The notion that a motorcycle racer would ask for less power goes against everything we know. There is no substitute for cubic inches has long been the popular wisdom, but the recent history of Ducati Corse tells a different story. The company, to this point, has been concerned with only one thing, making massive amounts of horsepower, but that has proven to be problematic. Having a motorcycle with unlimited power is a good idea for chasing a land speed record, but not for going around corners, which the new management of Ducati has discovered as they try to work their way back into a competitive position with Yamaha and Honda.
Audi and Ducati Motor Holding completely revamped the management structure of Ducati Corse, the racing arm of the iconic Italian company. They brought in former BMW boss Bernhard Gobmeier to run Corse, while bringing back old hand Paolo Ciabatti, Ducatis former Superbike boss, to run the MotoGP program. Gobmeier has extensive experience designing engines for BMWs auto division, while Ciabatti has spent the past six years helping the Flamminis run World Superbike. Now the two are working at warp speed to find out why Ducati had such dismal results the past two yearsand reversing that trend
Having been on the job only a matter of weeks, they quickly discovered that the aim of the previous Corse administration was to produce as much horsepower as possible. That works if you’re building a motorcycle for the land speed record, but not one that has to go around corners. Ciabatti was careful not to criticize former Corse boss Filippo Preziosi, while charting Ducati’s path going forward.
“Honestly, I don’t know the details because I was not there in the last six years,” Ducati MotoGP boss Paolo Ciabatti said during an interview in the Ducati hospitality in Sepang. “From what I remember when I was there that there was always a kind of idea that horsepower can never be enough. So we said, ‘Let’s make as much horsepower as possible and then we’ll kind of adjust it with the rest.’ And it was the concept of Ducati when we entered MotoGP, it was like a rocket on two wheels.
The Ducati approach was adopted at the start of their involvement in MotoGP, when they were among the first to embrace Bridgestone tires. Bridgestone would build tires for specific riders, who could then make the most of the power. But in an era of control tires, the engineers have to design the motorcycle around the tire, and having too much power creates more problems than it solves.
“The situation is now different, and with single tires you cannot ask a manufacturer to make specific tires to solve some of your problems,” Ciabatti said. “So you need to be able to use the power, and also to deliver it in a certain way which helps the rider’s confidence. In our sport a rider can still make a huge difference, luckily.”
It’s been well documented that the signing of Valentino Rossi for the 2011-12 seasons proved disastrous. Nothing the team did, including building various chassis, improved the motorcycle, and Rossi left at the end of last season for Yamaha. The motorcycle remains immune to improvement, as evidenced by the recent test in Sepang where Ducati riders Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso just snuck into the top ten.
“Now we’ve been going through a lot of meetings and trying to restart or redirect things with Bernhard (Gobmeier) and I think we have still some work to do, but I’m confident that we are working in the right direction,” Ciabatti said. “Now, if you want to talk about the results in Sepang, as the bike is what we knew it was from the end of last year, and Dovizioso is new on the bike and as you know our bike is quite different from any other bike.”
To be fair, little was expected in Malaysia since the motorcycle was 97% similar to the one ridden at the post-season test in Valencia. With Hayden and Dovizioso finishing two seconds off the pace of Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa in Sepang, Ciabatti was asked if this bike could be turned into a podium contender.
“Obviously, we are working on it,” Ciabatti said. “We are analyzing all existing data and try to improve all technical aspects of the bike, including the engine fine-tuning. I think we can also do it with the electronics. I hope I will be able to tell you soon when you can see something significantly new in our garage, but it will take some time. “
With Ducati believing that they haven’t gotten everything out of the current bike, Ciabatti doesn’t think a clean sheet design is needed for the engine and chassis.
“I don’t think we have to,” Ciabatti said of building an entirely new motorcycle. “OK, chassis is possible and is not so, I mean it’s complicated, obviously, but it’s not so complicated as redesigning a full engine, which is not in our plans at the moment. And we think that the engine needs to be fine-tuned, maybe smoothened a little bit, some of its characteristics, and the rest I think you can do it with the electronics. So I hope I will be able to tell you soon when you can see something significantly new in our garage, but it will take a few months.”
Ciabatti said parts of the engine would be re-engineered, though he wasn’t specific about which parts. The re-designed engine internals will be done to reduce top power, while increasing rider confidence.
“It’s just, I think, more a problem of a feeling you get with throttle control,” Ciabatti said. “That’s what we miss at the moment. So the riders have a hard time to feel the bike when they put on the gas in the corners and we need to solve that.”
Last year the electronics had so much power to tame, that they cut the engine more than the competition.
“Definitely, it’s kind of on-off, not so much power and then all the power together,” he said. “And, obviously, then it makes it very complicated, especially to get the feeling. So it’s a problem of working to solve that problem so that the riders have full confidence in riding the bike, obviously, and they can push harder.”
To expedite development, Ducati now has, essentially, two test teams. Former MotoGP rider Michele Pirro joined the team as a test rider for performance testing. Once a part makes it through the development process, it will go to the second team, which is more concerned with endurance testing. Pirro and the test team will be at the second Sepang test at the end of the month.
That bike is an evolution of a current bike with some concepts, Ciabatti said. A three-day November Jerez test was mostly a washout, so thats why we decided it was worthwhile to send the test team here with Michele with the development bike to prove what we think is an improvement in real conditions with all the other competitors