The First Steps on Ducati’s Long Road to Redemption

04/15/2013 @ 3:54 pm, by David Emmett35 COMMENTS

The First Steps on Ducatis Long Road to Redemption andrea dovizioso ducati corse qatar motogp scott jones 635x422

“This is the reality,” factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso told the media after finishing 7th at Qatar, some 24 seconds off the pace of the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. Hopes had been raised on Saturday night, after the Italian had qualified in fourth, posting a flying lap within half a second of polesitter Lorenzo.

While Dovizioso’s qualifying performance had been strong, he had at the time warned against too much optimism. The Desmosedici is good on new tires, but as they begin to wear, the chronic understeer which has plagued the Ducati since, well, probably since the beginning of the 800cc era, and maybe even well before that, rears its ugly head and makes posting competitively fast laps nigh on impossible.

The problem appears to be twofold. Firstly, a chassis issue, which is a mixture of weight distribution, gearbox output shaft layout, frame geometry, and to a lesser extent chassis flexibility. And secondly, a problem with engine response, an issue which is down in part to electronics, and in part to Ducati still using just a single injector per throttle body.

The weight distribution problem causes the bike to want to run wide at corners, making it hard to keep it on line; the throttle response issue just makes this worse, with the throttle either very harsh and aggressive, and difficult to control, or, when the revised electronics package is used to soften power delivery, makes the throttle response feel remote, and removes the connection between throttle and drive from the rear wheel.

The combination of the two means that while the bike is relatively competitive in qualifying and practice, lap times take a nosedive as the race progresses. With fresh tires, it is possible to use the power to help the bike to turn, and the extra grip new tires offer also helps mitigate the tendency to understeer. As grip levels drop off, the front starts pushing wide, and the harshness of the throttle makes it hard to control sliding at the rear, one way of helping the bike to turn.

The problem is clear from the lap times posted by the factory Ducati riders in the race. Both Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden started well, Dovizioso getting away with the leaders when the lights went out. The two men have a decent pace for the first 8 laps, running mid to high 1’56s, before suddenly slowing, losing four tenths or more a lap, as the tires start to pass their prime.

Where the lap times of the Hondas and Yamahas tend to show a slow and steady decline, the Ducati times appear to suddenly fall off a cliff.

So Ducati is still in trouble, despite the work they have done. And yet the early part of this season has given more cause for hope than has been present for the past few years. With Valentino Rossi now back at Yamaha, and Audi’s organizational shake up starting to have some impact on Ducati’s internal organization – something made even more obvious by the apparently imminent departure of Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio – Ducati Corse has been getting on quietly with the redesign of the Desmosedici which they hope will cure the bike’s biggest problems, free of the media spotlights which put so much pressure on the Italian factory.

At the Jerez test, while most of the media were milling around the factory garages of Yamaha, Honda, and Ducati – in order of media interest – one garage along from the Factory Ducati box, Michele Pirro worked with the Ducati test team on the Bologna factory’s new direction.

The three bikes in that garage were among the most intriguing machines at Jerez. Pirro had one of the 2013 bikes which would be raced by Hayden and Dovizioso at Qatar, which included the latest weight distribution updates, moving the electronics package to the front of the tank, and the fuel further under the seat, changes which have already improved the balance of the bike.

But Pirro also had a new version of the Desmosedici, with a radically different exhaust layout and a revised chassis, hinting at much bigger changes to come.

This bike is not likely to be raced by the factory riders, but it is the basis of Ducati’s future direction, Ducati staff continually referring to the machine as their “lab bike”. The ideas being tested in that machine will make their way into the next iteration of the bike, which according to sources close to Ducati suggest could be tested by the factory riders at the official test after the Barcelona round of MotoGP in June. If those changes win the approval of Hayden and Dovizioso, they could then filter through in the second half of 2013.

The first change is expected to be the introduction of two injectors per throttle body, to help improve throttle response, especially for the first touch of the throttle. Adding a secondary injector for low RPM allows the fuel to be more finely vaporized, something which is more critical at lower revs and therefore lower air intake speeds. Both Honda and Yamaha have been using two injectors for some time now, and this should allow better throttle control.

The next change will be a major chassis revamp, centralizing mass even more and reorganizing the basic packaging of engine, gearbox, fuel and frame. Whether this change will also include an altered gearbox layout for a better output shaft position, and to help shorten the engine, is unknown, but what is certain is that the Ducati will retain the 90° angle between its cylinder banks.

The revelation that Honda’s RC213V is a 90° V4 may have steeled Ducati in their conviction that there is nothing wrong with the choice of engine layout, and that the solution needs to be found in other directions. Redesigning the engine to use a different angle would have been a massive operation – at least two years, maybe more – but repackaging the current basic bottom end and cylinder layout is a much less costly exercise.

How quickly will this program begin to pay off? Without a working crystal ball (and all of the ones I acquire appear to be defective) it is hard to say. Audi will be expecting to see solid signs of progress by the end of the year, as will Phillip Morris, who continue to spend many millions of dollars on Ducati’s MotoGP program without the return of visible promotion for their tobacco brands.

A victory for Ducati in MotoGP seems improbable in 2013. But the iconic Bologna factory will need to look like a regular podium contender by the end of the year. Seen from the sidelines, they just might be on the right path again.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. jet057 says:

    Seem’s to me that who ever is calling the shot’s is also being to tight to spend cash.Fuel injecter’s,really ,some at ducati may seem that they know what there doing but like i say its a money issue w/ them boys or they would get a team of really good tech’s and supply them w/ the resource’s needed to win again.There are no more Casey Stoner’s out there that can ride the ducati beast.

  2. TB1098S says:

    Dovi’s qualifying run gave hope to disheartened Ducatisti everywhere, myself included. Audi’s influence has to reap benefits. I am optimistic that the motorsport division’s unyielding obsession with victory in the 4-wheeled world will bleed into and eventually redefine Ducati Corse. It seems that the general sense of things among the MotoGP press is one of optimism, which is much more promising than anything being said during the previous 2 campaigns. Perhaps a win or two in 2014 will start seeming reasonable before the close of 2013…I certainly hope so!

  3. JW says:

    Would’nt it be a dreadful sport if it were only 2 brands? I wish them success and hope to see them at least on a couple of podiums

  4. iCanDream4Ducati says:

    Here is my dream.

    Audi make a decent bike, woo Stoner out of retirement and there will be a legit 3 way factory battle, and 6 rider battle. This year is going to be great, but with Stoner, it will be astronomical!

  5. DucDucDough says:

    Casey Stoner = Legend

  6. tonyfumi says:

    Sadly, Hayden and Dovi will not get on the podium this year. Not a chance.

    This will force Audi to close down the program.

    In marketing terms, a predominately sports bike company can’t persist with an uncompetitive motogp team. They should have paid Stoner triple and laughed at all his jokes.

    Thems the facts

  7. MotoBell says:

    CHEAPEST DUCATI FIX OPTION? Go beg Casey to comeback.. who cares if other duc riders cant ride it – it is still better return on investment for sponsors – lets try one year of do whatever casey wants and see where the bikes gets versus fight him.

    Before some idiot starts a rossi versus stoner debate – this is not – I just motogp to be healthy into the future… we need another brand fighting up front with yam and honda – leased M1 engines or customer RCV or even a rideable desmo(at least not near term) is going to fix it – lets give the guy who won on this bike more than anyone lese the reins and see where it goes.. may be all the new talent like ianone and other may be able to follow him.

    can you imagine a grid next year with stoner on a duc and may be even pol espragaro and alexis espargaro on competitive bikes along with rossi, marquez, jorge and dani and a faster cal and bradl?

    Ducati, please for your fans, swallow your pride and go beg stoner (yeah I know he is a cry baby and has more negative things to say about the sport that made him rich and famous but the kid is entitled all bad behavior with the talent he never got resect for)

  8. smiler says:

    The solution to put someone who has retired and moved to an easier sport back on a bike he will increasingly not recognize. Piffle. No one retires to a national series in another sport then makes it back to the top of F1 or MotoGP.

    This is about VW & BMW. VW bought Ducati because BMW make bikes. On that basis VW clearly want to teach BMW a lesson as they have with cars. They were always the poor mans option.
    BMW are in WSB, so logical for VW to get into MotoGP and WSB.

    Moving the electronics and fuel are quick wins as is the injector. Whilst they work on a bigger revision for June. Sensible approach. They now have 2 solid teams with 4 good riders of differing styles and career paths. Making it possible to develop a bike that is ridable by more than one person.

    VW will make this work, they are a huge company with near infinite resources. They said 2 years and it will therefore take 2 years (being German!).

    It cannot be a surprise Ducati are not competitive. The past three years have seen Ducati focusing on making more and better bikes and cutting the link between race bike and road bike development as was the case in WSB. The Desmo in that way is not really a prototype.

    They did quite well initially punching above their weight with middling riders and the 990 engine, which as they said was 2 WSB engines.
    But compared to the resources of the Jap factories they were tiny. Lorenzo got a new chassis, swing arm, electronics package etc each race. Ducati could not compete with that. It must have been enough to keep up with the engine capacity changes alone. They were lucky with Stoner, clearly a talent to ride around the bike. But he has not consistently won on a Ducati since 2007. 2 4ht with the new frame andy tyre in 08 and 09.
    Now VW are involved then financial input as well as engineering resources and capacity will be expanded.

    Hope they do well. If they do then this will make it more difficult for BMW to enter MotoGP but provide a great alternative to Hinda and Yamahahaha. And let’s face it look at how many companies came and went in MotoGP as well.

  9. call Stoner and promote a 1-week workshop “How to ride a mofo Ducati” hahahaaha.

    Seriously… i think Duc have to start over again from zero. A totally new bike.

  10. ctk says:

    People bringing up Stoner’s reign- correct me if I’m wrong- wasn’t he dominating before they introduced spec tires? Meaning Duc was able to use tires built around the bike’s flaws. Yami & Honda had the resources and morale to make quick changes once spec tires were introduced (and it seems like Yami just has the best chassis regardless of tire)

    I think Duc can turn it around. I am hoping they try the frameless design again. Maybe utilize a front swingarm instead of forks to give the kind of flex and feel riders are used to, as well as put more weight lower and on the front end. That would set the Duc apart from other bikes for sure, but also potentially help with all their issues.

  11. David says:

    The problems with the Ducati seem quite obvious.

    Either Ducati is brain dead or they just don’t know how to build a competitive motorcycle anymore.

    Ducati is the Euro version of Harley Davidson. They need to get out of racing before they forever tarnish their image.

    Not sure why everyone thinks Audi is the solution.

    Maybe somebody could tell me how many fantastic racing motorcycles Audi have built?

    For some reason I come with….ZERO!

  12. FafPak says:

    It would be nice to see Casey back on a Ducati. But let’s remember that this Ducati is not the same bike that was introduced in 2007/2008 (relative to the competitions level). That bike though long since modified, has had development stagnated in terms of results when compared to the other manufacturers.

    Casey is a great rider and all, but it might still be a monumental task for him to come back and ride the bike as is, compared to the progress Yamaha and Honda have made. Just stating an frequently overlooked fact.

  13. SBPilot says:

    @ FafPak: Not only a frequently overlooked fact, the most important fact of all. Everyone keeps thinking Stoner can ride the Ducati, yes…the Ducati of 6 years ago. It’s not even close to the same bike. The Ducati back then was competitive, Stoner or not. Hell, Troy Bayliss WON on that bike and wasn’t even a GP regular, he was a wild card. The bike clearly was good back then. It astonishes me people are so blind and ignorant to think that Stoner could magically ride the Ducati now as if the GP13 is the identical bike to the GP7 and that the Honda and Yamaha are also the same as 6 years ago.

  14. SBPilot says:

    And for the record I am a Stoner fan and glad he won everything he won. But he’s also not the solution for Ducati. Ducati needs to accelerate their development program and it seems they are finally doing so with Pirro on a lab bike all the time and having the Jr team etc. Time will tell.

  15. Gutterslob says:

    @ FafPak
    Fwiw, Bayliss won on a 990 (the last 990 race) while Stoner won the title on the first 800 (a completely different bike), finished runner-up the second year, and continued winning races the next couple of years. But yes, I agree that the bike he rode was/is a different beast from the current 1000cc one. I think the point at which the Duc went downhill was a year after Livio Suppo left (I say a year because some of the data Suppo’s team contributed would’ve been good for at least 12 months), coupled with the spec tyre rule that meant they could no longer get Bridgestone to make tyres specifically for their bike.

  16. Anvil says:

    Begging Stoner to come back is not the way to go. It reeks of desperation and would not necessarily be good for the brand. It’s a strategic dead end.

    And, yes, why does everyone assume Stoner could win on the current bike? He was struggling with the last version he rode. He might be able to put the current bike a bit further up front, but then what?

    What Ducati/Audi is doing right now is probably the right course of action.

  17. Jake F. says:

    Somewhat unrelated, but I don’t understand why Altria Group, previously known as Philip Morris, doesn’t promote one of its many non-tobacco brands on the Ducati. They’re giving Ducati plenty of money, a ban on tobacco advertising shouldn’t prevent a company as diversified as Altria from using the team to promote some of their other investments.

  18. Faust says:

    Wait, you mean there is something wrong with the bike? You mean none of the 4 riders can post decent lap times on worn tires? You mean riders including multiple world champions and top 5 title contenders can’t win on the bike? That’s funny because I could swear everyone was saying it was just Rossi’s fault the whole time. Go figure.

  19. GaryT says:

    It sounds like Ducati may be moving in the right direction. The components believed involved have been identified rather then just referencing “feel”. Dovi being able to push for qualifying laps on new tires makes sense as Rossi in past had resigned himself to not overriding and crashing so he frequently qualified on harder rubber looking for a race setup. Stoner was the aberration in the amount of aggression he used to make the Ducati work. You’ll read numerous references to Stoner running less traction control. In the 500cc era “What was the technique that countered understeer?” Sliding the rear. I can hear the pundits pointing out tire wear as I write this, but again in the later 500 era Garry McCoy found a sliding tire did not go off 100 percent but rather plateaued. Stoner had mastered that fine balancing act to make his hybrid style work at proper times in proper corners.

  20. TheSwede says:

    @Faust

    Its wasn’t just Rossi’s fault he struggled on the Ducati, but part of it was. It’s well documented it was a hard bike to ride fast. The Duc is far from perfect.

    But he also failed as a rider. He failed to adapt himself to the bike, and/or the bike to him. He’s paid to win races and World Championships, and he couldn’t. I love Rossi but i’m just being realistic..

    I also think it was a good thing. The bike humbled him.

  21. FafPak says:

    @TheSwede

    The bike humbled him? Check.
    Failed to adapt himself to the bike/vice versa? Check.
    Failed as a rider? That’s putting it a bit harsh and I’d have to disagree.

    Ducati failed the rider(s), not the other way around.

    If you really want to be realistic, don’t blame the rider(s) for perceived failure. Blame Ducati for not being humble enough to accept that something was wrong with the machine when the riders (Stoner included!)/paddock engineers gave input and the evidence was in the data.

    So yes they all failed as a team because they couldn’t work as a team. It’s not due to one man who couldn’t pilot the GP13/12/11/10 competitively.

    I included the GP10 because it DNF/RET 5 times that year at Stoners hand. That is not correct consistency of a champion if the machine he is on is working correctly. It shows problems manifesting.

  22. sideswipe says:

    Stoner= retired. Get over it.

  23. TheSwede says:

    @FafPak

    I wasn’t meaning to sound like i was absolving Ducati of any wrongdoing. They absolutely failed to listen to their riders and produce a bike that could be ridden consistently at the front of a race.

    I totally agree that they failed as a team. Rider, mechanics, engineers, everyone involved in the task of building that GP bike shares some blame. The degree of which varies, and isn’t worth debating. But Rossi is included in that team and deserves to shoulder some of it, thats all i’m saying.

    It wasn’t just the bike, or just Rossi, but somewhere inbetween those extremes, like most things in life..

    As an aside, Stoner is gone and I don’t think he coming back, ever. Yes he rode the Duc very well, but past performance is no garantuee of future results (As Rossi’s time on the bike will tell you), and he may have well struggled just as much on the current bike as Vale did..

    But personally, I think if he came back he’d be at the front in no time. I also think if Ducati hadn’t f**ked him over during the lactose intolerance issue, he’d still be there and would still have 2 WC and be on his way to more.. Hell if he’d stayed at Honda he’d be in the hunt this year, I have no doubt..

    But could you imagine Casey on Ducati, Marquez/Pedrosa on the Honda and Jorge/Vale on the Yammy? My god.. that would be some proper racing

  24. Norm G. says:

    re: “Not sure why everyone thinks Audi is the solution.”

    because we LOVE dreaming and fantasizing on other people’s dime. it’s internet M.O. it’s bike world M.O. now merge those 2 things and you have an outcome easily predicted.

  25. Norm G. says:

    re: “The problems with the Ducati seem quite obvious.”

    only for some of us. others pointed at the 90 degree V and then millions of “internet parrots”/laymen repeated it in a disturbing display of mass ignorance. i’m sure all that was a wine and cheese picnic for the now retired preziosi.

  26. Norm G. says:

    re: “But could you imagine Casey on Ducati, Marquez/Pedrosa on the Honda and Jorge/Vale on the Yammy?”

    wait, casey has to go into battle all by his lonesome…? no wingman for the tag team…? that’s not right. even Maverick had a Goose. LOL

  27. Westward says:

    Not Stoners greatest fan, but I bet he could win if not dominate on this iteration of the bike. I also think, if Rossi had not broken his leg prior to joining Ducati, he would have been more inclined to adapt more to the bike, rather than the other way around.

    I too am fan of the frameless design. Hopefully now they have the resources to explore it further.

    Watching Marquez slide the rear of the Honda around turns at Qatar against Rossi also leads me to believe he could tame the Ducati and make the tyres last long enough to win on it.

    Iannone and Spies should be able to adapt themselves to the bike by seasons end. Dovi might be more like Rossi, set in his ways.

    I’m confident Ducati/Audi will find the solution that make them competitive…

  28. Westward says:

    Also, Ducati is no longer the organization they were prior. New management means new attitudes, it’s entirely possible to lure Stoner back. Even Suppo too.

    Stoner if smart, could cement a long lasting legacy as the Ducati champion, rather than be one of the many under the Honda banner. He could win many more championships and surpass Bayless or Fogerty as the face of Ducati Champions.

  29. Westward says:

    Least we forget, Capirossi won Motegi in 2007 on the Ducati and was on the podium regularly. He also came very close to winning the title in 2006 before being derailed by the Incident in Catalunya. Between Catalunya and Assen, had Capirossi raced at those rounds healthy, I’m sure he would claimed the 26 points needed to beat out Hayden for the title…

  30. Norm G. says:

    re: “it’s entirely possible to lure Stoner back.”

    IMpossible.

    re: “Even Suppo too.”

    not gonna happen.

    re: “Stoner if smart”

    he is smart. observe, he got the hell outta dodge trading bike world for car world. LOL no shortage of sponsors, cash, and fan support over that way. brilliant…!!!

    re: “could cement a long lasting legacy as the Ducati champion”

    well, he’s already done that hasn’t he…? is there someone ELSE who’s piloted them to their 1st and only grandprix title…?

  31. Faust says:

    I always smile when people claim the issues with the Ducati are “obvious”. It is simply not logical to assume that rational people are willing to throw away millions of dollars while simultaniously tarnishing the racing heritage of their brand if the answer to their problem was so simple. Prototype bikes are a balancing act. If you change one thing, it requires testing and data to determine the full effect. The fact that Ducati went to a more traditional frame and is experimenting with moving stuff around tells me they are trying to fix it. The fact that they had an old bike that was successful means nothing in relation to their current competition. Look at Suzuki, they used to be a major player in GP but did that have anything to do with their struggling GSV-Rs at the end of their GP program? No. Saying that Rossi “failed” to produce a workable product with the Duc without laying the blame on the bike, engineers and developers would seem to imply that Rossi is not a good development rider. I’m sure there’s some people at Yamaha who would flatly call that statement ignorant. The fact is that as the Duc evolved, it became unworkable for all the riders, including Stoner. And by the way, I can’t beleive that people would think Rossi or Hayden (two world champions) failed the team due somehow to a lack of commitment to the bike or the program. I mean really? You think people who can acheive the pinnacle accomplishment in motorcycle racing are not committed? Come on people, this is a bike problem.

    About the bike though, is it really fair to assume that Ducati can divert the development funds towards the prototypes that Honda or Yamaha can? Those companies are huge, and make everything under the sun. Ducati is not like that. Hopefully with some Audi money they can figure it out, but I mean really folks. If random people on the internet think they can tell professional race teams what changes they need to make on their bikes to win, then maybe you should think about applying to be on their race team. I’m sure all the pros would love to hear how you figured it out… slide the rear tire more?! Great idea!!!! Get real.

  32. Robert Lount says:

    Audi (Autounion.dkw) actually won a GP at Hockenheim in 1956 with a 3 cylinder 2 stroke. A 350cc design putting out 42 HP at 10.500 RPM’S. I’ll wager there were a few mechanics who thought it was fantastic.

  33. Norm G. says:

    re: “struggling GSV-Rs at the end of their GP program”

    start of the program… middle of the program… end of the program… ALL OVER the damn program.

  34. Westward says:

    @ Faust

    I have no comment for the engineering of the Ducati, I too think they will get it done.

    As for the sliding the rear tyre, that was obviously directed at me. So I will explain for those of you playing the home edition.

    I have read numerous articles about theories for why Stoner is able to win on the Ducati. Most refer to his ability to adapt to the bike. It has also been offered up that his ability to compensate for the under steer is due to his particular skill at sliding the rear tyre, to assist in guiding the bike into turns.

    Now if one accepts this theory than the ability to slide the rear tyre should support the idea that a pilot with that particular skill could be successful too.

    One of the issues the Ducati has is excessive wear on the tyres compared to the competition. In the documentary Faster, they spent time on a segment about Gary McCoy and his ability to spin or slide the tyres while going into a turn. With careful observation they found that this method, though more risky to the pilot, actually makes the tyres last longer…

    While watching a recording of the Qatar race, I noticed Marquez sliding the rear into the turns battling with Rossi, who was not. Maybe that fundamental difference in styles of riding is what makes success on the Ducati possible.

  35. Faust says:

    @Westward

    Playing the home edition? I don’t follow you since I’m not playing the sarcasm edition. I’ve seen Faster as well, and I know exactly what your talking about. Here’s the problem though, if having a rider on the bike who was used to rear end slide would solve the issue then why is it that having a guy who came from a dirt track background and is used to sliding the rear (Hayden) is not working out? Have you noticed that Dovi, who came from 125cc racing and doesn’t slide it out as much is instantly the fastest Duc on the grid? I don’t doubt that you’ve read “numerous articles about theories” but does that really mean anything? Stoner was not racing on the current incarnation of this bike, so what he did on a different model years ago is not relevant. Pay close attention to the racing at COTA, and you’ll notice that the electronic intervention on the Ducs is really preventing guys from moving the rear around as much as the Repsol machines are doing. As noted in the article above: “As grip levels drop off, the front starts pushing wide, and the harshness of the throttle makes it hard to control sliding at the rear, one way of helping the bike to turn.” Until they get that throttle/electronics balance figured out then you aren’t going to be able to slide it around.