The first Aprilia in the MotoGP: the RS Cube project

“In just a few months time a new era in motorcycle racing will be ushered in: the new “MotoGP” Class represents a momentous change in motorcycle racing. […] A challenge that a company such as Aprilia, which has motorcycle racing in its DNA, simply couldn’t refuse”.
“We are therefore extremely proud to unveil the most significant and costly Aprilia competition model ever produced, here today: this bike is the absolute essence of our passion, our race-winning history, our technology, our ideas and even our dreams”.

It was at the Bologna Motor Show in December 2001 that these words were loudly proclaimed and immediately picked up by the world media. When we read those words today, with the word “MotoGP” in inverted commas no less, it invariably brings a smile to our faces, but everything stated the press release was absolutely true because this really was the start of a new era. The starting point of a challenge that Aprilia still continues to take on to this very day on the world’s racetracks, still with that very same passion and dedication but above all still with that very same audacious spirit that led to the birth of the very first, and undeniably futuristic MotoGP Aprilia: the RS Cube.

A racing prototype that was totally different from all the others thanks to the manufacturer’s unique technical choices that took maximum advantage of the somewhat lax web of freshly drafted class racing regulations and driven by a very real dream that has always been part of Aprilia’s DNA, namely to think outside the box and to be audacious, in the sure knowledge that these technical solutions and this spirit are equally important out on the racetrack as they are for the company’s production bikes. In other words, bikes that have “racing in their DNA”.

THE BACKGROUND
The Head of the Racing Division at Noale at the time was Jan Witteveen, an eclectic engineer that had already overseen, amongst other projects, the development of the RSW-2 500, the two-strike twin that had catapulted Aprilia into the 500cc class World Championship. The project leader at the time was Luigi Dall’Igna. But what was the objective, you ask? Well, to make their debut in the MotoGP with an absolutely astounding bike that was a true concentrate of leading-edge technology. A bike that would be the true expression of Aprilia’s Racing Division, which would, over the years, go on to evolve step by step with the project itself.

THE ENGINE
While the frame design stuck to traditional solutions, such as aluminium, inclined dual-beam frame and fully adjustable Öhlins suspensions, everything else essentially became a launch pad for trying out new ideas, starting with the bike’s engine.
Taking advantage of the latest regulations for the Premier Class, the RS Cube was fitted with a 4-stroke, in-line three-cylinder, 990cc engine which, at the final stage of development was widely believed to be the most powerful engine of the time, with a maximum power output of 240Hp in racing trim and up to 260Hp in testing trim, and all this at over 15,000 RPM.

But why choose such an unusual engine configuration? Jan Witteveen himself provided the answer to this question during an interview: «We considered three options, namely the V-twin, the in-line three-cylinder and the V4. The first option we discarded was the V4 because we thought that was the option that most of the Japanese manufacturers would go for and, in our experience in the lower classes, we had learned that in order to beat them we had to go for something different. In addition, due to the regulations in effect at that time, the V4 would have a weight disadvantage of around 10Kg, and that for a level of performance that would be pretty much the same as that of the three-cylinder engine. Of the two remaining options, namely a twin or a three-cylinder engine, in the end we chose the latter, for three reasons. The first was that, as we said earlier, we needed to take a totally different route from what the Japanese were taking. We knew that they would never opt for a triple-cylinder engine, partly as a matter of image. Secondly, this engine that would be easy to manufacture and required a level of commitment that was comparable to what it would take to produce a V-twin engine. Lastly, this engine has a unit cylinder capacity that is much closer to that of a Formula 1 engine and the potential cross-pollination of technology would reduce testing time, as indeed was the case. Not to mention the fact that the routing of fuel lines and exhaust pipes in this kind of engine is far easier than in the case of a V-cylinder engine ».

THE TECHNOLOGY
British Cosworth worked shoulder to shoulder with the Noale technicians to take full advantage of Formula 1 know-how in order to create the engine that would stand out as the most advanced engine of its time. The 330cc per cylinder capacity in fact more closely matched that of the V10, 3.5L engines used in the single-seater racers of the time and the highly advanced pneumatic valve system was the very latest in F1 engine technology, but had never before been used in a motorcycle racing engine.

However, the advanced solutions didn’t end there: the RS Cube boasted an innovative carbon clutch system with smaller diameter discs to reduce the overall size and, in the area of electronics, the bike was fitted with one of the very first traction control systems combined with a Ride By Wire accelerator system, the latter of which was something truly revolutionary at the time but that these days graces many of today’s Aprilia bikes.