Former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner will be offering his GP insights on a regular basis to cyclenews.com readers… and we’re happy to have him. For more from the Wollongong Wonder, visit his website at www.waynegardnerapproved.com.au.ROSSI IN REDFirst of all, a huge happy new year to everyone. If you’re anything like me, you spent the last few weeks drinking and eating too much and are now wondering how you’re going to shed that extra kilo or two that somehow managed to materialise from nowhere. It doesn’t get any easier, does it? Anyway, I hope everyone had a safe time over the holiday break and trust you’re all set for the most eagerly awaited MotoGP season in years. Which brings me to, obviously, Ducati.It was great to finally see Valentino in Ducati colors at the official team launch last week. For what it’s worth, I actually think the yellow and red combo looks quite good. It’ll certainly stand out on the TV, anyway. As for the bike itself, I don’t think we’ll see massive changes initially. Yes, the fairing design looks quite different to last year, but it hasn’t even been in the wind tunnel yet, so I expect that aspect will change quite quickly. But fairing design is minimal stuff. The real changes will take place underneath it. What they really need now is track time, and the first test at Sepang on February 1 will be crucial. It won’t be so much about building their pace, but rather setting the right direction for the team to work in. You just don’t find something on the first day and say, ‘that’s the magic bullet to solve everything.’ It takes a long time to evolve geometry and settings, and you can bet there will not only be significant modifications after the test, but also throughout the rest of the year.I certainly don’t expect them to set the world on fire for quite a while. For the time being it sounds like Rossi’s starting to do his thing, creating a good team environment and providing a lot of direction for development. The biggest question mark continues to be his shoulder. While he’s definitely still having some issues with his recovery, I think it’s also a way of diffusing the pressure and expectation to perform right away. He’s a master of using the media and will use the injury to play for a bit of extra time until he and the bike are 100 percent. It’s a very smart way to go about it.
HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTIONAll this off-season Ducati speculation has got me thinking back to a time when I faced similar developmental issues. That was certainly the case after I’d won the World Championship in 1987 and was working on getting the new evolution of the NSR500 ready for the following year. Put simply, we went testing and had a whole lot of trouble from day one. The lap times weren’t great and the bike wouldn’t steer that well. We really struggled. Unbeknown to us at the time, Honda had gone off in the wrong direction and hadn’t told us. They’d lowered the engine and pushed the swingarm pivot point lower. As a result, the bike was a whole lot better under braking, but that was about it. We were losing drive off the corners and it was actually harder to ride.Being in this position was a real worry. You want to win. You want results. You know you can probably push for lap times, but if you’re not doing it comfortably you can’t keep that consistency up. In the end, we really didn’t get on top of the problem and understand it until later in the season. Up until this point, the Japanese still hadn’t told us what they’d done. When we finally got our heads around it, I was able to come back and win the Dutch TT by a fair margin. All this is a perfect example of what can happen when the communication isn’t there. But that definitely won’t be the case at Ducati and that’s why I expect their geometry issues to be sorted quite quickly.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
While a lot of people are getting in a flap about the fact that Yamaha haven’t found a replacement for Fiat as their naming rights sponsor for 2011, I’m not overly surprised. Yes, they are the dominant World Champion team in a sport viewed by hundreds of millions of fans, but in this economic climate, it’s still not always enough to get you over the line. I know that sounds amazing, but it’s just a fact of life. One factor in all of this is how much money they’re asking for. If they wanted to settle for less I think they’d have a queue of hopefuls at their door. However, they are the best team and they’re well within their rights to set a high benchmark. When you opt for that approach, things take much longer. They will be asking for a significant amount and sponsorship deals, especially very large ones, are always difficult to land.Some people work for years on sponsors to bring them across the line. It’s always been like that. It’s always proven problematic. It always will be. It’s all about targeting the right company with the right CEO. At the end of the day, sponsorships are all about what the big boss likes. If he likes golf, he’ll sponsor golf. If he likes motorbikes, he’ll sponsor motorbikes. It takes time to find that kind of support. Anyway, I’m sure it won’t be a problem for Yamaha for much longer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear an announcement very soon.