Watch this space: Ducati will stream its 2018 MotoGP team presentation live from the Ducati Auditorium in Bologna on Monday, January 15, beginning at 9:30 a.m. UTC. Factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo will unveil the new Desmosedici GP.
Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati’s MotoGP bike have evolved together, and last year that partnership became able to challenge Marc Marquez and his Honda. Yet not so long ago, the clear expectation was that Ducatis would slot into the sixth through eighth finishing positions that seemed to be their permanent level. Good, yes, but not excellent.
Two basic changes separate 2017 from that era. First, Dovizioso saw that to win races was now within his reach, so reach he must. In reaching, he has recast his experience into a race-winning tool. And second, the coming of Luigi Dall’Igna as racing manager made previously “untouchable” areas of D16 design subject to change.
Jorge Lorenzo was hired away from Yamaha and needed all of 2017 in which to accomplish a reshaping of his style as complete as the task of learning to ride a bicycle that steers backward. He said to my colleague Matthew Miles after Valencia, “I never gave up.”
The lap time of each MotoGP design in the hands of its top rider is a close-knit compromise, working to its strengths and compensating for its weaknesses. There is no proven “best way.” Commenting on the test that followed Valencia, Dovizioso said, “We tried small things. Unfortunately we didn’t have the ’18 bike here to really start the season. So we just wanted to try different things to decide in which way will be the ’18 bike.”
He also noted the bike is now good and that what’s needed now is not a revolution but refinement. Asked if improved ability to turn in mid-corner is needed, he said, “I think that will be enough. If we are able to improve a little bit, it will be enough to be competitive every weekend.”
Jorge Lorenzo basically repeated his concerns from 2017 mid-season: “We need the bike to turn better, to be faster in the middle of the corner. And if the engine can be a little bit more progressive, more docile, more smooth, it will also be fine.”
Commenting on his 2017 learning process, Lorenzo said, “My instinct makes me ride as on the Yamaha. With the Yamaha, if you’re pushing too hard, you go slow. The riders who have gone faster with the Yamaha have been finesse riders. With the Ducati, it’s exactly the opposite. I have to be very aware that I have to brake later, more forcefully, to generate more weight transfer.”
A Norton Manx Has More In Common With A MotoGP Bike Than You Might Think
Have the tricks for improving cylinder filling changed?
He went on to say that he has learned to use the rear brake (something he had not done previously) and spin the tire as a part of turning. “You have to open the gas aggressively and make it slide a bit in the middle of the corner. With the Yamaha, that did not work. Maybe I won’t get to the level of cornering that I had with the Yamaha—now my cornering is about 5 kph slower [3 mph]—but I’ll make it up in other areas, like acceleration.”
Lorenzo listed those areas: “I have to make the most of our engine power and good anti-wheelie management. The good stability under braking allows me to brake later. I have to compensate for what I lose in the middle of the corner by braking later and accelerating better.”
Dovizioso summed up: “We’re still missing some things; we are not perfect. But I don’t see any of our opponents having everything in place at the moment. It will be difficult to eradicate our weaknesses for 2018, but we know exactly what we must do and where to improve.”