The rider from Forlì was replaced by Manfred Herweh and Stefano Caracchi. It was not a successful year for Aprilia with Herweh only securing a few points.

1987 saw the AF1 adopt a new frame, new forks, new suspension and an engine with digital electronic ignition. The new developments produced immediate results with Reggiani securing 2nd place at Salzburg. The first victory for the Aprilia and the AF1 would come at Misano that same year when Reggiani crossed the line seven seconds in front of Luca Cadalora onboard a Yamaha. This was a very important day for Italian motorcycles, it was the first time since 1979 that an Italian motorcycle had won in the 250cc class (the previous record was held by Graziano Rossi on a Morbidelli).

The 1988 season was entitled the “Season of Transition”, the official Aprilia bike equipped with an updated engine could not keep up with its Japanese competitors and the best result the Aprilia and Reggiani would have that year was 4th in Brno. The Italian Motorcycling Federation ran a privateer bike that year with Bruno Casanova. Also in 1988 Aprilia embarked on another adventure and began developing a bike in the 125cc class. The Italia team ran that bike for the season with Corrado Catalano as its rider, Catalano rode the bike to victory in France and in Yugoslavia recorded the fastest time.

Aprilia contracted a new series of riders for 1989, Didier De Radigues and Ivan Palazzese would head up the official team whilst Manfred Wimmer and Carlos Lavado would be in the privateer team. The best result of the season for Aprilia’s AF1 was obtained by Wimmer, who finished 3rd at Salzburg. Things went much better in the European Championship, where Andrea Borgonovo began fighting for the championship. Aprilia continued their development of their 125 motorcycle in 1989 with Fausto Gresini on board, the season contained some excellent results with several podium finishes.

1990 brought about a re-launch of Aprilia Racing, with a complete restructure of the racing department. The bikes were all entrusted to external teams with direct support from Aprilia: the riders were Lavado, Wimmer, De Radigues and Reggiani. It was a season of further success for Aprilia in the 250cc class with Wimmer finished second at both Rijeka and Salzburg, De Radigues finished 2nd at Spa, and Reggiani finished third at Le Mans. In the 125cc class the Aprilia were still being represented by Italia Team and their 1990 riders included Alessandro Gramigni and Gabriele Debbia, who shone throughout the season: the 125cc was fast and more competitive. The foundations were laid for a great 1991.

The 250cc motorcycle was radically changed for the following year, the engine was extensively revised whilst the frame had large areas of carbon fibre added. The bike’s name changed too: the mythical AF1 gave way to the RS250V. The official rider in 1991 was Reggiani whilst the privateer team enlisted the skills of Pierfrancesco Chili. The new Aprilia soon proved to be an exceptional motorcycle with Reggiani taking 3rd place at Laguna Seca and Jerez, whilst Chili finished 3rd at the San Marino circuit of Misano. Victory was once again in the air and it eventually came at the historical Assen Circuit, taken by the Chili on the privateer motorcycle. At the following round which was held at the Paul Ricard circuit, Reggiani also gained a victory. Massimiliano Biaggi won the European title on board the RS250V. Whilst 1991 also brought Aprilia’s first victory in the 125cc class, it arrived with Alessandro Gramigni in Czechoslovakia, where he beat Loris Capirossi and Debbia.

1992 saw Aprilia win the World Trials Championship on board the Aprilia Climber, just a few days later Aprilia won their first World Grands Prix Championship. Alex Gramigni won the championship in the 125cc class beating Gresini and Waldmann on a Honda. The RS250V began the season well and by the fourth round Reggiani was ahead in the championship standings. The privateer team, comprised of Chili and Biaggi – and both riders were also competitive. At the Hockenheim round, Biaggi qualified in Pole Position whilst Reggiani was able to set the fastest lap in the race, but it was the final race result that held the evidence needed to prove that Aprilia had become a feared competitor in a field of Japanese machines… Aprilia took all three steps of the 250cc podium with Chili finishing 1st, Biaggi 2nd and Reggiani 3rd. Chili went onto win at Assen and Donington whilst Reggiani took victory at Magny Cours. The season closed at Kyalami which saw another all Aprilia podium made up of Biaggi, Reggiani and Chili. Meanwhile in the European Championships, Maurel took victory onboard the Aprilia in the 250cc class.

Reggiani again headed up the official Aprilia line up in the 250cc class in 1993 however Aprilia had also invited Frenchmen Jean-Philippe Ruggia and Jean-Michel Bayle to join the team. Despite consistent results all season Aprilia missed out on a World Championship that year. Ruggia took victory in Donington and Misano whilst Reggiani took victory in Brno. Aprilia and Italian rider Fiorillo won the European Championship in 250cc class.

1994 was another historic year for Aprilia they won both the 125cc World Championship and the 250cc World Championship. The official team comprised of Biaggi, Ruggia and Bayle who had all been given a newly developed RS250 which proved to be strong from the first test. Biaggi began fighting for the title right from the start of the season against the Honda riders of Capirossi and Okada. Biaggi won in Australia, Malaysia, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. In the 125cc class it was the Japanese rider Kazuto Sakata who led the field on his Aprilia, he took victory in Austria and in Spain and collected points in nearly every race. In the 1994 season Aprilia took eight pole positions and nine fastest laps. The 1994 season also saw Aprilia make its debut in the 500cc premier class with an innovative twocylinder motorcycle, the bike was ridden by Loris Reggiani who secured 7 points that season.

Aprilia was now the dominant force in both the 125cc and 250cc classes and 1995 was no different. Max Biaggi took victory in Malaysia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, England, Czech Republic and Argentina… that year he secured 10 pole positions. The other official riders Bayle and new comer Roberto Locatelli also achieved success during the season and their combined effort secured both the riders’ title and manufacturers’ title for Aprilia. In the 125cc class Sakata onboard his Aprilia took victory in England, the Czech Republic and Brazil. Aprilia’s 500cc motorcycle was still in the development phase but great progress was being made, Reggiani was able to secure 10th place in the championship ahead of various official four-cylinder bikes.

Biaggi and Aprilia took victory in Malaysia, Japan, Spain, Italy, France, England, Czech Republic, Catalunya and Australia in 1996, once again securing the 250cc World Championship for the third successive year. Tokudome took victory on his Aprilia in Indonesia, Japan, Germany and San Marino, Malaysia and England securing the 125cc manufacturers’ title for Aprilia. The 125cc rookie Valentino Rossi took victory in the Czech Republic whilst Peter Oettl took victory in Italy and McCoy in Australia. In the 1996 season the 500cc motorcycle was ridden by Doriano Romboni, who secured 23 points, but his season was affected when he suffered an accident mid-way through the season forcing him to miss several races.

Aprilia won another 125cc World Championship and Manufacturers’ title in 1997, thanks to their new recruit Valentino Rossi. Rossi dominated the 125cc class with 11 victories in 15 races. Aprilia employed two new riders for their 1997 250cc World Championship battle in the likes of Tetsuya Harada and Loris Capirossi. Harada took victory in France, Netherlands and Germany. At the end of the season Harada was in the running for the championship title, a battle that lasted until the last race of the season in Australia, but Harada despite his efforts was unable to take victory and therefore lost the championship by the narrowest of margins. The 1997 season marked a podium finish for the Aprilia 500cc machine and its rider Doriano Romboni at the historic Assen circuit.

For Aprilia, the 1998 season was a real triumph. The official Aprilia team comprised of Loris Capirossi, Testuya Harada and Valentino Rossi and by the end of the season had won 13 consecutive races, leaving only the opening race in Japan to the competitors. Loris Capirossi won the 250cc World Championship ahead of his two other team mates (Capirossi: 224 Rossi: 201 Harada: 200). The superiority of the Aprilia 250 was such, that every step of the podium was occupied by Aprilia riders four times that season; Aprilia would also secure 13 pole positions and 13 fastest laps. With the help of Aprilia’s wild card Lucchi… four Aprilias filled the complete front row of the grid in Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. It came as no surprise at the end of the year when Aprilia also took home the manufacturers’ trophy. Sakata also secured the 125cc World Championship for Aprilia.

The 1999 season was again a momentous year for Aprilia with the stupendous Aprilia RSW 250 and Valentino Rossi, this Italian combination went on to win nine races in the 1999 season. Aprilia dominance was also seen from riders Battaini, Waldmann, Jeremy McWilliams and Lucchi, at the end of the season Aprilia again won the Manufacturers’ title and Valentino Rossi gave Aprilia another 250cc World Championship. In the 125cc class, Aprilia was unable to secure another World Championship but they did take five victories that year with the assistance of Locatelli, Vincent and Scalvini. The Aprilia 500cc project was still in development and towards the halfway point of the season great inroads where being made… Harada took the machine closer to victory then it had ever been before with podium positions at both the Donington and Paul Ricard circuits, he also secured a 4th place in Mugello and Catalunya.

The 2000 season saw Aprilia enter the World Superbike Championship where they were able to showcase their technology, talent and knowledge and in the process turn many heads. Australian Troy Corser was chosen to ride the RSV1000 and took a whole five victories in the first season and four superpoles. The 2000 season saw Aprilia win the 125cc World Championship with Roberto Locatelli. The 250cc class did not provide Aprilia with any championships in the 2000 season, however this had been expected when hiring the very young rider Marco Melandri. Aprilia knew it would require a certain amount of time before their gamble would pay off, after the summer break of that year Marco would be taking podium places and by the end of the year he had secured four podiums (taking the record to be the youngest 250cc podium finisher). So while Melandri prepared for 2001, the seasoned Waldmann brought the company two wins as proof that the bike was as competitive as ever. In the 500cc class, Jeremy McWilliams from Northern Island fired the imagination more than once and added a further two podium places to the triumphs of the RSW-2 500. The 2000 season saw the end of the 500cc project, Aprilia choose instead to focus their energy, inventiveness, passion and investment into the 2002 season and the new MotoGP class which would feature 1000cc four-strokes. This was a new challenge with a technological content never before seen in the history of motorcycling. By the end of the 2000 season Aprilia would take their Grands Prix victory total to 111, plus five Superbike triumphs.

For Aprilia, 2001 was a strange season. In the Superbike Championships, Aprilia took victory in the opening and closing races of the season, however in between a series of strange races occurred that gave the clear impression that the RSV1000 could have brought home a final result much better than the fourth and eleventh that Corser and Laconi managed. The 2000 season saw Aprilia achieve three victories, three superpoles, four fastest laps and eight podium places. Aprilia also suffered a disappointing year in the 250cc World Championship, with Harada finishing 2nd behind Kato’s Honda. With the help of Harada, Melandri, Robbie Rolfo, Fonsi Nieto and McWilliams, Aprilia was able to secure 10 pole positions and five victories that year. In the 125cc class, the Aprilia presence was maintained by private teams which included both Cecchinello and Sanna both of which gave Aprilia two victories, seven podium places, three pole positions and four fastest laps that season. Lucio Cecchinello came 4th in the world championship classification, Borsoi 6th and Sanna 7th.

The 2002 season of the World Motorcycling Championships will go down in history for the record breaking achievements of Aprilia, the marque from the Veneto region of northern Italy won four of the six available world championships in the 2002 season. Aprilia won the manufacturers’ titles for both the 125 and 250 classes plus two riders titles won by Marco Melandri in the 250 class and Arnaud Vincent in the 125 class. This extraordinary year saw the two stroke machines from Aprilia’s glorious Noale Racing Section dominate on the world’s road race circuits, boosting the number of World Championships under Aprilia’s belt to 21.

Whilst Aprilia’s 125 machines won eight out of the 16 races in the championship calendar, the supremacy of Aprilia’s 250s was simply crushing. These machines won an incredible 14 out of the season’s 16 races, showing indisputable domination in the racing scene. In its relatively brief racing history, Aprilia had already accumulated 140 track victories, 59 in the 125 class and 81 in the 250 class, and has seen its riders climb on to the podium an incredible 392 times. On top of this there are the marque’s eight Superbike victories, seven Superbike Superpoles, and 16 European titles (six in 125cc racing and ten in 250cc competitions).

Aprilia again proved extremely competitive in 2003 with three world titles in the bag. The 125cc Championship was won by Dani Pedrosa on board a Honda however Aprilia took the manufacturers’ title with 10 wins out of 16 races. In 250 class Manuel Poggiali, supported by an impeccable team, walked away with a world title on his first attempt. The manufacturers’ title came as a matter of course, Aprilia marked up 14 victories with the assistance of Poggiali, Nieto, Tony Elias, Randy De Puniet and Anthony West.

2003 Aprilia entered into the new premier class of MotoGP, however the season was much tougher than Aprilia expected. The RS Cube started well in the hands of Colin Edwards and Noriyuki Haga, and even clocked up the fastest lap during the French GP. Then, after promising so much, the bike went through a development patch that only ended in the last race of the season, with Colin Edwards taking 7th place. Aprilia nevertheless closed its MotoGP season in 4th place in the manufacturers’ table behind Honda, Ducati and Yamaha, but still ahead of Suzuki, Proton and Kawasaki.

2004 will be remembered as the year that Aprilia returned to off-road racing. The technicians from Noale applied their expertise to the supermotard category with a huge and innovative project: the SXV. The SXV features a revolutionary, V-Twin heart which Jerome Giraudo pushed to a historic World Championship in the S2 category after a season of constant improvement. In the 250cc GP class, it was a difficult year which included injuries for Poggiali, whose only win that year came in Brazil, in contrast with the steady rise of Alex De Angelis. In only his first year with the 250cc, he was a frequent fixture on the podium and finished the season in 5th place. Honda took the title in 125cc class in 2004 with Andrea Dovizioso. With the performance of the Aprilia’s MotoGP machine wavering, the team was not able to consistently produce results... in addition its riders where often injured and they called upon the team to tame the horsepower of the RS Cube. At the end of a season, Aprilia finished in 6th place amongst all manufacturers.

2005 can be remembered as an extremely revolutionary year for Aprilia and can boast of competitive performances and numerous victories in every specialty where Aprilia’s presence was felt. The 250 World Championship ended with Aprilia in 2nd place in the manufacturers’ classification, separated from the leading manufacturer only by 10 points. Of the riders, Casey Stoner was the best, collecting seven victories aboard the official RSW 250 that was entrusted to Team Carrera Sunglasses. The Australian rider was competing for 1st place right up until the end. Special mentions must also go to De Puniet’s victory in England where he won aboard the Aspar Aprilia in torrential rain.

In 125cc, Aprilia finished 3rd in the manufacturers’ category. Many riders enjoyed success and among them was Mattia Pasini, racing the season with the new Totti Top Sport Team. Under the guidance of the Rome soccer captain, Mattia allowed himself a win even on the brand new track in Shanghai, the first career victory for the rider from Romagna. Another protagonist was Marco Simoncelli who fought more against his physique than his adversaries. Marco, more than 1.85 meters tall, forced the Aprilia technicians to adapt the RS 125 to his build and managed to finish on the podium in Germany.

2006 saw the commercial launch of Aprilia’s off-road machines and saw Aprilia’s presence in the in a variety of new classes which included the Supermotard S1 class. The 2006 season was also the race debut for the endurance VTwin. The RXV with Stefano Passeri onboard, immediately demonstrated itself as competitive. The engineering staff was satisfied with the two international points it earned at Tolmezzo, the solid performance at the Six International Day Enduroance in Slovakia, and they was especially pleased with the victory in the Italian race at San Severino Marche. Particularly intense and satisfying for Aprilia was the performance of Samuela De Nardi, the new European champion. On board the RSV 1000, she along with Daniele Veghini, and Federico Aliverti gave Aprilia an historic victory at the famous Suzuka 8-hour race in the Superstock category. 2006 will also be remembered for the successful performances of the Aprilia endurance team who showed off the RSV 1000 as the best motorcycle in the international road endurances races at Albacete, Suzuka, Oschersleben, and Vallelunga. Aprilia took home the 125cc and 250cc World Championships in 2006 as well as both manufacturers’ titles. The GP season has been characterised by repeated victories by two riders in particular, Alvaro Bautista in the 125 class and Jorge Lorenzo in the 250 class. Bautista became world champion on the Phillip Island circuit in Australia where no Aprilia 125 had ever crossed the line in 1st place before. This marked a special moment for Aprilia as Bautista was the first Spanish rider to win a World Championship for Aprilia. His record for the 2006 season was impressive with GP victories in Spain, Qatar, Catalunya, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Malaysia and Australia. The 250 class has had only one real protagonist this season, Jorge Lorenzo of Team Fortuna Aprilia. The rider from Palma de Majorca placed his seal on the 250cc class by qualifying in pole position 11 times and winning eight of the season’s races. In the second half of the 2006 championship, Lorenzo proved amazingly consistent, winning three races in a row, in the Czech Republic, Malaysia and Australia. With 11 pole positions in just one season, he broke the record established by Anton Mang back in 1981.

In 2007 Aprilia succeeded at a formidable task; defending the four international titles that were won the previous year. In the 250cc class, the winner was once again Jorge whilst the Hungarian Gabor Talmasci crowned himself the World Champion in the 125cc class, confirming the superb talent of the rider from Eastern Europe. 2007 witnessed an incredible triumph, Aprilia mathematically conquered the 125cc constructors' title at Misano with five races left in the season and on the same day that Mattia Pasini earned Aprilia’s 100th victory in the 125cc class. At the end of the season Aprilia had won 14 out of 17 races, a new record in international racing history that surpassed Honda's 1993 record of 13 1st place finishes. Talmacsi had competition from fellow Aprilia riders including Hector Faubel, Mattia Pasini, Sergio Gadea, Joan Olive, Pol Espargaro and Simone Corsi who also assisted in securing the manufacturers’ title for Aprilia.

The 250 championship will always be remembered as one of the better moments in Aprilia history. The eleven victories, ten 2nd places, and nine 3rd places that helped lock in victory of the constructors' title and the riders' title were not the only elements that made the season special. At Brno, the RSA 250 assigned to Alvaro Bautista and Thomas Luthi made its official debut. After only two races, Bautista was the first to cross the finish line at the Estoril circuit, winning the Portuguese Grand Prix and claiming the RSA's first victory. Yet the story of the 2007 250cc season does not end with the international triumph of Jorge Lorenzo. There were other huge protagonists like Alex De Angelis, who finished 3rd in the final classification and climbed onto the podium seven times. Alvaro Bautista will rightly inherit the legacy of the departing champions, as the young Spaniard, in his first year in the 250, immediately illustrated his talent by winning two races, and climbing onto the podium five times; results that earned him the title of 2007 Rookie of the Year. Also consistently competing with the top riders was Hector Barbera who closed out 2007 with one 2nd place finish and three 3rd places.

The 2008 saw Aprilia again win the 125cc and 250cc Manufacture Championship, however despite all efforts they were unable to secure the Riders World Championship in either class. The 125cc Championship was by Mike Di Meglio on a Derbi whilst the 250cc Championship was secured by Marco Simoncelli on a Gilera, both companies are owned by the Piaggio Group who since 2004 also own Aprilia. Simone Corsi on the Jack and Jones Aprilia finished runner up in the 125cc class whilst Alvaro Bautista on the Aspar Aprilia finished runner up in the 250cc class.

It was also in this year that Aprilia began testing the new Aprilia RSV4 Factory that would be released early in 2009 and would mark Aprilia’s return to the World Superbike Championship with Massimiliano Biaggi and Shinya Nakano on board. Another important addition to the RSV4 Aprilia Superbike Team would be Giovanni Sandi as Biaggi crew chief, Sandi was the Biaggi’s crew chief had when he won his World Championships with Aprilia in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

Thierry Van Den Bosch was able to secure the Manufacture title for Aprilia in the Supermoto S2 Championship winning five out of eight grand prix in the 2008 season. Another highlight in 2008 for Aprilia was when Alex Zanotti finished first in the 450cc class of the 2008 Pharaohs Rally in Cairo and 3rd overall whilst his teammate Angelo Barbiero finished 7th.

It was 2008 which saw Aprilia achieve the milestone of 300 victories in international competition.