An exclusive interview with Marco Melandri, who will make his return to competition with the official Aruba.it Ducati team in World Superbikes next season.

Melandri, a title runner-up in both World SBK and MotoGP, has been away from racing since splitting from Aprilia halfway through a miserable 2015 MotoGP season...

Crash.net:
You're currently doing a three-day private test at Misano, is the old magic still there?

Marco Melandri:
Yeah, yeah, it's the third day today - I did Monday, yesterday and today and as for the magic; yes so much I absolutely love it. What a bike!

I'm riding the full Superbike from the test team and this is just for familiarity.

Actually on the first day we just spent some time trying to get the feel back as a rider because it's almost a year since I last rode a race bike regularly and for a racer that's a long time.

Then we spent some time getting a good position on the bike - footpegs, handlebars and things like that and yesterday we started to work on bike setup and settings to give me some confidence to be able to start riding a bit faster.

Crash.net:
How are the times looking?

Marco Melandri:
We actually did very similar times to Davide and Chaz so it's looking good.

Crash.net:
I don't believe you've ever raced the big twin before?

Marco Melandri:
That's right, this is my first time, I've ridden the road bike but never the full-blown superbike.

For me the first thing is that the power delivery is very different to the bikes I've ridden so far but having said that, the torque at low revs is great and that is something I instantly like. I think this engine character will go well with my style.

So the way the engine works is something that I liked straight away, the chassis side of things though took me some time to get used to but step by step my guys have followed my feelings and each run was better - I feel we are starting to understand the bike.

Crash.net:
When you say 'your guys' is this the same crew that you very successfully brought to BMW?

Marco Melandri:
No, no I have the full test team from Ducati, but I have been racing for a long time and I have already got experience with several of the engineers there so they already know how I work and the kind of set up characteristics I like. I can say that the way we are working in the pits has come very easily to us.

For racing I will be using the same team and crew chief as Davide is currently using.

Crash.net:
How did the Ducati ride come about?

Marco Melandri:
For me it was a strange situation because I hadn't been racing for some time and it also happened very quickly. I had heard some rumours but I was under no illusions, so wasn't necessarily expecting anything. Considering that I had been away for so long it just seemed incredible to get interest from Ducati. When I got the offer from them I couldn't believe it.

As for who contacted who - that's a long story and maybe even I don't know all of it!

Crash.net:
Would you have accepted a less competitive ride?

Marco Melandri:
No, for me it was important to come back with a team that I believed I could be really fast with.

I had some offers during the 2016 season but for me it was more important to get a competitive opportunity than just having any ride and honestly I think a factory Ducati ride is probably the best one I could imagine.

You've got to remember, I'm not 20 anymore so I've got to come back in a team that can fight for position straight away

Crash.net:
...and what kind of contract did you agree?

Marco Melandri:
It's a 1-plus-1, with us both having an option on the second year depending on performance.

Crash.net:
As an active sportsman, did you find the year away easy?

Marco Melandri:
It was actually OK because for family reasons. I've got a two-year-old daughter and I really enjoyed spending more time with her.

I was also working on a new project which will start in the middle of September. I am working on a website with my sister and a couple of other guys and as I said it will be launched in the middle of September - I don't want to give details now but if you stay in touch and follow me on the social media you'll see. All I can say is that it is to do with motorcycles, but not only racing.

Crash.net:
Did you ever think of retiring?

Marco Melandri:
Inside my head I have always been a racer, but the reality was that I didn't have a ride so from the outside you could say that I was already an ex-rider. But my internal conviction meant that when the opportunity came it was fantastic for me.

A rider always has to be ready to see the end of their career though, it happens to all of us sooner or later. For me though now is a bit early so I was very ready for this chance.

For me it was also too early because the last season I had had in racing had ended badly doing something I didn't really believe in. It was frustrating not to have a ride when things had ended in that way and I felt I was still strong.

I was really open to any possibility; a ride, a different project or even retirement - I didn't have plans, I was just waiting.

Crash.net:
What about the MV testing?

Marco Melandri:
I did one and a half days in Jerez but really that was just for fun. There was never any discussion about racing.

I also had an offer from Yamaha to race but they came to me too late, just two days before the event, and for me going racing on a new bike after not having ridden competitively for a year isn't very smart.

Crash.net:
You often mention how much time you have been off the bike, are you bike fit?

Marco Melandri:
Apparently I'm not too bad. I've been testing here for 3 days straight and I'm not feeling so bad. Sure I'm tired but I was expecting worse and to struggle more.

Even when I was away I was still training and for the last month I have been training hard so it looks like it will be OK.

Crash.net:
When you went to MotoGP in 2015, did you want to go?

Marco Melandri:
What do you think?

Crash.net:
Honestly, you didn't look very enthusiastic.

Marco Melandri:
Yes, that's true.

Crash.net:
So the problem wasn't you, it was your motivation?

Marco Melandri:
It was everything. The things that make a rider fast are the motivation and the confidence. For me this was all very low, I didn't have confidence in the bike and I didn't feel safe on it - for sure the situation wasn't the best. Given that situation, honestly, I don't think I could have done better.

But honestly I would prefer not to dwell on the past when there is such an exiting new page being turned in my career, I really want to look forward.

Crash.net:
Surely for an Italian biker getting a factory ride at Ducati is like an Italian driver getting a seat at Ferrari?

Marco Melandri:
Yeah, it's the big one. It's a special ride, the fans really love the bike and almost love the bike more than the rider, it's a great responsibility.

Even here at the test it has been pretty busy with people coming to see us ride and I'm looking forward to next season as much as I ever did in my career.

Crash.net:
Thanks Marco.

Marco Melandri:
No worries.

 

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