Why Dovi could be cham­pion

Dovizioso plays down ti­tle chances but all the signs are good

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - SIMON PAT­TER­SON MO­TOGP RE­PORTER simon.pat­ter­son@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com @Mc­n­sport mo­tor­cy­cle­news

‘ The goal now is to win the ti­tle. An­drea is full of con­di­dence’ DU­CATI BOSS PAOLO CIABATTI

An­drea Dovizioso and the Du­cati Mo­togp squad have been a rev­e­la­tion in the open­ing nine rounds of the 2017 sea­son. Their in­cred­i­ble step up in form has reignited the Ital­ian firm’s po­ten­tial as a ti­tle chal­lenger with Dovi only six points adrift of cham­pi­onship leader Marc Mar­quez at the mid-point of the sea­son.

After a seven-year ab­sence from the top step of the podium, Dovi took a stun­ning vic­tory at his home race in Mugello and then promptly backed it up just seven days later with vic­tory at the Cata­lan Grand Prix.

But de­spite what looks on the sur­face like an in­cred­i­ble change in form for both rider and man­u­fac-

turer, Dovizioso has been in­sis­tent that his im­pres­sive points tally this year doesn’t mean that the prob­lems that has plagued the Des­mosedici since the de­par­ture of Casey Stoner in 2010 have been fixed.

In­stead, the 31-year-old has re­mained more re­served about the firm’s hopes, in­sist­ing that while the re­sults may have been spec­tac­u­lar so far this sea­son, there is still a lot of work for them to do be­fore he be­lieves that he’s gen­uinely a ti­tle con­tender.

“To think about the cham­pi­onship ev­ery week­end is im­pos­si­ble,” he said. “Ev­ery week­end this year goes a dif­fer­ent way, and no-one can un­der­stand it. I don’t feel any pres­sure to win the ti­tle, I don’t want to look at it, be­cause we still need to im­prove in a few ar­eas.

“The turn­ing problem is the same as it was at the start of the sea­son. I don’t want to speak in a neg­a­tive way, but I am re­al­is­tic. It’s my fifth year with the bike, and I know very well what’s changed and how the engi­neers work, and if we want to fight for the cham­pi­onship we still have to im­prove some things. I’m not too ex­cited now and I don’t think we can fight for the cham­pi­onship yet, but if you ap­proach the right week­end in the right way, we can win.”

Still strug­gling with the mid-cor­ner turn­ing is­sue that Valentino Rossi, An­drea Ian­none and Cal Crutchlow have all suf­fered with the bike since Stoner’s de­par­ture to Honda in 2010, it ap­pears that there may be light at the end of the tun­nel, but it’s still a long tun­nel and a small light!

And it’s been ham­pered even fur­ther this sea­son by the ab­sence of the winglets that Du­cati be­came re­liant on last year to cre­ate down­force and man­age the bike’s ten­dency to wheelie when ac­cel­er­at­ing, cre­at­ing a ma­chine that while im­prov­ing, still has is­sues that need to be ad­dressed. Is­sues that will be preva­lent at the next two rounds of the se­ries at Brno in the Czech Repub­lic this week­end and the Red Bull Ring in Aus­tria the fol­low­ing week­end.

But while the Czech Grand Prix has brought mixed re­sults for Du­cati in re­cent sea­sons, with Ian­none’s fourth in 2015 their best re­sult since Stoner stood on the podium in 2010, Dovizioso has shown that he is ca­pa­ble of run­ning in the top five at the ma­jor­ity of cir­cuits this year.

The Red Bull Ring, how­ever, will be his big chance to in­crease his 2017 win tally fur­ther and he’ll be keen to make amends for los­ing to his for­mer team-mate in 2016. Ad­mit­tedly fac­ing a tougher chal­lenge than last year at the cir­cuit char­ac­terised by hard-brak­ing and long-straights it’s a com­bi­na­tion that plays right into the hands of the GP17 ma­chine and it will be hard to bet against Dovi for the win if ev­ery­thing goes ac­cord­ing to plan.

But, with a num­ber of other tracks on the cal­en­dar that will work against the strengths of the bike – and bring its turn­ing problem into sharp fo­cus – Du­cati still have work to do to im­prove the over­all pack­age to give Dovi the chance to re­main in ti­tle con­tention for the rest of the sea­son.

Where now for Du­cati’s aero­dy­nam­ics?

While the much talked-about winglets have been out­lawed by Mo­togp rule­mak­ers in 2017, that doesn’t mean there has been any let-up in aero­dy­namic work on Mo­togp ma­chines. In­stead of de­vel­op­ing ever big­ger ex­trud­ing wings, engi­neers have been forced to be more cre­ative as they work to de­velop newly-shaped nosecones and dou­ble-skinned side fair­ings.

But de­spite their con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment in the field in re­cent years, Du­cati have re­mained con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from that par­tic­u­lar bat­tle so far. The factory team test­ing a rad­i­cally-shaped fair­ing, nick­named the ‘ham­mer­head’ ear­lier in the sea­son, but the rid­ers felt it cre­ated more prob­lems than it solved, send­ing engi­neers back to the draw­ing board be­fore they fi­nally ho­molo­gate the sin­gle de­sign they’re al­lowed to in­tro­duce mid-sea­son.

New chas­sis in the frame?

While Dovi might be re­main­ing re­served about the start to his sea­son, Du­cati Sport­ing Di­rec­tor Paolo Ciabatti has been much more up­beat about their per­for­mance in 2017, ad­mit­ting that he’s de­lighted with the first half of the year – and con­vinced that there’s more to come in the sec­ond half.

“We can only be sat­is­fied, be­cause we showed that we can be com­pet­i­tive with the bike in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions at dif­fer­ent cir­cuits. We’re happy, but we know we still need to work. We’re lack­ing a lit­tle bit in cor­ner speed, and that’s where we’re work­ing now.

“Some­thing maybe a lit­tle bit big­ger is com­ing in the sec­ond half of the sea­son, and the goal is to try and fix this problem for all of the rid­ers and maybe Jorge in par­tic­u­lar, al­though Petrucci and Dovi will also ben­e­fit.”

That ‘some­thing big­ger’ is ru­moured to be a new chas­sis that the team will de­but soon, as they strive to fix their turn­ing is­sues. De­vel­oped with con­sid­er­able in­put from test rider Casey Stoner, development saw a planned test for ear­lier in the sea­son de­layed for the Aus­tralian to al­low Du­cati Corse’s engi­neers fur­ther time to per­fect their cre­ation be­fore ex­pend­ing valu­able test­ing time. And with those im­prove­ments com­ing, Ciabatti be­lieves Du­cati can fight for the ti­tle this year.

“The goal now is to win the cham­pi­onship, but it isn’t easy be­cause there are many strong rid­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers big­ger than Du­cati. But An­drea is there, he is full of con­fi­dence, and Jorge is get­ting there.”

De­spite his run of form, Dovi re­mains low-key about his ti­tle chal­lenge Team boss says Jorge is get­ting there

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