MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, ITALY, JAN 16 – In his first official engagement with the media, Bernhard Gobmeier, the incoming Ducati Corse General Manager, upheld the tradition of a former Ducati senior manager by talking at length while saying little. Technical boss Filippo Preziosi spent 46 minutes at last year’s Ducati team intro masterfully saying little of interest. Gobmeier didn’t talk as long, nor did he say much, though it wasn’t his fault. Having been on the job at Ducati Corse only a matter of weeks, he could only discuss his plans and philosophy while awaiting the first results from the track. And in a later session with a small gathering of journalists he was expansive.
Gobmeier was recruited by both Audi and Ducati after it became clear that BMW was pulling out of World Superbike at the factory level. His ability to turn the BMW World Superbike team into a proven winner was impressive. He brought in the right people, both on the technical and rider sides, to reverse the team’s fortunes. It was only a late season meltdown by Marco Melandri that prevented BMW from winning the 2012 championship. With that on Gobmeier's resume, and Audi the new owners of Ducati, it wasn’t surprising that they reached out to the experienced engineer and race manager.
Turning around Ducati will be much more difficult. The team greatly underperformed the past two years, even after spending a fortune to hire Valentino Rossi and his talented technical team. There was virtually no progress over the course of the two years in terms of results, despite significant changes to the machine. That machine, the GP12, has been only lightly modified for the first test of the season in Sepang in a few weeks time, while Yamaha and Honda will arrive with brand new bikes and the strongest four riders in the championship. Clearly, Gobmeier’s got his hands full.
New Ducati Corse General Manager...
New Ducati Corse General Manager Bernhard Gobmeier feels that the Ducati Desmosedici MotoGP development revival could take two years before it will bear fruit.
“I actually had to smile when I talked with the engineers at Ducati, because some of the wording are exactly the same what I have heard when I came on board at BMW,” the German Gobmeier said in fluent English of turning around a troubled machine. “You hear all the same things; front feeling, edge grip, wheelie, all those type of expressions. Of course, every rider has something to complain and if they stop to complain there is something wrong. I think that’s very natural. The problems of every motorcycle are mostly the same. Of course, companies, they manage to eliminate most of the problems. But you mentioned it quite right, it was a similar situation at BMW and it’s quite interesting that basically everybody has the same kind of problems.”
One thing he was adamant about was that he wasn’t going to abandon the character of the Ducati in favor of a Japanese clone. It would mean completely chucking out everything they’ve done, including the Desmodromic engine, which is the heart of Ducati. But Gobmeier does want the machine to be more rider-friendly and wants to retire the belief that it’s a bike that only Casey Stoner could ride.
Andrea Dovizioso certainly agrees. After a year on a satellite Yamaha, Dovi returned to the factory fold knowing that only a works bike can win MotoGP races. In 2012 that bike had to be a Yamaha or Honda; a Ducati hasn’t won a race since 2010, Stoner’s final year on the bike. And it’s a tall order to ask Dovi, Nicky Hayden, Ben Spies or Andrea Iannone to get to the top of the podium. In his meeting with the media a day earlier, Dovizioso saw the Desmosedici revival as a two-year project. Gobmeier agreed.
“It is a long term commitment from Ducati, it’s a long term commitment from our parent company Audi to be in MotoGP, to be in racing,” Gobmeier revealed. “Racing is the DNA of Ducati and therefore we certainly will continue along those ways, and like Andrea mentioned yesterday, of course, this year will be a strong development year, of course, with the goal of achieving results. But certainly we are, of course, aware that to catch up to the four front-runners, to catch up with the established elite of MotoGP racing, it needs a lot of work and a lot of dedication and also some time. Therefore, for sure we need some time.
“Of course, I’m an engineer myself and of course as you know engineers love to be in the technical details and love to play around but sometimes it is not good. I have learned in my life that sometimes it is better to have the real experts deal with the real expert details, rather than coming in with like half the knowledge and confusing everybody. Of course, there is some experience what I have from my previous life in different areas and I certainly will also bring input in what we are doing right now. I used to work in the past as a race engineer, as a race engine development engineer, so there is some stuff that I still know. The physics did not change the last 25 years; that’s the good thing, they always remain the same. And, of course, certain areas, certain projects I have done in the past on the engine side, on the electronics side, but also on the chassis side, I will give my input, but I will certainly ask the right questions.”
One question is why the Ducati is so difficult for most riders to master. “Certainly when you have five riders on it, (the bike) should suit every rider, so it should not be a wild beast which only Casey Stoner can ride," said Gobmeier. "I think we all agree on this and I think it’s very, very clear. Although, I must say, and this is a warning, we will never make a super-easy rideable Yamaha out of it. The Ducati will always have Ducati genes in there and we will not just copy anybody. We will stick to our heritage, to our genes, to our philosophy of how the bike is and certainly it has proven in the past that we have seen good results, but of course we will have to make it more rideable, more forgiving and more, let’s say, ‘average’ in that respect without giving up all the genes and all the good parts of the Ducati.”
One of those good parts, Gobmeier believes, is the desmodromic engine. A certain element of the paddock believes that the problem is with the engine, its size, its location, its attitude. But designing a new engine would be wildly expensive. More to the point, it would invalidate Ducati’s history.
“We don't see any reason to change an existing, very well working technology into something which is not the DNA of Ducati,” Gobmeier said. “So desmodromic is part of Ducati and we will stick to it unless some new rules wouldn’t allow us. Off course then we have to change.
“I know about some of the rumors is one of the problems about Ducati is the desmodromic," related Gobmeier. "After seeing all the facts and what I’ve seen, and also from a purely engineering standpoint, there is no reason to elaborate about this. Of course, the rules will change in 2014 first and then to a later stage in 2017. In 2017 we will be in contact with FIM, with Dorna, MSMA so that we will have rules which are suiting the sport on the one side, so we have better sport, good sport, but on the other side reducing the cost."
“Of course, everybody faces the same problems, especially small companies like us," continued Gobmeier. "For us it is even more important to control the costs in a way and certainly we are already preparing for that, and we’re preparing already for 2014, what’s required both on the engine side but also the electronics. So to be more competitive in 2014 of course. And, as you know, sometimes people forget even there is a race every two weeks, but the development for the racing has to be planned a year, two, three years ahead. That’s the strategic part of it. And of course all of this is done in the factory and of course this not so visible to all of you. Of course you’re seeing that that’s going on at the track, but there is a lot of big machinery behind it in the (Ducati) factory. And this machinery is already working on things in 2014 and 2015.”