Ducati turns the corner with new GP12
3 February 2012
After several years of unpredictable handling from its MotoGP prototype, Ducati are confident they have 'turned the corner' with the all new GP12, to be raced by Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden during the debut season of 1000cc competition.
Ducati's introduction of a carbon-fibre frame, stressed engine and MotoGP's single-tyre rule were among the causes touted for complex handling issues that only 2007 world champion Casey Stoner could overcome.
But even the super-talented Australian was caught out from time to time and when his 2011 replacement, MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, struggled with the same front-end issues Ducati left no stone unturned in seeking a complete solution.
Major revisions introduced during last season seemed to miss the mark, but they were part of a learning process that culminated in the production of Ducati's first MotoGP machine to feature a twin-spar aluminium frame (unstressed engine).
That's the same frame concept with which Rossi won a record 79 premier-class races for Yamaha and Honda, although Ducati's unique carbon fibre swing-arm remains.
An initial version of the GP12 was tested by Rossi at Valencia last November, with a second '90% new' specification only completing its first laps in mid-January. Rossi and Hayden then rode the new machine for the first time during the Sepang test.
Speaking during Thursday's final day, Ducati Corse general manager Filippo Preziosi wouldn't divulge which of the many technical changes - including weight distribution and geometry - had finally cured the front-end problems, but did speak frankly about the factory's sense of relief.
“This test was mainly focussed on if the bike is better in the front and I can say that it is,” declared Preziosi, making his first visit to the Malaysian Grand Prix circuit.
“We have learnt that the ideas we had, regarding the reason why the bike was not giving the rider the right feedback and turning in the right way into the corner, were correct. It was not easy! These ideas were something we believed, but there is a big difference between believing and knowing...
“Now we are happy about the riders' comments. Especially Valentino, because Nicky's condition meant he couldn't do many laps. Of course we have a lot of 'homework' to do, but at least the part that is most important for the feedback of the rider is done.”
Crash.net asked Rossi (see separate story) and Hayden specifically about the front-end of the GP12.
Both confirmed Preziosi's verdict. Hayden, a factory Ducati rider since 2009, stated that even with his weakened physical condition “the front-end feeling is by far the best of any Ducati I've ever ridden.”
Its biggest drawback apparently solved, Ducati's attention is switching to corner exit, where the GP12 currently has a tendency to understeer.
“The next priority is to concentrate our effort in exiting the corner,” Preziosi confirmed. “The initial acceleration area, before the bike starts wheelieing. It is not only electronics. For me it involves engine, electronic and chassis. We have some ideas and activities.”
Indeed, Preziosi revealed that upgrades for the newly-born GP12 were going into production even before Rossi and Hayden had turned a wheel!
“The design phase of this bike was done before Christmas, after which the designers started on some new parts that are now in production. We will use these at the next test,” he explained.
One area where the Ducati seems to have an advantage over the Hondas and Yamahas is a lack of chatter (vibration) from the latest Bridgestone tyres.
But Preziosi refused to take credit for this, saying that seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi could be overcoming the problem.
“I spoke with Jeremy [Burgess, crew chief] at Valencia and he said it is rare that Valentino complains a lot about chattering,” said Preziosi. “It seems he can ride through the chattering even when they can see chatter on the telemetry.
“Chatter only becomes a real problem when the performance is limited by the chatter, not just because it is present.”
In terms of best lap time, Rossi was within one-second of the fastest rider - his stated goal - over the first two days of the Sepang test, but slipped 1.2sec back of a record-breaking 1min 59.607sec lap by Honda star Stoner during day three.
“I am not surprised by Casey's lap time, because he did a similar time with the 800 and now they are 1000cc machines,” said Preziosi. “For sure I expect a low 1min 59sec at the next test.”
Yamaha's former world champion Jorge Lorenzo, in second place, was 0.6sec ahead of Rossi.
“I am not so happy with our lap time, because there is more than one-second to Casey, but we are more near to the Yamahas than before. That is good,” said Preziosi.
The second Sepang test takes place from February 28-March 1, although Hayden will take part in the private test at Jerez one week before, providing his shoulder is strong enough.