This Friday silly season rumor was too good not to publish, but according to GPone (usually a very reliable site) Ducat is at least pondering closing its World Superbike effort if it means securing Valentino Rossi on a MotoGP ride. It sounds like the work of fiction, but let’s take a minute, and forget the fact that Ducati rests its racing laurels on WSBK victories, and examine this rumor a bit further before we dismiss it.
In World Superbike, Ducati is facing two major issues: the un-competitive nature of its team, and rules that favor in-line fours in WSBK racing. The first issue likely stems from the dismissal of Davide Tardozzi, whose talents are noticeably now seen at BMW, while the second issue stems from Ducati’s ties to the v-twin power plant, and the current drafting of WSBK regulations.
With the absence of Tardozzi there is a serious lack of leadership at Xerox Ducati, and the team is obviously going through teething issues as it re-organizes itself without him present. There is little question that Haga and Fabrizio are capable of winning races, if not the Championship, but at the pinnacle of superbike racing, it’s not just enough to have good riders, the support team must be there as well.
Another element to that puzzle is the racing platform, i.e. the motorcycle. Ducati has already successfully lobbied for weight concessions this season, and will likely see more concessions from the series as WSBK wears on. But the fundamental problem, running a v-twin motor, is almost surely not going to be remedied. For Ducati, racing with v-twin is tangibly linked to the brand identity, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see the company start producing in-line fours anytime soon (you might be able to hold your breath for a V4 though, but we wouldn’t suggest trying).
However as we’ve seen in the results, the in-line fours are favored very well, and have become the paddock favorite for some time now. Unless World Superbike returns to the v-twin favoring rules that brought about the TLR and RC-51 Japanese twins, its unlikely that Ducati will have a sure-footing in the series.
Neither of the issues are easy to fix, and will likely take additional seasons to rectify, meanwhile Ducati has an unparalleled opportunity to put the nine-time World Champion on its GP11 race bike. Making things more enticing is the presumption that focusing all its efforts on MotoGP, Ducati would not only be able to put more resources behind developing the Desmosedici and winning races with Rossi on-board, but also marketing itself strongly around these efforts…in perhaps a manner that makes the Ducatisti forget the Italian company has made an exodus from a series it helped build.
With the current WSBK team in shambles, and Ducati’s star MotoGP rider likely to jump ship, this is a definitive moment for the Bologna brand, and it’s not completely out of the question to see them make some decisive actions in the near future. Whether those actions would be as drastic as trading WSBK for MotoGP is up to speculation at this point, but if GPone is correct, Ducati is at least contemplating that very action.