Talking to Asphalt & Rubber at the launch of the Ducati 1299 Panigale Final Edition, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali gave us some details on the Italian company’s upcoming, and long-awaited, V4 superbike.
Much has already been speculated and rumored about the successor to the v-twin Panigale, but Domenicali paints a pretty clear picture of what we can expect to see unveiled at the upcoming EICMA show, in Milan.
The big news is perhaps not the fact that Ducati is moving to a four-cylinder format for its superbike program (though that is big news indeed), but instead the focus should be on what is inside the V4 engine, and how it operates.
Talking during the WorldSBK weekend at Laguna Seca, he also teased us with some news on a few other upcoming Ducati motorcycles, which should start a new chapter for the Italian brand.
Casey Stoner got the first testing miles of his return to Ducati under his belt on Saturday. The Australian started slowly and steadily, doing a lot of short runs to get a feel for the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, on which he spent most of the day, before upping the pace later in the afternoon.
Journalists present at the test said Stoner looked a little stiff in his early laps, not getting either elbow or knee down, but soon started to relax, and look more like his old self.
He had every reason to be wary: the last time Stoner rode a race bike on the road was during the Suzuka 8 Hours, where a throttle cable malfunction saw him thrown from the bike, injuring his scapula and tibia in the process.
Furthermore, this was his first time on a MotoGP bike for a year, his first time riding the Ducati GP15 – a very different beast indeed to the GP10, the last Ducati Stoner raced – and his first time on the Michelins. Despite that, he told reporters he was very happy with how the test went.
Whether this is the last time MotoGP visits Indianapolis or not – the lack of an announcement on Sunday night suggests that this was the last time – the 2015 edition will certainly go down in history as memorable.
Race day saw the biggest crowd since 2009 head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though in a facility this vast, anything less than a quarter of a million fans is going to look empty, and all 67,000 were treated to some genuine racing spectacle.
An upside down Moto3 race, where those bold enough to gamble on slicks were duly rewarded; an old-fashioned Moto2 dogfight, where a group of evenly matched riders brawled from start to finish; and a pair of exceptionally tense duels in MotoGP, with championship positions raising the stakes even further.
The race of the day? Hard to say. All three had their own appeal. Rain and a drying track made Moto3 a weird contest, with massive gaps between the leaders, and yet still strangely exciting, because of the potential effects on the championship.
Moto2 harked back to the halcyon days of Márquez, Iannone, and Espargaro, and reminded us of why we used to love the class. And MotoGP was more about tension than straight up excitement, brains kept busy calculating the ramifications for the championship as the front four swapped positions.
That Marc Márquez ended up winning the MotoGP race should come as no surprise. The Repsol Honda rider extended his winning streak, both at the track and in the USA.
Depending on who you ask, MotoGP’s summer break is either too short, or too long. For the fans, three full weekends without MotoGP is a painfully long time, though both World Superbikes and BSB have done a pretty good job of making MotoGP’s absence much more bearable.
For the teams, riders and staff, the four weeks between the Sachsenring and Indianapolis pass in an instant, seeming way too short to qualify as a break.
In between PR appearances and negotiations for 2016, riders are lucky to grab five days R&R before getting back to training for the remainder of the season.
Team staff, on the other hand, spend their time catching up with all of the stuff they didn’t get done in the first half of the season, and try to get a head start on the second half.
What were supposed to be 23 days away from it all get eaten up by a myriad of minor tasks that had been neglected, and before they know it, they are on a plane again and heading for the next race.
Not that they mind: for 99% of the people involved in MotoGP, they are driven by a passion for racing, and being at a race track is their idea of heaven. That is why they are paid so poorly, and what makes the paddock such an inspirational place to be.
Indianapolis is a pretty good place to get back to racing, too. Downtown has a real motorcycle buzz, with bike-related activities going on throughout the weekend. Indianapolis Motor Speedway remains one of the most special motorsports facilities in the world, drenched in legend and racing history.
The prospect of a new MotoGP season always leaves fans giddy with anticipation. Their appetites keenly whetted by winter testing, and speculation over the times set at those tests, they boldly predict that this season is going to be the best MotoGP season ever. Though the racing is often good, all too often, it never quite lives up to the preseason hype.
There is every reason to believe that this year, it will be different. The bikes, the riders, the teams, the motivation, it all points to 2015 being an exceptionally exciting season in MotoGP.
At the last day of winter testing at Qatar just over a week ago, less than a second covered the top fourteen riders, and two seconds covered all but four of the MotoGP field.
A similar pattern emerged at Sepang: with the exception of the occasional hot lap by Marc Márquez, there were ten or more riders within a second of each other. Things haven’t been this close for a while.
There are some worried faces in the MotoGP paddock after the second day of the Qatar test. That the Ducati GP15s are fast should come as no surprise, after all, they were fastest on the first day as well.
The trouble is that everyone assumed that the speed of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone was down to the fact that they can use the soft tire, which is not available to Honda and Yamaha.
Despite the protestations of the two Ducati riders, who had said they spent all day on the medium tire, the same tire which the Hondas and Yamahas had used, Valentino Rossi, among others, had cast aspersions on their claims, suggesting that their fastest laps had been set on the soft tire.
They weren’t. Ducati’s official press release stated explicitly that the two Andreas had not gone anywhere near the soft tire so far, concentrating on improving the GP15 on the medium tire, the tire they will race.
Ducati’s press officer confirmed this explicitly to the Bikesportnews website. And just to check, I trawled through all the photos I could find of the factory Ducati team: through the official Ducati press website, through the official MotoGP.com website, and through a couple of other media sites. Not a single photo did I find of a tire with a white stripe, the sign of the soft tire. They really did use the medium tire.
Did they or didn’t they? That was the question after Ducati dominated the first day of the test at Sepang. Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso spent all day swapping places at the top of the timesheets, Iannone coming out on top at the end.
It was an impressive showing, but MotoGP watchers and Ducati’s rivals were quick to pass judgment: of course the Ducatis were fast, after all, they were allowed to use the soft rear tire, a concession for the Open class teams and factories who have yet to win three races in the dry. That tire is worth six or seven tenths a lap, said Valentino Rossi.
Only they didn’t use the soft tire. At least, that is what Andrea Dovizioso told reporters. He spent all day working on race setup, first on the GP14.3 to set a baseline, and then on the GP15 to work on braking set up and electronics.
Take a glance at the timesheet after the final day and it is easy to draw some simple conclusions from of second Sepang MotoGP test. Marc Márquez reigns supreme, with Jorge Lorenzo is the only rider to get anywhere near to him.
Cal Crutchlow has improved, but at the moment is only fast over a single lap. The Ducati Desmosedici GP15 is fast, but only in the hands of Andrea Iannone. Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa have their work cut out if they are to match their teammates.
Bradley Smith has surpassed his teammate, Pol Espargaro. Suzuki is close, but not quite close enough, while Aprilia is hopelessly lost.
As attractive as those conclusions are, the underlying truth is a lot more complex. Testing is exactly that, testing, and everyone is on different programs, trying different things at different times of the day.
Or as Dani Pedrosa succinctly put it, when asked if he was trying out a new strategy for qualifying during the test, “we were just trying. That’s why we are here.”
After the excitement and confusion of the first day of testing at Sepang, some semblance of normality returned on Tuesday.
Cooler temperatures and more stable weather meant that riders had much more time to do work on track, the heat and humidity not quite as oppressive as they had been the previous day. The excitement over new bikes and gearboxes had also subsided, and the hard grind continued.
If Tuesday is representative of the normal state of play in MotoGP, then it seems like there are already two favorites for the title emerging from the pack, though margins are slim indeed.
Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo were the only two riders to crack the two minute barrier, posting fast times early-on in the day, then getting back to work on 2015.
Nobody else got near, with the exception of Andrea Iannone, who piled in a quick lap at the end of the day to fall just short of two minutes, the Ducati GP15 quickly proving its worth.
If the purpose of testing in Sepang is to ensure that as little time as possible is lost to the weather, then the first day of the MotoGP test fell well short of its objectives. The Malaysian circuit sweltered under oppressive tropical heat all day, rendering most of the day of little use for testing.
With track temperatures approaching 60°C in the early afternoon, the grip disappeared, and the heat made riding a MotoGP bike a punishing affair.
Then, just as the riders returned to the track as the air began to cool, a tropical thunderstorm washed the track out, with lightning causing the session to be red-flagged for a while. It was not a day in which the teams could get an awful lot done.
That was a shame, as they had an awful lot to do. Ducati had brought the GP15 for its on-track debut, Yamaha had its fully seamless gearbox, Suzuki had unleashed a few more horses from its GSX-RR, and Aprilia had a stack of chassis and electronics solutions to test on track. With on a couple of hours of productive track time, much was left untested.
Anyone watching the presentation of Ducati’s 2015 MotoGP bike will have learned two Italian phrases: “Emozionante” and “tanto lavoro”. Both were extremely apt.
Getting from where Ducati was to where it is now with the Desmosedici GP15 had needed “tanto lavoro”, a lot of hard work, and they still have “tanto lavoro” ahead of them.
The results were “emozionante”, a fantastic word nearer to exciting than emotional. But both exciting and emotional were apt phrases. The sense of eagerness was palpable among Ducati staff at Bologna on Monday. For good reason, the GP15 presented in a long, loud, and rather meandering show is radically different from what came before.