On paper, this weekend's Austrian MotoGP should offer Ducati it's best chance yet to finally break a win drought stretching back to Casey Stoner in 2010.
The aggressive stop-go layout of the Red Bull Ring plays perfectly to the straight-line strengths of the Desmosedici, known for its peerless acceleration and top speed, plus braking stability.
Ducati riders Andrea Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso, star test rider Stoner and Hector Barbera duly swept the top four places during a recent private test
, attended by all but Repsol Honda and Tech 3 Yamaha.
The main question mark for Ducati is over rear tyre endurance, with some suggesting they could not do the 28-lap distance, a claim Iannone denied: "I use for 25-26 laps. For sure the drop in grip is big, but Michelin now have a lot of information for the race."
Indeed, the French company has decided to create two new rear tyres, using data from the test
and it remains to be seen if the Ducati will be equally as effective on the revised rubber.
Either way, both Iannone and Dovizioso were keen to play down any victory expectations.
"I ride very, very fast. Also Dovi and Casey," said Iannone. "But I don't know [if Ducati has a good chance of winning]. This was a test. Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda will work hard during the break and I think the usual strong riders will be fighting for the top."
Dovizioso added: "It's too early to speak about [winning]. I have enough experience to know that winning is always very difficult, because you need everything to be in place. You need the complete package.
"For sure our speed is really, really good compared to other tracks, but the race weekend is always completely different and the riders that are fighting for the podium and victory every weekend are always strong.
"Also we don't know how the weather will be, or the tyres, but overall our pace is really good and I'm really happy with my feeling with the Ducati. A lot of Ducati riders are fast, so it confirms this is a really good track for our bike.
“Compared to most tracks the layout looks quite easy, but nothing is easy when you are on the limit.
"Unfortunately I didn't follow anybody so I don't know exactly [where we gain on the others] but for sure we are really strong in acceleration from first or second gear, and power at the end of the straights.
"This is where we gain compared to the others. But if we check the 18 races, the layout of this track is quite particular. So we have to make use of any advantage, because in some other tracks maybe we have a disadvantage."
Iannone and Dovizioso agreed with safety concerns about the lack of run-off in certain corners, but are confident improvements will be made.
"Compared to other tracks, for sure it's different because from the grass to the guardrail we generally have more space. More metres," Iannone said, "In this track everything is more narrow. But I think for this year, for this first race, for us is very good because they have improved and changed some parts.
"The people at the Red Bull Ring believe in safety and want to develop in this way. I think at the moment we don't have many problems, for sure we always want to improve and I'm sure they'll try the best."
Dovizioso declared: “The safety in some places is not the best, especially the last corner. But we are spoke and are focussed to try and improve. In three weeks you can't do too much but I think in future there will be some changes.”
Meanwhile, following rumours that Stoner would enter the race, it will instead be fellow test rider Michele Pirro - fresh from two wins in the Misano round of the CIV Italian Superbike Championship - who gets a wild-card ride for the team. It will be his seventh appearance of the season.
“I am happy once again to race with my team after the last experiences as replacement for Petrucci and Baz," Pirro said. "I like the Zeltweg track a lot, and in the tests I was able to do about 20 laps: not a lot, but in any case enough data with which to start on Friday morning. The track seems to be favourable for the characteristics of the Ducati, and so I am sure we can have a great weekend - both Andreas and myself.”
Opening practice for the first Austrian MotoGP event since 1997 begins on Friday morning.
By Peter McLaren