Aprilia ART – A Thinly Veiled World Superbike?

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The Aprilia ART, as it has become known in the GP paddock, is so far the most competent claiming rule team package (CRT) on the MotoGP grid. Powered by an Aprilia RSV4 Factory motor that is World Superbike spec and beyond, the Aprilia ART also features a chassis that has been developed by the very same Italian company. A turn-key CRT package offered by Aprilia, if you believe the rumors circulating in MotoGP, the Noale-based company’s involvement with the ART doesn’t stop at delivery.

Rumored to be the byproduct of Aprilia’s aborted MotoGP campaign, in the World Superbike paddock the RSV4 is described as a MotoGP bike that was sold to consumers with WSBK domination in mind. Taking the World Superbike Championship in only the team’s second year in the series, Max Biaggi and Aprilia have helped perpetuate that rumor further, and currently lead the 2012 Championship as it races into Imola this weekend.

If a few years ago all the paddock gossip was about how Aprilia managed to campaign a thinly veiled MotoGP bike in WSBK, then this year the talk will surely be how the Italian factory snuck its superbike onto the MotoGP grid. Despite the irony in that statement, it takes only a casual glance at the Aprilia ART and Aprilia RSV4 Factory WSBK to see the immediate similarities between the two machines.

When the great CRT experiment started last year, there were several clear caveats as to how this adventure to “reduce costs” and “fill the grid” would work. Getting pressure from Infront Sports & Media, the media rights holder to the World Superbike Championship, it was made very clear that MotoGP’s CRTs could not be production bikes, and thus Dorna’s response was instead to have motorcycles that feature production motors in prototype chassis competing on the GP grid. Another important aspect of the CRT accord was the non-involvement of OEMs, as Dorna was keen on not seeing manufacturers enter the series by using CRTs as a sort of backdoor entrance to the Championship — this rule was made specifically with Aprilia in mind (Dorna is slow to forgive OEMs that leave the MotoGP Championship).

Fast-forward many months later, and we stand just a week away from the start of the MotoGP season in Qatar. The pace of the CRT machines is noticeably slower than that of the factory prototypes, with only Team Aspar’s Randy de Puniet able to give chase to the satellite prototype machines with his Aprilia ART CRT machine. This should surprise no one, as RdP is one of the most underrated riders in the MotoGP paddock, with the Frenchman improving his craft each consecutive season.

The Aprilia ART is also surely part of the equation as well, as it is based off the Aprilia RSV4 Factory — on the most potent production sport bikes on the market. If the rumors are true that the RSV4 is the remnants of the bike that was to replace the Aprilia RS3 Cube, then no one should be surprised that the RSV4, even near its WSBK-spec should be a potent package for MotoGP.

Adorned in 16.5″ wheels, carbon fiber brakes, and Bridgestone rubber, Randy de Puniet tested an Aprilia RSV4 Factory WSBK in good form around the Jerez circuit during last year’s testing. What was most intriguing from that event though was that the Aprilia’s frame had been taped over with black gaffer tape — covering the presumably stock frame of the RSV4, and the mounting positions/geometry that Aprilia would use to update the RSV4 for MotoGP duty.

Getting a glimpse now of the “prototype” ART frame, it is clear that there are many similarities between the WSBK and MotoGP chassis designs. Inconspicuously sharing the same swingarm as the WSBK-spec RSV4, the Aprilia ART’s chassis also has the same swingarm pivot points, rearset mounts, and welding lines. The fuel tank and air intake designs are very similar, with the only real obvious changes occurring with the ART’s bodywork.

Presumably down on power compared to the prototype bikes on the grid, the Aprilia ART’s front fairing has been noticeably made taller than the WSBK-spec version. This should give Aprilia riders better aerodynamics and a fighting chance at faster circuits like Losail and Mugello. The tail section has obviously been modified, as well as the sides of the front fairings, which cover the triangular aluminum engine mount. Otherwise, as these photoshopped images illustrate, the Aprilia ART and Aprilia RSV4 Factory are very similar machines visually, and presumably mechanically as well.

There of course should be some resemblance between the GP machine and its WSBK sibling, after all the are both based off the production RSV4 engine, and with that common thread, common elements are sure to avail. What really defines a bike as a CRT entry is its frame, so it is interesting to note that while the Aprilia ART does not have an exact copy of the Aprilia RSV4’s twin-spar aluminum chassis, the frame designs are eerily similar.

The carryovers between the two designs surely come down to two factors. First, the use of the same engine is not only going to necessitate similar mounting points on the frame, but will also require chassis characteristics and geometries to be similar between the MotoGP and WSBK machines. Second, because Aprilia is the designer of both frames, similar attitudes and philosophies on chassis construction are surely at play. Having to the solve the same engineering problems, while using the same engineering philosophies, similarities between the two machines are all but a guarantee.

Whatever the design conspiracy theories my unfold as far as the truth is concerned, it all may be for naught. With Aprilia rumored to be giving direct technical support to the CRT teams using the Aprilia ART, and let’s be clear, how could they not be supporting these teams since they designed all the principle components? Any inaction by Dorna thus far should be taken as a sign of support, and change of doctrine regarding the principle purpose of the CRT experiment.

Given that BMW has made a similar statement that it will be offering similar technical support to the NGM Forward BMW/Suter bike, it seems the line between CRT efforts and factory regimes has been blurred outright, perhaps all in the name of better lap times and a more competitive grid. Considering 8 of the 21 MotoGP bikes that will take to the grid at Qatar are CRT entries, Carmelo Ezpeleta is certainly more than hoping that his project isn’t stillborn in the 2012 season.

It also is entirely possible that Ezpeleta has turned a blind eye to some of the details regarding CRT entries in MotoGP, and begun a more pragmatic approach to closing the gap between CRT bikes and full-blown prototypes. What will be interesting to see is whether the line will get blurred further as MotoGP continues its metamorphosis over the coming seasons, and whether this means more direct factory involvement will enter into the CRT fray.

Photoshops: © 2012 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0