Dall'Igna Ducati move: signaling Aprilia downsizing?

Gigi Dall’Igna’s switch to Ducati Corse officially announced, and it’s already forcing changes; harsh tone of Aprilia press release surprising

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The rumor had been growing increasingly noisier, until it woke up the establishment with the intensity of a scream: Gigi Dall'Igna, the engineer behind the Aprilia RSV4 that is about to seize yet another constructors' title for the brand in World Superbike, will leave to join Ducati at the end of the month. Romano Albesiano, already in charge of technical development for Aprilia, will take his place. Both Paolo Ciabatti, MotoGP project manager, and Ernesto Marinelli, Superbike project manager, will report to Dall'Igna.

The consequences of this move for MotoGP and WSBK will not be clear any time soon, but the undisguised resentment that transpires from Aprilia's press release, which cites "differences in strategic viewpoints and the current results in SBK" (apparently discounting the two World Superbike Championships in 2010 and 2012) as the reasons for the split was surprising. It also raises a few important questions for the firm's future in the WSBK series.

Ducati had been attempting to lure Dall'Igna since this season began. Initially, the Italian politely refused, but what changed his mind – besides a very generous salary – was the freedom bestowed upon him. He will be the general guiding a new revolution, the same power he allegedly had but no longer possessed within the Noale factory, which had stopped him on several occasions on the development of the CRT bike. Apparently the Piaggio Group management considered the ART machine merely as a product to sell (currently at around $400,000) rather than an R&D; laboratory to pave the way for Aprilia's return to the MotoGP as prototype manufacturer rather than a CRT supplier. The hiring of Dall'Igna and the sweeping powers given to him (most were speculating that he would assume the Technical Director role, but instead he will become General Manager, replacing Bernhard Gobmeier who is moving on to another position within VW) was something that Ducati's primary racing benefactor for many years, major tobacco brand Phillip Morris, strongly endorsed as something of a prerequisite to renew its very healthy sponsorship, a contract that was due for renewal after next year.

Top management from the Piaggio Group appears to have adopted an increasingly strict focus on the marketing angle, and as the RSV4 sales have been far from remarkable, the company seems to have let go of its most notable technical figure without putting up a fight. Dall'Igna's departure is causing major ripples throughout the racing world, and the early signs seem to lead to a significant downsizing of Aprilia's resources dedicated to racing. Given the 2015 regulations, which will standardize the grid to EVO-spec bikes only, the chance that Aprilia will shut down its factory team (as BMW announced earlier this year) and simply sell packages and technical support to privateers seems increasingly likely.

But not all hope is lost. While some are blaming the absence of a top rider as what supposedly doomed Aprilia in WSBK this year, the possibility of a return by Max Biaggi has already started to surface. The “Roman Emperor”, however, is not keen to wear leathers and helmet again. Rather, he would rejoin the Aprilia family as team manager, providing it with the leadership and hierarchy it lacked to retain the title.