Photography By: Henny Ray Abrams
MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, ITALY, JAN. 11 - Ducati technical wizard Filippo Preziosi had never attempted anything like it. In the span of about six months, he and his team of engineers in Borgo Panigale designed and built a brand new MotoGP race bike, the GP12 with an aluminum perimeter frame. Preziosi was justifiably proud of his team, including riders Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden. But the fact that it was an act of desperation, taken on in the heart of a disappointing season, took some of the luster off the project.
"You have to consider that usually from the concept of a bike- the calculations, the design stages, the manufacturing of the components and all of the shakedown and verification of reliability, first in the test bench and then on the racetrack until the first race-usually you need about two years," Preziosi said at his technical briefing for the Ducati Desmosedici GP12. "Now what we are doing now is to do this extremely, extremely, rapidly with forced steps, but we're trustworthy and we're convinced that we can do this successfully."
Just not in time to have the bike ready to unveil at the Ducati team intro, Wrooom 2012, in the Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio. The motorcycle with the perimeter frame was first unveiled at the post-Valencia test. It has since been updated, though no details were forthcoming, not from the riders, and not from Preziosi.
Preziosi used, as an example of how the bike was designed and how it will evolve, the distance between the axles. He made the point that it could vary from 1422 mms to 1470 mms. But if the riders preferred a bikelength closer to 1470 during testing, Ducati would use that as the baseline for the race bike. Then he added, "That's not really what we changed, because I didn't want to give you too many technical details, of course."
Asked about the angle of the V, he demurred. Asked how it sat in the chassis, he demurred. Asked the displacement, whether it was closer to 900cc of 1000cc, again he demurred. "Maybe I can answer like Rolls-Royce did about the power and they say ‘enough.' So we will see on the first straight if the displacement is enough or not. But anyway, I don't think is a key issue, because the power even with the 800 is really high. So in a lot of tracks we will use the full power and we will open the throttle wide just in the main straight. I think in all the rest of the circuit the throttle will be not completely open. But anyway, the torque is a lot different and for sure the bike will be a little bit different than the 800," which was an understatement.
The GP12 wasn't ready for the team intro, but it will be on track next week in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. World Superbike Champion Carlos Checa is shaking it down, along with Ducati test rider Franco Battaini.
"Our designers have just completed the designing of the bike, which now our staff is assembling in Bologna, but we are also working on some future developments that we are going to introduce in some cases during the winter test in Jerez, and others will be presented, instead, during the first races of the season," Preziosi said. "Surely our prospect set is defining during the winter test a solid base so as to have a solid base, a solid bike that we can use for the races to use appropriately so as to have the best possible performance on Sundays."
He continued. "Together with (Rossi's crew chief) Jeremy (Burgess), together with (Hayden's crew chief) Juan (Martinez) we now have to make the fine adjustments, so I expect this is going to be the base bike and then we're going to introduce some novelties, but they're not going to be entirely new bikes. The novelties that we hope will have a significant impact in terms of performance, but they're not going to totally upturn the concept of the bike, which is going to remain the same."
Ducati was able to test the 1000 last year because it wasn't a current year machine. A change in the testing regulations this year allows the factory riders to use their home track of Mugello to test during the season. The only limitation is on the number of tires. "So this doesn't force us, as it was last year, to sacrifice the performance of Sunday as we're using the test days of Fridays and Saturdays," Preziosi said.
Preziosi has a soft spot for Hayden, whose work ethic he's often praised. The possibility that progress could be slow might affect the team, he said. But, he added, "Ducati in its history has had beautiful years but it also had difficult years in its history. But we are used to suffering. And also Nicky has been very often for us an example. Because to have a rider such as Nicky, who's a world champion who very often found himself in positions which are not his, but in spite of this he always maintained a positive stance and a great professionalism on his part in terms of training, in terms of working within the team throughout all of these years. Well, when we have a meeting with my youngsters I say, ‘Listen Nicky is an example for us all of how results can be achieved only by continuing in times of difficulty.'"
There's no question facing off against Yamaha and Honda, both of which have decades of experience with perimeter frames, will be a breeze. No one at Ducati thinks the competition is sitting still. "To take for granted that during the winter you worked better than Honda is, of course, you'll be a bit presumptuous in thinking this," Preziosi said. "But what is important is we are fully aware that we can do it, because we have done this already in the past and to commit ourselves to work with the highest possible collaboration within the team, and we're strong in this, we're all together to achieve it."
"Now, of course, we have to convert this know-how into the only thing that counts, which is to win," Preziosi said.