Randy de Puniet indicated that his new CRT-spec Aprilia will be able to fight at least some of the full manufacturer prototypes after concluding the private Jerez test just 0.3sec from the Ducati of Hector Barbera.
Power Electronics Aspar rider de Puniet rode his Aprilia (ART) bike to a best reported time of 1min 40.30sec during Wednesday's third and final day.
That was an improvement of 0.6sec over the Frenchman's Tuesday best and compares very favourably with the official MotoGP lap record of 1min 39.731sec, set by Honda's Dani Pedrosa in 2010.
Backing up that performance was de Puniet's pace relative to Barbera, who had been sixth and the best satellite rider for Pramac Ducati at the official Sepang test earlier this month.
The Jerez test marked the first time that the Aprilia CRT bike had been on track with a 'full' manufacturer prototype, and in the hands of actual race riders.
Barbera, like Cardion AB's Karel Abraham, was invited to Jerez by the Ducati Test Team. The Spaniard only rode on day three and was not using 'his' bike but sharing a satellite spec GP12 with factory test rider Franco Battaini, on which Barbera set his reported best of 1min 40.0sec
No times were given for Cardion AB rider Abraham, who rode on day two and suffered a fiery fall.
Nine privateer CRT entries have been accepted for the 2012 MotoGP season, the first of 1000cc racing. But with the best CRT of Colin Edwards (Suter-BMW) over five-seconds from the front during the Sepang test - not attended by ART teams - concerns have continued about the performance difference between the two types of bikes.
de Puniet's pace relative to Barbera should help ease those fears, and the rider himself was certainly pleased, although a complete gauge of the CRT field won't be possible until the full 2012 grid tests together - with official timing - at Jerez from March 23-25.
"We worked very hard and have significantly improved grip at the rear," said de Puniet, who concentrated on electronic and suspension changes. "All of our changes today have been in the right direction and we have gained six tenths over yesterday.
"We are starting to set interesting lap times. I am delighted with these three days, which have been very productive. We still need a little more power and manoeuvrability, but at this stage I am pleasantly surprised at the potential of this bike. Now it is time to reflect before our next private test at Motorland."
Third fastest on Wednesday was de Puniet's team-mate Aleix Espargaro, 1.3sec from Barbera, with Speed Master's Mattia Pasini a further 0.2sec back on his ART bike.
Three tenths from Pasini was the Aprilia-powered Ioda of fellow Italian Danilo Petrucci, while James Ellison was 0.9sec from Pasini and 2.5sec from Barbera on his PBM ART debut.
Aspar's Motorland Aragon test will be held on March 8-9, while the next official MotoGP test - to be attended by all twelve manufacturer bikes and some CRTs - will take place at Sepang from February 28-March 1.
CRT bikes - whose engines can theoretically be 'claimed' for 20,000 euros, a 'threat' designed to limit expensive or confidential technology - will be allowed six extra engine changes this season and three litres more fuel per race, relative to the manufacturer bikes.
Four of the nine CRT entries have chosen the ART bike, which is based on Aprilia's RSV4 Superbike.