Ducati enters 2015 confident about WSBK chances

New 2015 rules arguably help twin-cylinder machines, but Dall’Igna says it’s racing with a bike closer to what you sell

world superbike ducati wsbk team launch giugliano davies
Fabrizio Porrozzi

Ever since its beginnings, Ducati has thrived in the World Superbike championship. With 31 Riders' and Constructors' titles combined, the manufacturer based in Borgo Panigale (Italy) has built a brand in production-based competitions. With one caveat: the 1199 Panigale has yet to collect a victory on the world stage. However, at the dawn of the 2015 season, the drought seems bound to end.

“Now there's a single, common direction for the whole test team,” said the head of the Racing Department, engineer Luigi “Gigi” Dall'Igna, at the official presentation of the WSBK squad, which has reached a three-year sponsorship agreement with ISP Aruba. “We'll be on track with both our MotoGP and WSBK test riders together. Last year, my priority was to change the workflow and improve the connection between the people on track and those working at the factory. Now, we want to improve the synergy between the two factory teams.”

When he took the reins of the racing department a year ago, Dall'Igna (formerly with Aprilia) had to work with previously designed bikes. Now, the red creatures bring his imprint.

“Surely I feel this bike as 'mine'”, added Dall'Igna, pointing at the Panigale R in its 2015 configuration (with stock connecting rods and pistons, and a revised electronic package with a price cap of €8000 Euros). “I also know well our factory riders, as I've worked both with Davide (Giugliano) and Chaz (Davies) in the past. During the Jerez tests, we've collected some important data about our competitiveness, but it was just a warmup. Now, we have to capitalize on these results.”

In Spain, Giugliano topped the time sheets with a blistering 1:39.332, almost a second faster than the official lap record on qualifying compounds. To this end, the competition has more than once pointed out that the new regulations (in addition to stock pistons and connecting rods and price-capped electronics, no more intake restrictors for 1200cc twins) favor the Italian twin-cylinder bike.

“I don't think it helps us in particular,” Dall'Igna observed. “Rather, it creates a disadvantage for the manufacturers that raced with a radically different bike from the one they sell. The Panigale is a jewel, so yes, in that sense we have an advantage.”

To counteract the shifts in the technical landscape, Kawasaki—arguably the strongest competitor, judging by the pre-season tests—has paired runner-up Tom Sykes with Jonathan Rea, one of the hottest properties in the WSBK paddock. Ducati, however, has put its stock on Giugliano and Davies, both of whom have shown pure speed but never so far reached the necessary consistency to be title contenders.

“I always try to improve, and when it comes to rider-bike package, I want to make sure I'm at least at 120 percent,” said Giugliano. “I've been training with a different regime (he's basically turned vegan), a rather heavy one, which gave me a different perception of my body and, of course, changed my mentality.”

Despite the record set in Jerez, Giugliano wants to certify the progress in a race scenario. “In Spain I saw that the four-cylinder bikes didn't slow down much,” he said. “Rather, we no longer have a 20 horsepower gap. We're closer, and that obviously gave us confidence ahead of the season opener, but the tests don't mean much. We have to wait until Phillip Island to draw the first conclusions.”

“I think the Kawasakis are still the bikes to beat,” echoed Davies. “That said, I can't even remember when was the last time I rode the same bike two years in a row. Continuity is crucial for a rider, and the sensations on board haven't changed since 2014. We had a few electronic glitches during our second day in Spain, but the good thing is that we were able to solve them quickly. We've worked hard throughout the winter, and I really think we're on the right path now.”

Ducati has been missing the top step of the podium since the last round of 2012, when Sylvain Guintoli gave the 1098 its final victory in a long lineage of success. More than two years later, the Panigale appears ready to establish a new dynasty.