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.
Not all of the paddock got out on time: overbooked flights and thunderstorms caused massive delays, and left riders, teams and media stuck hanging around in airports for many hours.
Hardly the ideal way to adapt to a shift of time zones by six hours, but they have little choice. There will more than a few bewildered faces in the paddock at Brno, trying to figure out where they are and what day it is.
A quick glance around should be enough to remind them. Brno is a glorious circuit, set atop a hill in the middle of a forest. To reach the track, you drive up the narrow, winding, tree-lined roads that once formed the basis of the old street circuit.
The closed circuit that replaced those roads still retains most of that character: fast, flowing, rolling up-hill and down-dale through the trees. Where the track really differs from the public roads is in how wide it is.
The space that creates is seized upon eagerly by the riders, using it to take a number of lines through each of its corners, giving plenty of opportunities for passing.
The fact that the corners are all combinations helps: riders flick right-left, left-right, right-left again and again. Make a pass into one corner, and your rival has a chance to strike back immediately at the next.
It is a track which is made for great racing, and great motorcycle racing at that. Riders, fans and media alike all hope fervently that the financial and political problems which have dogged the Czech Grand Prix can be resolved, and we can keep this spectacular circuit.
The second day of the Misano test took place under punishing heat, with temperatures rising to 37° and track temperatures of over 60°C. Despite the heat, times continued to drop as Suzuki, Honda, and Ducati all worked further on improving their race setups.
At Honda, both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez tried the 2016 Honda RC213V, giving the bike its first run out ahead of next year. The aim of the test was to check the direction that development of the bike was taking. That, Marc Marquez said, was the wrong direction, but that is in itself useful information.
While Yamaha and Aprilia’s factory riders have already departed for a much needed vacation, the factory Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams began three days of testing at Misano on Wednesday.
Each of the three factories has their own area to work on ahead of the summer break, in preparation for the second half of the season, which resumes three weeks from now in Indianapolis.
Honda have a new motorcycle to try, though neither Marc Marquez nor Dani Pedrosa tried the 2016 version of the RC213V on Wednesday. That will have to wait until tomorrow, when both riders will get their first taste of next year’s bike.
The 2016 bike did hit the track today, in the hands of HRC test Hiroshi Aoyama. Calling it the 2016 bike is perhaps a misnomer. According to HRC team principal Livio Suppo, the bike consists of a new chassis, housing the 2015 engine.
Assen is a funny old track. And when I say old, I mean old, the event has been on the calendar since 1925, though back then there was no such thing as world championship, and the race took place between Rolde, Borger and Schoonloo, some ten kilometers east of Assen.
From 1926, it moved to a route between the villages of De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen and Laaghalerveen. The roads, forced into short straights with fast sweeping kinks and bends by the complex drainage patterns of the creeks and ditches which keep the region from reverting back to peat bogs, gave shape to the track which was to follow.
They still leave their mark on the circuit today, despite being a closed-circuit since 1955, though the track has been much shortened since then.
What remains is a track with nary a straight piece of asphalt on it. The back straight meanders between the Strubben hairpin and the fast right and long left of the Ruskenhoek, living up to its name of Veenslang, or Peat Snake.
The short stretches between the fast combinations of corners weave and flow, and the only thing keeping the front straight straight is the pit wall. As a piece of geometric design, it is a disaster.
As a race track, it is glorious, proving that the best tracks are not designed on paper, but laid out in a landscape. Mugello, Phillip Island, Assen: all great riders track, each owing a debt of gratitude to the landscape which forms them.
Over the past two years, Marc Márquez and his team have proven to be a master of strategy. They have found a number of innovations, most notably the two-stop, three-run strategy during qualifying, and the bunny-hop bike swap during flag-to-flag races.
Santi Hernandez has earned his reputation as a brilliant crew chief, and as a strategist capable of finding advantages in places where other teams simply haven’t thought of looking.
So for Márquez to first miss out on going straight to Q2, and then make a fatal error again in Q1 leaving him in thirteenth is frankly shocking.
Fast tracks are good for racing. Phillip Island demonstrates this every year, and the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is confirming it in 2015.
The mixture of fast sweepers and tricky braking sections places an emphasis on bike handling and rider ability, over and above sheer engine power. This gives enterprising riders opportunities to excel, and overcome any horsepower disadvantages they may have.
Today was a case in point. The Suzukis had shown yesterday that they were extremely fast around the Argentinian track, and Aleix Espargaro came into qualifying as a favorite to take pole.
The medium tire (the softest compound available, which the Hondas and Yamahas do not have in their allocation) gave Espargaro plenty of speed, but would it be enough to stay with Márquez? Perhaps some sleight of hand would be needed.
With the hard tire his only race option, Espargaro had some mediums to play with. Taking a leaf out of Marc Márquez’ Big Book Of Strategy, he and crew chief Tom O’Kane decided that his best hope of getting pole would be a two-stop strategy: coming in twice to change bikes, using three new tires to chase a top time.
The trouble with stealing from Marc Márquez’s Big Book Of Strategy is that you find yourself going up against the man who wrote it. It was at Argentina last year that Márquez and crew chief Santi Hernandez saw that a two-stop strategy might be possible, putting it into practice at the next race at Jerez.
“Already last year, when I finished the qualifying practice here, we spoke with the team and saw that it was possible to use three tires, because the good lap was on the first lap,” Márquez explained at the front row press conference in Argentina.
Eight years. That’s how long it has been since a Suzuki last led two consecutive sessions in the dry. It was 2007, at Shanghai, when John Hopkins topped both FP2 and FP3 on the Suzuki GSV-R. Suzuki had a great year in 2007, spending the previous year developing the GSV-R ready for the start of the 800cc class.
John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen amassed one win (in the wet), seven podiums and a pole position that season, including a double podium at Misano. That Suzuki was a great bike, but sadly, it was the last time a Suzuki was truly competitive. It was pretty much all downhill from there. Until today.
From Austin, MotoGP heads south, to the most expensive GP of the season. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit lies in one of the poorest regions of Argentina, but the economic reality is not reflected in the prices around the Grand Prix weekend.
The cost of renting a compact car from one of the nearby airports would get you a luxury vehicle at any other place. Room rate cards for even the most modest hotel look like they have been borrowed from Claridges for the week. Local businesses appear bent on extracting as much revenue as possible from the poor souls who have no choice but to attend, such as journalists, team staff, and riders.
Those (such as your humble correspondent) without a wealthy employer to cover the costs for them stay away. Many teams stay up to a couple of hours away, where accommodation prices drop from the truly extortionate to the merely pricey.
For much of the paddock, the Termas de Rio Hondo GP is a black hole, capable of swallowing money at an exponential rate.
Yet fans from around the region flock to the circuit. They are much smarter indeed, many bringing tents, vans, RVs, or even just sleeping bags in the back of their trucks.
The money saved on accommodation is well spent: the party around the circuit is stupendous, massive amounts of meat and drink being shared around all weekend. That adds real local flavor to the event, the passion of the fans being evident at every turn.
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.