Although the media spotlight does not shine as blindingly on the Ducati MotoGP effort now that Valentino Rossi has left the team, development continues and the company is working hard to improve its results in the premier Grand Prix class.
Part of that development involves the use of a “laboratory bike” with test riders Michele Pirro and Franco Battaini evaluating a constant stream of updates. Former FTR CRT rider Pirro raced the lab bike at the recent Jerez event, finishing 11th, and will compete in other races this year.
Understandably, Ducati is not overly forthcoming with details about the bike, but according to company press information it has a different frame compared with the standard GP13 model, updated electronics and other changes to improve power delivery. From pictures taken at Jerez, it’s apparent that the swingarm and exhaust are also different. The frame itself is much more raw-appearing than the standard units, a sign of more hurried manufacture, more emphasis on performance and less concern with appearance.
The altered exhaust may be just that, but it may also indicate that the engine has moved significantly in the frame in order to change weight bias. The position of the motorcycle’s centre of gravity – both vertical and horizontal – is an important parameter that affects its behaviour, and the optimum position is constantly changing as tires, riding styles and power levels continue to evolve. On a production-based bike, we can make some changes to the CG position by raising or lowering the front and rear ride heights, or moving the rear wheel in the swingarm. With some aftermarket parts, changes can be made by moving the front wheel in relation to the chassis, either by altering triple clamp offset or rake angle.
Some motorcycles, such as the Aprilia RSV4 Factory, have adjustments for engine position, but this also has a limited effect as the swingarm/countershaft relationship can be compromised if the engine is moved more than a few millimetres. Moving the wheels or engine in relation to the chassis will only get you so far, and at some point more drastic changes – an entirely new frame – will have to be made. The new frame no doubt has different stiffness characteristics compared with the standard GP13 frame, and this is another, constantly changing, design criteria that Ducati engineers are experimenting with.
Has the elaborate development plan worked? Race times for two of the three GPs held so far this year can be compared to last year, and there is definite improvement for the Ducati riders. However, the frontrunners have also shown improvement and the Ducatis remain a stubborn 25-or-so seconds off the leaders over race distance.
According to Bernhard Gobmeier, now Ducati Corse General Manager, the lab bike is just the first step in the new program. Both Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso rode the lab bike at Jerez the day following the Grand Prix, and noted improvement in corner entry. Both riders also pointed out that the changes are definitely a step in the right direction; the program may bear fruit in the next few rounds of the championship.