Ducati seems set to make the switch from its trademark trellis frames to, wait for it, a cast aluminium stresses-airbox frame, not just for its new range of 1199 superbikes to debut at this year's Milan motorcycle show but also on its 1000cc Desmosedici MotoGP racer for 2012. Adil Jal Darukhanawala has the inside story
2011 hasn’t been a distinguishing season for Ducati on the race tracks. Sure Carlos Checa has taken a couple of sporadic wins in World Superbikes on the works-supported 1198s but singularly telling has been Valentino Rossi going not just winless to date on the MotoGP circuit but also being way off the pace. Now this is something that isn’t all down to engine power, or the lack of but the fact that the Ducati makes more than enough power to compete against the best of the Yamahas and Hondas but it just can’t put down all that power down on to terra firma without being a nuisance for its riders.
Ducati knew that it was trying to get the chassis stiffness it needed for its riders to get the best out of the Desmosedici by trying to bring in F1-style technologies wherein its carbon-fibre frame cum airbox design semi-monocoque was a novel approach. However as has been proved in over a century plus of motorcycle design, there have been few big steps in the way the designers and engineers have got to joining the motorcycle’s front to its rear but Ducati is doing something it shunned all along – be inspired by the Japanese!
Ducati has always been known for its vee-twin engines in the superbike class, housed in a trellis frame and now to try and resurrect its competition fortunes – so very vital for sales for this small low volume bike maker, Ducati has decided to go ahead with a completely new range of road and race machines which will feature an all new design of frame – designated internally at Ducati as ‘Xtreme’ which clearly is inspired by the fabricated all-aluminium alloy frame designed by Kawasaki for its ZX-12R in the year 2000!
Ducati says that it has patented an aluminium alloy semi-monocoque chassis frame which joins the forks and engine via a stressed airbox (just like the Desmosedici’s carbon-fibre detail) instead of the normal twin beam chassis rails on many Japanese superbikes and MotoGP machines. Obviously Rossi and Jeremy Burgess having been less than delighted with the lack of results from the Ducati have been piling on the pressure to get Ducati to make a complete redesign of the bike and this is Ducati’s response.
Former Triumph and Lotus engineer Greg Taylor sees a host of advantages for Ducati with this new design direction over the trellis frames: “Moving the mass closer to the centre of gravity should allow the bike to respond to rider inputs more quickly, but it will pitch more readily over bumps.”
Damian Harty, chassis dynamics boss at ProDrive says: “I like the structural airbox, as indeed I did on the ZX-12R. Rearranging components has clearly come from careful consideration of the mass and inertia properties of the machine as whole. Ducati has evolved its bikes for a long time. It will be fascinating to see how they get on with doing something from scratch.”
Multi-WSB world champion Troy Bayliss was called out of retirement to have a go on one of the new Ducati superbikes (which will be known as the 1199) and give the factory much needed feedback as to whether it was on the right road. Bayliss who hasn’t ridden a top flight WSB machine in anger now for the better part of almost four years, did two days out of a hush-hush three day test Ducati recently had at Mugello. Bayliss rode prototypes of both the standard as well as the WSB versions of the 1199 and was gob smacked by the performance!
“All I can say is the bike is a beast and right on the money,” said the Aussie who is revered within Ducati for his development skills. Aprilia which was also testing at Mugello then were also left stunned by Bayliss turning a lap in 1 min 51.9 sec which for a self-confessed rusty rider was no mean feat has begun sounding alarm bells for many.
Ducati has already tested the 2012 1000cc Desmosedici engine in a 2011 chassis but the next test at Mugello is sure to come with a completely new all aluminium chassis into which the motor will be housed. Test rider Franco Battiani was in attendance at Mugello testing the bike and 2012 motor and on the straights the big one-litre Desmo was timed at, wait for it, 380 km/h! Now this is stunning pace which betters even the best F1 cars but for Rossi and Hayden to use this sort of power convincingly over the entire lap means the bike has to have a super stiff frame.
Ducati’s Preziosi has also devised an all-new active suspension set-up and this was also being tested at Mugello recently. What onlookers were prone to suggesting was that the new Ducati superbikes were able to get on the power quicker in the corners and then keep on pulling hard as they exited them. The new electronically controlled suspension is another trick up Ducati’s sleeve and while not much is known about this, one does know that Ducati and Ohlins have perfected solenoid-controlled suspension which helps to change the damping characteristics in milliseconds in response to rider inputs and changing track conditions.
These are all heady new developments not just for Ducati but also for motorcycling as it charts a tough new course with ever tightening legislation across the board. While all that may be good, the Ducati faithful will be far more concerned as to how quickly the red and white Desmosedicis get back on the top rung of the MotoGP podium. That more than anything else will be the first objective. Stay tuned.