Ducati has a long history of racing and a huge part of this little company's gigantic global appeal finds its rooting in the impeccable record this Borgo Panigale based company has on the World Superbike circuit. The Red Ducati shade is as iconic as the famous red racing colours of its neighbour Italian manufacturer at Maranello, known as Ferrari. Ducati, the one exotic motorcycle manufacturer which throughout its history, envisioned and pursued out of the box thinking and has succeeded in creating niche between classes or just creating classes that never existed before, in the likes of its Incredible Monster street naked's and the now iconic Multistrada.
However, the history of Ducati in the MotoGP arena has been an affair that has seen some great highs and then some seriously low points too. Ever since the absolute bonkers and maniacal 500cc 2-Stroke GP machines paved way for the saner (more or less) 1000cc 4-Strokes mills in 2003, and the present MotoGP got its name. The 1000cc 4-Strokes suited the Ducati's well where the brilliant desmodromic valve arrangement unique to the Ducati's made it possible to run engines at insanely high rpm's. These made the Ducati MotoGP bikes ferociously powerful and yes incredibly hard to handle too. With a few good results under Loris Capirossi the 4 year stint of the 1000cc 4-stroke era, Ducati had made a whole new lot of fans but also, made a statement to its rivals of the might of Honda and Yamaha that Ducati is going to fight punch with a punch with factories much more powerful and grander than the small little Italian firm in the motor valley. Though, all the riders who rode the Ducati GP machine complained of a bike that had supreme power but was hard to turn, the bike suffered from a substantial understeer.
The Highest point for Ducati till date at the MotoGP paddock came when, the Marlboro sponsored factory Ducati effort added a new rider to its team, a certain Casey Stoner, who had ridden for the Satellite Honda LCR Team in 2006. What followed, is what great legends and legacies are made of, when Casey Stoner won the 2007 MotoGP World Championship in his rookie year with a factory team. In a step to decrease the outright speeds the 1000cc Gp machines were easily touching, MotoGP had shifted to a 800cc era in 2007. The 800cc 4-Stroke Ducati that Casey Stoner had ridden in 2007 to bring Ducati's first and only MotoGP world championship, was designed by the genius talent Fillipo Preziosi, a brilliant race mind and a dedicated true passionate rider was confined to a wheelchair after an unfortunate accident rendering him mostly paralyzed.
The 800cc Ducati's were stupendously fast and powerful, but the bikes still suffered from a chronic understeer that Casey and his teammate Nicky Hayden had constantly objected and reported about. The years kept passing and the Ducati kept suffering because of its biggest weakness, understeer. By now, it was a known fact that, it is only the meteoric sublime talent of Casey Stoner that can make the Ducati work and that in truth makes Ducati a force to reckon with every race weekend. However, Casey left Ducati in a shock announcement to join Honda from season of 2011, in which he won his second championship title and first for Honda in many many years.
However, on the other side, Casey's departure and coming of a certain "Doctor' Valentino Rossi on board Ducati Corse MotoGP effort showed in a better light, just how much the bike suffered from lack of development. The inherent chronic understeer of the Ducati made Valentino Rossi , who is arguably the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), look like a shadow of famous talent. The Two Years Rossi had spent at Ducati Garage, proved the absolute inability of the great rider to understand the Ducati, which was a clear cut indication that Ducati needed to take desperate measures to save its MotoGP effort or else it will have to reconsider participating at this level very soon. With no win coming in from the Great Valentino Rossi in his 2 year stint at Ducati, the Italian company found itself on the wrong side of the global race news and discussions every race weekend and then some for weekends too. Whereas, the Rossi's Ducati debacle made sure that Casey Stoner rose to a monumental level of respect among the paddock and the MotoGP fans, that will never diminish, but it also, left a bad mark on Ducati's ability to compete in the premier class.
What followed after the much famous and talked about departure of Valentino Rossi from the Ducati Corse to Yamaha in 2013, was a long treacherous road to regaining momentum and improving for Ducati's MotoGP ambition. The new owners of the Italian manufacturer, Audi, had now understood its acquisition better and had publicly declared that they would make sure Ducati get whatever help it may need to come back to its winning ways. What came after that was a series of changes in the Ducati Corse Team, but everyone knew, Ducati needed a new bike, and all new bike and needed it desperately.
Back in 2014, Ducati Corse got its new Race Head in Gigi Dall’Igna, who has been the head for Aprilia's WSBK effort and was known to create a bike that worked wonders for Aprilia. The first thing Gigi did was to make sure that the communication channels were shortened and streamlined between different department at Ducati Corse and the plant back at Ducati HQ. Then During all of the season of 2014, Gigi went around doing tinkering to the GP14 where as much as 3 version came out to race in a single race season, the GP14.3 being the most improved Ducati in a long long time. However, Ducati needed an all new bike, a bike on which work was being done rigorously back at the factory, it was a bike that was being developed for the 2015 MotoGP.
In a nutshell, the main issue with the Ducati was the V4 Desmodromic engine, or rather the size and angle of it at which it was fixed into the bike. The V4 Desmo engine was never short on power and speed, in fact it was still one of the fastest engines on the paddock, however, the benefit of V4 arrangement being narrow has a side effect of making the bikes wheelbase longer, and as we all know, a long bike does not like to turn.
After some expected and desperate delays, the Ducati GP15 was finally unveiled after being long in development at Bologna, when it failed to arrive at the Sepang 1 MotoGP test early February, 2015. The GP15 is what Gigi Dall’Igna’s next step forward for the wayward Ducati Corse MotoGP team is. Also, the GP15 bears on its shoulders an incredible amount of hopes and belief of the Ducati fans across the world, for them this bike promises to be the second coming of the iconic Italian brand, everyone wants this bike to bring Ducati at the forefront of the GP paddock again.
Almost everything has changed on the GP15, the bike looks physically slimmer, the engines remains the legendary V4 Desmodromic valves one, however the engine has been made smaller in size and is further rolled back than its predecessor GP14.3, a lot like Honda V4 GP machine. Even the gearbox cases are shorter and narrower than the GP14.3, with a lot more parts see themselves being rearranged and relocated to make the entire assembly a lot more compact. All this has made it possible for Ducati to build a bike that has a considerably shorter wheelbase, has a better weight distribution and larger capacity to make geometry changes.
Ducati went ahead with a target to reduce the entire size of the bike, especially an incredible amount of emphasis was put into making the bike shorter the deal with the chronic understeer that has plagued its ancestors since eternity. For the same, Ducati made sure, that everything was narrower now, the tank now is shorter and narrower and even the top frame is narrower. The bottom of the frame, and the seat is much narrower where it joins the tank. The tail section is now more aggressively cut and is considerably shorter and narrower than the GP14.3.. In an attempt to create some flexibility and feel from the front end while leaning in, the upright rear member has been significantly shortened, perhaps as much as 15cm, while the engine mount points are all different, with the front engine spar now several centimetres longer than it was on the GP14.3.
Since a cooler fuel temperature means more power can be made out of it, Ducati has attempted to reduce the heat transfer from the exhaust to the tank, by changing the exhaust design, now the rear cylinders route their pipes to the right of the tank, rather than around it. It is also a big possibility that for having a much more compact engine, Ducati might be now using the screamer firing order in place of the big bang, curiosity arising from the fact that Dovizioso did said that the engine sound different. Ergonomics, are again the place the biggest change has occurred for the riders, where a much more compact bike leaves a lot of room to move around on the bike, meaning they will have a greater control over the GP15.
The GP15 arrives in desperate times for Ducati, as it is evident in the fact that it is indeed the first time the Italian factory has built a completely new bike with a new engine since they decided to enter MotoGP in 2003. after all these torturous and hurtful years at racing, what Ducati has not lost is its enthusiasm and passion for motorcycle racing. Infact Ducati is determined to succeed even more than before, and it is absolutely clear that nobody in the company and the team is willing to contemplate failure. This bike is the basis for the future, and had plenty of room for improvement. Already, various evolutions of the bike are being planned.
What is a beautiful thing to note is, there is an overwhelming sense of optimism among everyone in Ducati. A win is no longer seen as a pipe dream. A win is not going to be easy, but it is no longer impossible!!!