Casey Stoner is set to make some form of return to MotoGP. The Australian is to switch back from Honda to Ducati, taking on a role as test rider for the Italian firm. There is a chance that Stoner could also be given one or more wildcard rides on Ducati’s MotoGP bike.
One of the greatest privileges of my job is to stand at trackside and watch the riders up close. It is the ideal antidote to the malaise that can affect journalists like myself, who tend to spend too much time indoors, in the press room, in the back of garages, and in team trucks and hospitality units, endlessly talking to people in pursuit of information.
Walking out to Nieto, Peluqui, and Crivillé, Turns 9, 10 and 11 at Jerez, savoring the passion of the fans cheering as their favorite riders pass by, observing each rider closely as they pass, trying to see if I can see anything, learn anything, understand anything about the way the best motorcycle racers in the world handle their machines.
There is plenty to see, if you take the trouble to look. This morning, during warm up, I watched the riders brake and pitch their machines into Turn 9, give a touch of gas to Turn 10, before getting hard on the gas out of Turn 10 and onto the fast right-handers of 11 and 12.
In the transition from the left of Turn 8 to the right of Turn 9, you see the fast riders move slowly across the bike, while the slow riders move fast. You see them run on rails through Turns 9 and 10, before forcing the bike up onto the fatter part of the tire while still hanging off the side out of 10 and heading off to 11.
You see the extreme body position on the bike, almost at the limit of physics. It is hard to see how a rider can hang off the bike further, outside hands barely touching the handlebars, outside feet almost off the footpegs.
Photos and video barely start to do the riders justice. To experience it you need to see it from the track, and from the stands and hillsides that surround it.
As had been widely expected, Ducati will not have the GP15 ready for the first test at Sepang, in early February.
In an interview with the MotoGP.com website, due to be shown on 19th January, Ducati Corse boss confirmed that work was still underway on the all-new bike; and that instead, Ducati will be bringing an uprated version of last year’s bike, dubbed the GP14.3, to test aspects of the new design not requiring the new engine.
The delays have been trailed by both Dall’Igna and Paolo Ciabatti, speaking to the media at the Valencia test and at the Superprestigio dirt track event in December. The GP15 is a completely new bike, designed from the ground up, with a completely redesigned engine.
With so many MotoGP regulars either racing in or attending the Superprestigio in Barcelona, it was inevitable that a fair amount of gossip and rumor would end up circulating.
It was the first chance for some of the media to talk to riders who had been testing down in Southern Spain, while the presence of Ducati’s MotoGP bosses Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozzi, attending as guests of Troy Bayliss, added real weight to the debate.
I spoke briefly to Ciabatti on Saturday, asking about progress with the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 and how Michelin testing had gone. Ciabatti was optimistic about the GP15, but confirmed that it was still not certain exactly when the bike would make its first appearance on track.
It may not be ready for the first Sepang test in February, with the second Sepang a more likely place for the bike to be rolled out.
The situation at Ducati was the talk of the paddock in Barcelona. With Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, and Cal Crutchlow being linked to Suzuki. With Crutchlow having a contract for 2015, Ducati is keen to retain the services of both Dovizioso and Iannone.
Iannone is openly pushing for a seat in the factory Ducati team, and so the Bologna factory faces a series of complex contract negotiations. To check on the state of play with Ducati, we cornered Ducati Corse’s MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti.
What was meant to be just a brief chat turned into a much longer conversation, on a range of subjects. Ciabatti gave his view of the situation with Cal Crutchlow, as well as his hopes of retaining both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone.
He discussed the rumors concerning an approach to Jorge Lorenzo, and reflected on having had Valentino Rossi in the Ducati team. He gave us an update on Ducati’s plans to provide more Open bikes for 2015. And finally, he turned his attention to the return of Michelin, and Ducati’s hopes for the new tire manufacturer.
If you wanted proof that things are changing at Ducati, you need look no further than the launch of their MotoGP team.
In years past, it was an outrageously flamboyant affair, a veritable extravaganza hosted by Philip Morris to showcase their two motor sports projects, the Ducati MotoGP team and the Ferrari Formula One squad.
Held at the upmarket Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio, the event even had a proper showbiz name: Wrooom. All that was missing was an exclamation mark.
Ducati’s 2014 launch was very different. Held not in Italy, but in Munich and Ingolstadt, on premises owned and operated by Ducati’s current owners, Audi.
The team presentation at the Audi Forum at Munich airport, the unveiling of the livery in the evening, at the Audi Gebrauchtwagen Plus center in Munich, then to Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt the following day, for the presentation of the Germany company’s annual report to the press.
If the Wrooom event had been flamboyant and over the top, the 2014 launch was serious, focused, yet still stylish. It felt very much like Italy versus Germany, and Germany won.
There was another difference too. Despite the media having been present at both Sepang tests and the Phillip Island tire test, there was still some real meat for journalists to get their teeth into in Munich.
Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna, MotoGP project leader Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali, head of technical development at Audi Ulrich Hackenberg, even the riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow all had something new to add. It was much, much more interesting than expected.
MotoGP silly season this year is expected to be pretty frenetic, with just about all of the riders either out of contract or with escape clauses written into their contracts allowing them to leave at the end of 2014.
But even by those standards, the first shot in the battle sounds like madness. According to a report on the Spanish radio station Onda Cero, Ducati have tempted Jorge Lorenzo into agreeing to a precontract to race for the Italian factory from 2015 onwards.
According to the report, Ducati Corse’s new boss Gigi Dall’Igna phoned Jorge Lorenzo personally to persuade him to sign for the Italian factory. The contract on offer is reported to be tempting: Onda Cero claim that Ducati offered Lorenzo 15 million euros a season to race for them.
Lorenzo is reported to be racing for 9 million a year with Yamaha, plus a 2 million euro bonus if he wins the championship. Both Honda and Yamaha are also chasing Lorenzo’s signature for 2015, both claimed to have offered him 12 million euros a year.
Ben Spies is to retire from motorcycle racing. The shoulder injuries the Texan suffered in the past year have cast doubts over whether his shoulders will ever be strong enough to race a motorcycle again, and so Ducati and Spies have come to a mutual agreement for Spies to terminate their contract after just one year. Accordingly, Spies’ retirement leaves the second seat at Pramac Ducati vacant for 2014.
Along with the unveiling of the Ducati Corse factory team, Ben Spies, Andrea Iannone, and the rest of the Pramac Ducati team were on hand at the 2013 Wrooom event to unveil their factory-supported hardware. Continuing the close relationship between Ducati Corse and Pramac Team Principal Paolo Campinoti, the Pramac Ducati squad will help Ducati develop the Desmosidici race bike during the 2013 MotoGP season.
Though the logos may be sparse, Pramac Ducati sees the addition of Ignite Asset Management to the team’s livery, a New York-based asset management firm. Moving from the factory Yamaha team to the Ducati “junior” squad, Spies will be joined by Moto2 star Iannone, who captivated fans last year with his aggressive riding style and back-end cornering procedures.
Confirming rumors that Filippo Preziosi would be leaving his role as head of Ducati Corse, the Italian company announces today that the man responsible for BMW Motorrad’s World Superbike program, Bernhard Gobmeier, will be taking over the position at Ducati Corse. Reporting directly to Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio, Gobmeier will ultimately be in charge of all the racing projects at Ducati, including MotoGP and World Superbike.
Stepping down from his position, Preziosi will take on the role of Director of Research & Development for Ducati Motor Holding, where he will use his engineering and design talents to help develop Ducati’s next road bikes. He will report directly to Claudio Domenicali, the General Manager of Ducati Motor Holding.
On the Corse side of things, Paolo Ciabatti will oversee Ducati’s MotoGP project, while Ernesto Marinelli will be in charge of Ducati’s WSBK racing efforts with Team Ducati Alstare. Both Ciabatti & Marinelli will report to Gobmeier.