While Ducati might not be getting a two-wheel drive system in MotoGP anytime soon, the Italians are apparently in the process of running a parallel program to its MotoGP racing effort that explores the concept of Ducati Corse switching to an aluminum twin-spar frame. Uncovered by French journalist Thomas Baujard of the French magazine Moto Journal (yes, we really wanted to make sure you knew the French were involved with this), Ducati Corse has apparently enlisted the help of a third-party chassis manufacturing and engineering firm to construct a prototype aluminum chassis.

This news plays into the fact that Ducati has absolutely no experience in making an aluminum twin-spar frame, having dropped the steel trellis design for an all carbon fiber version back in 2009. Not wanting to start from zero, like Corse did with the carbon chassis in 2009, and with the “frameless” chassis in 2010, Ducati hopes that with aid from a third party, the Italian company can come up to speed on the twin-spar design, and begin to make improvements for the GP11/GP12 for Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden.

The parallel program is a response to Ducati’s focus on both the mid-term and long-term strategies within the company. Clearly believing that the frameless carbon fiber chassis is the direction the company wants to take for the future (they are basing a street bike on the design after all), the company needs a middle option to help bridge it through the current GP11.1’s development — enter the conventional aluminum frame that Rossi has been asking for from Ducati Corse.

Talking to the press at the Brno test, Filippo Preziosi made it clear that Ducati was “open-minded and “ready to use what we believe is better” in developing the Desmosedici. Realizing that Ducati likely has better short-term solutions to its problem, but also desiring to improve on what they believe is a superior chassis configuration (this belief goes back into Preziosi’s belief that the v-twin motor is a superior engine design, due in part to the fact that Ducati can make a very light motorcycle based of the L engine arrangement), a parallel development process allows Ducati to continue refining its frameless chassis design, while making an immediate improvement with an aluminum chassis (assuming that project can ramp-up quickly enough).

Ducati’s biggest problem is that the carbon fiber frameless chassis gives feedback differently than a traditional metal chassis, making it a tough-study for riders who have had an entire career centered around a twin-spar aluminum frame design. Compounding the issue further is the fact that while carbon fiber is infinitely more dynamic and tunable than aluminum or steel, it also means that Ducati has to go through many more permutations of carbon fiber chassis parts to find the right amount of flex and feedback to accommodate what the riders are looking for in the Desmosedici. With limited resources in building all these carbon fiber parts, Ducati is having to slowly but surely not only understand its creation, but also zero in more variables than on a standard racing package.

Preziosi spoke to this sentiment when he said, “We are exploring different solutions, though I don’t think material is the key point. But for sure, shapes, stiffness, distribution of the stiffness through the length are concepts that we want to explore in order to build up knowledge. So, this is something we will do, and of course, every time you put something new in the truck, you have to compare it with the existing solution.”

While Ducati made improvements at Brno, the company is feeling a great deal of pressure from press, fans, and likely other stakeholders as to why the G.O.A.T. is not competitive on the Italian company’s MotoGP machine. Whether or not Ducati runs the aluminum frame design in competition might be a moot point, as the existence of such a project could also serve the purpose of allowing Ducati Corse the ability of saying they’ve tried everything.

Despite what direction Ducati Corse goes, at its feet there is a time period of learning required. A testing session on an aluminum dual-sparred frame GP11.2 could just as easily give Preziosi and his crew the information needed to say that developing the carbon fiber chassis will bring better results quicker than fine-tuning the aluminum chassis the company has no experience with building and developing.

Time will tell where Ducati goes on this magical mystery tour, but one thing is for certain: in November Ducati is going to have to do a lot of spinning on how its MotoGP derived chassis is an improvement over its iconic steel trellis design.

Source: Moto Journal via MotoMatters; Photo: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • duxbros

    I’m beginning to wonder at the value of MotoGP racing for Ducati when they need to abandon technology that they have championed in the past–L-twins and trellis frames–to be competitive. God forbid they should start using valve springs! Well, I guess for one they have to keep Marlboro happy or no mo’ dough. But the thought of a Ducati with an aluminum twin-spar frame makes me gag. Hell, I got upset when I saw the new Monster’s ugly stamped aluminum sub-frame. Also, I’m wondering about the design of the new “1199” superbike, since it’s supposedly quite similar to the GP bike. If the GOAT can’t feel the front, what about your average street rider? Is it going to be the new widowmaker?

  • Woody

    It comes down to the tires. The GP Bridgestones are much stiffer and, as a result of rider and team input, are designed more for the Japanese GP bikes. Conventional tires shouldn’t be a problem. If they were, you’d think they wouldn’t continue with the current design path.

  • Ken C.

    Ducati is desperate for results and at this point they are willing to try anything, except maybe the one thing that could actually save them, which is to abandon the L-twin engine. They keep trying to find a frame to suit the characteristics of the engine, failing at every turn. Yes, Stoner was able to win with it in 2007, but that was with a steel trellis frame, and since they switched to carbon fiber, the results haven’t been the same. Now with the frameless chassis, the results are even worse. If Ducati really thinks that this is the direction to go in for the future, at least for MotoGP, they should think again, and it sounds like they’re at least willing to try it out. It’s a good idea. Couldn’t hurt, right?

  • Johnny J

    So the story of Rossi’s championship winning Yamaha’s he’s been gifted (after winning titles for Yamaha) are stripped to bits at the Ducati factory could be true ……

  • irksome

    Talk to me like I’m stupid: What was wrong with the “iconic” steel trellis frame in the first place? Weight?

  • If they’re insistent on CF, than why not a CF twin-spar frame instead of Al? They’re apprently so well versed in CF by now, then they should have the know-how to apply that to a twin-spar, right? Then they’d get the better feeling they need of a twin-spar yet w/ the weight savings or whatever it is they’re seeking exactly with using only CF only…

    Anyway, I’m a transportation design student who up until now thought the Duc’s CF frameless design approach was The gift from the racing gods…so now w/ the doubt that VR46 and the other GP11 riders have brought up over this construction, I’d like to really know so I don’t ever design something like this that on paper seems like perfection but in reality absolutely sucks :-o !

  • loki

    @irksome – I’m with you on this one. Like “What the hell are they thinking?”. The Stonerhead won the 2007 title on a steel trellis frame. And god knows there’s still plenty of room for developing it further.

    They won’t be able to beat the japs at their game, I can tell you that. They will need at least a couple of years to even get close to where Honda or Yamaha are now in terms of twin-spar. As a fan, I’m sorry to see them dig this out of desperation.

    Greg is also right: I don’t know if a CF twin-spar would work, but come on, try something new! You can’t win in MotoGP by following others (especially if you’re a few decades behind in terms of experience), you have to be innovative. I’m sure there’s a better solution out there than the Al twin-spar, it just needs to be found… And until you find it, just stick to the good-ol-championship-winning-steel-trellis!

  • woww,…

  • Minibull

    The reason for abandoning the steel trellis (taken from the motomatters website) was the variation of flex in the welds. Welds are hard to get uniform in strength and flex, especially when the trellis has so many of them. Stoner said there were huge differences with every frame he got from Ducati. They could set the 2nd bike up exactly the same and the bike would handle way differently. With the CF they can dial in the right amount of flex according to their needs. Only Ducati know what the real issue is. I for one think it is the tyres. Tyres made for twin spar alu frames are not going to perform the same for a CF/stressed engine frame setup.

  • irksome

    @Minibull: That makes actual sense. Thanks.

  • Westward

    @ duxbros

    I seriously doubt your average street rider, or even someone who thinks they a capable of racing pro, will ever ride a Ducati 1199, even close to the limit enough to know the level of intricate feel that Rossi can articulate…

    Motogp is such the pinnacle of racing, that someone like Hopkins is winning races in BSB, where he could not in MGP. Checa and Biaggi are dominating WSBK, yet considered non competitive for MGP…

    I think what made Stoner so successful on the D16, is the fact that he had not been riding Twin-Spar Aluminium chassis long enough to be set in his riding style like Rossi or Melandri…

    That is why I think someone like Simoncelli might have a change of fortune should he ever find his way to Ducati Corse sometime soon…

  • Andrew Gray

    What about a cast aluminum trellis frame ?? Proven design. No welds.

  • tom g

    Kenny Roberts isn’t busy right now and he seems to know a thing or two about aluminum frame design . If you look back at the rc45, they had a 90 degree v-4 and lots of handling issues due to the weight being too far back on the bike. They even had chain issues because of the swingarm angle they had to run because they jacked up the rear to put some weight on the front for better feeling. I agree with Moto Matters that it is a combo of a long engine and too short a c-f frame.

  • Shaitan

    Ducati is desperate indeed, but that’s racing. One year you’re top dog and the next you’re on the bottom getting boned. That said, that’s what makes racing exciting… it’s ever-changing. :D

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  • loki

    @Minibull – that’s precisely why I said the trellis had still plenty of room for development. I think that, at some point, they could’ve finally cracked the nut and master the trellis-welding art perfectly. OK, in terms of weight I don’t think that this is the future. But for the moment (and I cite again Stoner’s ride to the tile on trellis in 2007) they could’ve easily stay put on that chassis for a further few years and develop alternatives in the background. I mean it’s you americans that came up with “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”, right?

    @Westward – they’re all used to aluminum frames. It’s simple: Ducati are the only ones that are different. Indeed Rossi has a lot more years on them, but then again everybody cites his ability to adapt as being one of his top qualities. I am not a Rossi fan, but if there is any rider on the grid that at this point is capable of moving the Ducati up the filed, it has to be Rossi.

    @Andrew Gray – I simply think that aluminum can’t stand the stress the steel trellis endure. I don’t have a degree in material resistance, but I logically assume that if Al would have been good enough, Ducati would’ve used it for quite some time on its roadbikes, let alone the racebikes.

  • Minibull

    @Loki: I think Stoner won that year due to the desmo valve setup, tyres tailor made for the Ducati and obviously good riding on the part of Stoner. With the desmo valves, the Ducati could reach much higher revs that the 800’s needed and therefore make much more power that the other manufacturers without any valve float. Pneumatic valves didnt come in fully until a year later for the Jap bikes, at which point, the performance gap closed right up and the Ducati could no longer piss on the others down the straights (see the Qatar race from 07…)
    With tyres that suit the Ducati’s needs, they had fewer issues with the front end washout. In the next couple of years, Bridgestone had to accomodate more of the other manufacturers as they switched from Michelin, seeing the Bridgestones that Ducati had as superior. Tyre development then has to start to look at the alu beam framed competition as well as the trellis and soon to be CF frame Ducati. Then the control tyre is announced and turns pear shaped for Ducati and their unique frame design.
    You say that the trellis welding technique had room for development…well, doesnt the CF concept? Its only been used since 09…give it a chance…besides, welds are hard to keep exactly uniform, thats the nature of them. Short of some kind of even heat bonding wizardry, dont think much will change there. We’ll see wont we ;)

  • Minibull

    Oh, and I’m an NZ’er :P

  • SBPilot

    @loki North Americans don’t type Tyres, they type Tires. lol

    @ Minibull I agree with you as with what you’ve said as well. The A&R article about Preziosi is also good, it points out interesting bits if you read between the lines. Preziozi is basically saying that although MotoGP is widely thought as “do whatever you want to make your bike fast” class, there are still a few rules, and those rules dictate designs. He believes the best designs for bikes are twin engines and carbon fibre frames, but the GP rules (including the one tire rule, minimum weight etc.) favours certain designs (Preziosi is coughing under his breath AL Twin Spar, V4’s). It’s a shame because it’s nice seeing Ducati be different, but the rules hinder their performance. Prototype racing is suppose to be exactly that, prototypes. AL Twin spar isn’t much of a prototype, they’ve been around forever now. They need to open up the rules a bit so bikes continue to advance in material use and design. F1 cars using entire CF monocques, trickled down to super cars, engine/frame mounted horizontal suspension also tricked down to super cars. This is what prototype racing does to evolve our transportation. MotoGP rules don’t do that right now.

  • ah seng

    for average joe like me and you won’t notice anything difference in a carbon frame vs aluminum twin spar or steel trellis frame
    they are racing at more than 300kmh per hour and the different over a lap is only 0.5s to 1s the most.

    so frankly speaking, how does that 1s hurt the street bikes handling and therefore the sales?

    yes, i know a lot of people buying the bike that win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
    but we cannot neglect the fact that a lot of people buying a bike is due to other reasons, brand loyalty? racers royalty?

  • Watson

    If I remember correctly, it was Bimota that were the first to bring an aluminum, twin spar frame to the marketplace with the YB series with FZ engines, even before Yamaha had started to use it on the production bikes. The groundbreaking “delta box” designs, were strictly on the racers. Tamburini had left to go to Ducati with the Castiglioni’s who had just purchased the company. Tamburini did not care for aluminum in the frame and it was he who really championed the trellis frames as can be seen on early Bimotas and carried over to MV.