Aleix Espargaro says he owes a big debt of gratitude to Spanish legend Jorge Martinez’s Aspar squad for helping him develop into a more competitive MotoGP rider.
The 24-year-old has been the major surprise package of winter testing with top four finishes in both Malaysia tests in Sepang last month on the new Forward Racing Yamaha machine.
And he rounded off a terrific winter schedule by topping the timesheets at the end of a non-factory team test in Qatar on Sunday night.
Espargaro has taken full advantage of new Open class regulations, with his 2013-spec Yamaha YZR-M1 prototype able to run four litre more fuel, extra engines and a super soft rear Bridgestone tyre.
Espargaro has been tipped as a podium dark horse in 2014 but he said he was only showing such strong form after receiving a great schooling in a two-year spell with the Aspar squad.
Espargaro was easily the standout rider in the CRT class on Aprilia’s ART package, but he split with the Aspar squad at the end of 2013, despite being under contract for another year.
The split has not diminished his respect for the job Martinez and team boss Gino Borsoi did to help further his career and he said: “The truth is that the two years I've been with Aspar helped me tremendously. Not only to dominate the CRT, but how I've been on the team and that’s always happy. They trusted me as if I was (Marc) Marquez and looked after me a lot. That helped me to grow as a rider and to believe that I could do it. Leaving was not easy, but I thought the Forward Yamaha would be the best bike and equipment I could have to be competitive.”