Early in the '09 season, following the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello where he denied Valentino Rossi a home victory, Ducati's Casey Stoner made a suggestion that would transform the Desmosedici GP09. "Completely my idea, completely mine how much we did it by. All the angles, everything was my idea and I was very proud of that." Though he had won in Italy, it was in the following race at Catalunya that Stoner realized he was right. Adjustments to roadracing motorcycles are generally done in millimeters-this was an inch and then some. After Mugello, then test rider (now team manager), Vito Guareschi, confirmed Stoner's fix during a follow-on test there.
"I tried a lot of positions, 20-25 positions," revealed Guareschi. "Disaster in my head when I finish the second day. In the third day we try this solution and the bike improve a lot. After this modify is possible understand the bike. Is not necessary push the power for stay the bike in the line."
What Stoner had asked for was to raise the seat position. "We're always scraping our footpegs, we're always scraping our toes. I said, 'Look, I want to be up.' It's not what it says on the computer should be. But we decided to go up. We raised the ride height around an inch or something. I don't know what we ended up with. I know I just kept asking for a little bit more, a little bit more. We raised the footpegs so we weren't scraping those any more. And by raising the ride height we didn't need to use so much lean angle. We could take [corners] a little bit higher up in the tires, so we weren't on the edge of the tires. And picking the bike up was easier, changing direction was easier.
"And then at Laguna Seca, when I started having physical problems with my left arm, we raised the handlebar height to try and get myself more relaxed and things like this and we just continued that throughout the season and it was working well. We went from one of the worst turning bikes in the paddock with the best grip, to probably the best turning bike in the paddock with grip we're struggling with." Stoner pointed out that the Ducati always had grip. It would squirm and move, but it had grip. "As soon as we got that turning, we lost a bit of grip. So I had a few other theories with the seat that we're not going to discuss, but we put that down and that's why at the end of the season we got more grip again, because we changed a few things to do with seat and rider position, things like that. We got that little bit more traction back and that's when we come better. And I think with the new engine now, we've fixed that traction problem and are looking good."
Unfortunately any advantage gained last year was tempered by the onset of the energy-depleting ailment that would define Stoner's season. After a couple of thirds and fourths, and the 14th at Donington Park when a tire gamble backfired, Stoner was off on a three-race hiatus, during which he was poked, prodded, and measured by a seemingly endless stream of doctors.
All the Ducati riders, including...
All the Ducati riders, including satellite riders such as Pramac Ducati's Aleix Espargaro, preferred the big bang engine to the screamer powerplant after testing, helping solidify its fitment into the GP10.
Now, as the 2010 season draws near, the team has engineered Stoner's wisdom into the GP10, which all involved believe will not only be the best bike on the track, but one that will no longer be tagged as "the bike that only Casey can ride." And Stoner has his best chance since 2007 to add a second title.
Nicky Hayden enters his second season with the team certain he'll improve on 2009. His season was also improved by Stoner's discovery. The highlight was a third in the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix. Then came the test of the GP10 following the Valencia season-finale. Not only was the handling better, but the engine as well. The team tested a big bang firing order engine next to the screamer and the big bang was the clear winner among all Ducati riders, factory and satellite.
"The big difference is the character of the engine," said Guareschi. "The riders tried these two choices in Valencia and keep this decision, because the bike is more easy to understand the character. Is not the GP08 and GP09, [where] one moment the power is very peaky, is like a turbo. We built this engine [after] speaking to Nicky and Casey. And the other riders, [Mika] Kallio and [Aleix] Espargaro and [Hector] Barbera, prefer the GP10 with big bang. Me, when I try the first time the bike, is like a superbike Ducati." Guareschi said the bike was easy to ride in every aspect. "For the single lap, I try, is not a lot difference, but race distance is a big difference, especially for the stress.