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.
Ducati Motor general manager...
Ducati Motor general manager Claudio Domenicali says the big changes to the GP10 Desmosedici are intended to "increase the ability of the bike to adapt to different tracks and have a more repeatable setup."
"The new engine is changed completely the character of the bike. For example, in Valencia for the race, Casey used the swingarm in aluminum with the screaming engine, the GP09. When he tried the GP10, starting with the aluminum, and after a half day changed and put in the carbon swingarm, because the swingarm is more stiff, but with the new engine stiffer is more grip. With the GP09, when put the carbon fiber swingarm is necessary have a perfect flat track, perfect conditions for grip and improve the performance compared to aluminum. But when the track is not perfect and the grip is not perfect it's not possible to use, because the bike loses grip very, very quickly. But with the new engine, wants the carbon, because is very easy to understand when lose the grip."
Hayden doesn't entirely agree with Guareschi. He said the GP10 engine wasn't that big a difference, that it was "mainly the torque on the bottom. I like the predictability and the feeling." The major difference to Hayden is that the engine has more traction, especially in mixed conditions, on cold tracks. "I mean, that's the thing, so many of our races are at tracks where it's rained all night Saturday, maybe the track is dry for Sunday," Hayden said. "But we get a lot of races where it's...I mean, how many times, how many places where it's raining off and on? Wet, dry. We hope this will definitely make it better in these conditions." There was one drawback, however. "It did hurt top speed a little bit more than I'd like; I want more top speed. And we really don't know what other guys got for the new rules too," he added in reference to the new engine rules mandating only six for the entire season, "because that's a big deal. Man, that's not a lot for 18 races." On that point he'll get no argument from Ducati general manager Claudio Domenicali.
Filippo Preziosi (right),...
Filippo Preziosi (right), the genius behind the Desmosedici, and new team manager Vito Guareschi (left), former Ducati MotoGP test rider, both carefully studied the riding styles of Stoner and Hayden when trying to determine the GP09's faults and instill solutions into the GP10.
The Ducati boss said that to increase engine life to 1600 kilometers (1000 miles) on a motor that revs to 19,000 rpm "isn't a simple assignment. Filippo (Preziosi, the genius behind the Desmosedici) and his boys had big challenges in this area, and I'd say that with time, we'll start the races with something that's radically changed from before." To Domenicali the second biggest difference was Ducati's attempt to "make the bike more rideable. This has to do with the firing order. We have a motor that, since the switch to 800s, utilized a screamer set-up. This has permitted us to have maximum power, which was very important and was probably fundamental with the results that we've had in 2007, 2008 and 2009, but at a certain point, we began to wonder whether it could be worthwhile to re-test a way that we'd already followed in the past.
"The last 990cc motors that we made in 2005 and 2006 used a big bang firing order, and this gave us important rideability. We re-tested that way, first trying it on the dyno, then with Vittoriano Guareschi in his previous role as test rider and then with Nicky and Casey. We think we have a bike for 2010 with better traction, and that therefore makes it easier for us to find a good set-up. Perhaps it's best to ask Nicky and Casey what 'easier' means in this case, but it's part of the work to in some way to increase the ability of the bike to adapt to different tracks and have a more repeatable setup."
Nicky Hayden liked the GP10's...
Nicky Hayden liked the GP10's more versatile engine characteristics from its big bang firing order, and hopes that it will improve his chances in less-than-optimum weather conditions.
As different as the engine is, the bigger change is to the chassis. Domenicali said that to make it easier to ride, they've worked to "eliminate the bike's squatting, which is why the entire rear portion of the bike was redesigned. This bike has a rear structure that carries the rider-which we call the seat support-and that also supports the swingarm. That part was redesigned to have six mounting points instead of four, and this makes the bike more rigid in some way, and guarantees a better rideability and improved rigidity."
The bike looks different; a new fairing that debuted late in the year at Estoril is less sensitive to lateral winds. "This package, in addition to a series of minor modifications to the electronics, etc., represents the improvement. We have a group of over 100 people who work continuously on the improvement of the bike, so the principal modifications are the indicators, but in reality, following the riders' input, we try to continuously adapt and improve the bike."
The GP10's revamped fairing...
The GP10's revamped fairing design is aimed at reducing sensitivity to crosswinds at speed. Hayden will be doing further wind tunnel work to help increase his top speed potential.
Nothing but the latest racing...
Nothing but the latest racing technology up front for the Desmosedici GP10, including Öhlins' latest TTX fork and Brembo carbon/carbon brakes. Bridgestone's superb racing rubber has come a long way in the span of six years.
Domenicali didn't mention the electronics, but everyone else on the team did. The mythology surrounding Stoner was that he was a master of traction control, that he could get the Desmo to the middle of the corner and whack the throttle open. He's consistently denied it and the others on the team agreed.
"Every time I go out on the bike in a session I'm always asking them to turn it down," said Stoner. "I don't like the feeling of the engine cuts because I don't get as much sensitivity out of the rear tire as when they are on. [Traction control is] better for me when the grip is terrible like in Qatar; at the very first race we had there when the track was really dirty. It gives a little bit more safety. But I find when you have too many cuts that when you pick the bike up and you want the power it is not there. It is still allowing you to slowly and progressively get on the gas and I just don't like that feeling.
"For sure it stops the bike from moving around so much but if you can understand the bike when it is moving around then I prefer to turn it down as much as I can to get as much power out of the bike as possible. That's what we need on these 800 machines because they've already not got a heck of a lot of power compared to the old 990s. If I can tone that down and do the rest myself then that's the best option." Hayden said he was in the middle of the TC spectrum. "At places I use less than other guys, but in other places more." When he uses more it's at the first touch of the throttle, then less later in the corners.
The TC is used the most at tracks that use the most fuel. Hayden said there were "a few tracks that use a lot of fuel and those are where you work the most with the electronics. The more cuts you use, the less fuel you use and things like that. If there's a certain part of the track that's not important for the lap time, you want to burn less fuel there, use it on those straightaways. So that's a bit of a puzzle to put it all together." Without having to spend much time on tire choice-there are only two Bridgestones to choose from-Hayden said he spends most of his debrief on electronics. He said the mapping is done for the start, for every corner, every straightaway, and every gear, then added, "not every single corner, because if a corner's connected and you keep the throttle open, that means sometimes you can't do different things."
Interestingly, Hayden said he uses less electronics in the wet, "because when the bike starts to cut you lose [weight] transfer, because it goes and then it just stutters. But you want a lot of transfer in the wet. Sure, when you first touch the throttle, but on the exit you want to push that rear tire in as much as possible, and the more the engine is cutting it won't deliver enough to transfer."
Guareschi said that it's easy to get too caught up in the electronics, because the "anti-spin is a sea, a big sea. Is very, very difficult. And Casey have a good, good feeling with the electronics. Now have a system perfect and they use only when is necessary, anti-spin. Anti-spin is perfect when have a good program. When is a lot, for example, the bike don't go. Lose the time.
"Is important to have anti-spin when the bike is at the maximum angle, because in that position is very easy to crash, because you don't have grip, but when you pick up the bike is necessary have a lot of power because is necessary to transfer the weight to the back wheel. And this is a very fine line. Work rider and electronics team. And this is a good balance after the time, I think. Casey have a feeling with the group. Nicky I think next year is much, much better."
Stoner is also feeling his improved health. During his exile, a doctor/nutritionist near his home in Australia saw something that suggested lactose intolerance. He was right. But by then Stoner was despondent, the illness having confounded six or seven doctors. "I thought I was finished, to be honest," he admitted. "I was really starting to get depressed and disappointed, because no one could figure it out. And I knew it wasn't in my head, because I was happy. I was refreshed, I had a holiday and it didn't fix me."
Now that it's clear, Stoner closely monitors his diet, though a brief holiday indulgence convinced him of the severity of the intolerance. Stoner said "we thought we'd be cheeky over the winter, end of last year, have a bit of fondue, things like that, because cheese has a very low value of lactose. I thought 'it's not going to affect us. It must just be when I have milk and have value things.' A week after I had the fondue, a few times, things like that, hit the floor again.
"So now we know for sure what it is. It smacks me around. If I start losing my appetite, start losing a bit of energy I think back to, 'OK, yeah, there was a bit of cream in that.' I can pretty much trace it back to lactose every time. If I stay clean, I've got no problem."
When he's on, Stoner is visibly faster in the corners than other riders, but isn't about to say much, because "if I start saying why, I look extremely big-headed, cocky and all this sort of thing. I know why I can be faster than them, I know why I'm not. I know where to improve, where not to and I do everything in my power to make sure I do it. Whether I need to improve the bike, whether I need to improve myself, I'll go out there, I'll figure out what I need and I'll fix it. And I think that's why we're there week in, week out, we're up front. And we just need a little bit more luck going my way and a little bit better management on my part."