Estoril MotoGP Insider 2011: Ducati

May 2, 2011
Scott Mathews
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There are few people worthy of getting an audience with Mathews but he makes himself available on occasion to the racers of the Grand Prix paddock. If they’re lucky, he might even mention their name. He’s Scott Mathews, and he’s bringing you the inside scoop on MotoGP.

Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi was denied a fourth-place finish for Ducati in 2011 after a late pass by Andrea Dovizioso.

Valentino Rossi claimed his best result for Ducati in Estoril yesterday but was denied fourth-place by fellow Italian Andrea Dovizioso right at the end of the 28-lap Portuguese Grand Prix. The 32-year-old had held fourth right from the fourth corner of the race and spent the rest of the time trying to prevent Dovizioso from making his attack stick until finally giving up the spot just meters from the finish line. Rossi had a small slide exiting the fast last corner and Repsol Honda Dovizioso pounced to snatch fourth by just 0.025s. The nine-time world champion was still satisfied with his performance after he found a solution to the front-end problems that had left him languishing down in ninth-place on the grid.

Rossi said: “Apart from losing fourth position with Dovi at the end I am happy about the performance and the race. First I am happy about my physical condition because I can ride quite normal until the end of the race. I am still not at 100% because I have 15% less power in the shoulder and after quite a lot of laps I had a problem with the left leg. When I lost a bit of power on the right shoulder, I try to hook my leg on the tank and the knee twists a little bit because I push on the inside and I start to have pain. But this is a problem that I can fix.

“We improved the setting on the bike compared to yesterday and this gave me a better feeling, especially with braking and entering the corner. I could push a lot and I did 20 times during the race the lap time of qualifying and this shows the setting is a lot better. I was happy with fourth place because it would have been my best result with the Ducati but Dovi was more faster and clever than me and he passed me right on the line. This finish line doesn’t bring me a lot of luck because also with (Toni) Elias in 2006 I lose the championship. I tried to be a bit faster and I had a slide and I had to roll off the throttle a bit and as soon as I did that Dovizioso overtook me.”

Valentino Rossi
Rossi had to dispel rumors which stated that he was trying to make the Ducati GP11 more like his previous YZR-M1. 

Rossi has denied that imminent changes to his factory Ducati GP11 machine suggest he’s trying to make the Desmosedici more like the Yamaha YZR-M1 he rode last season. Rossi will try a heavily revamped GP11 at a one-day test immediately after next weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril as the Bologna factory attempts to iron out a chronic understeer issue.

The revised bike will feature a new chassis and engine, with a heavier crankshaft as Ducati technical genius Filippo Preziosi tries to give Rossi a much smoother power delivery to help improve his pace.

Rossi has struggled on the GP11 and after a disappointing seventh-place on his debut in Qatar, he crashed out of the last race in Jerez after a controversial collision he instigated with Repsol Honda rival Casey Stoner.

Since he first rode the Ducati in Valencia last November, Rossi has repeatedly rubbished suggestions that he will try and make the GP11 a more user friendly package to mimic the smooth power delivery and sweet handling characteristics of the Yamaha YZR-M1 he won the title on back in 2008 and ’09. And ahead of the Estoril changes, he again said he wasn’t try to turn the Ducati into a Yamaha

“No, the Yamaha is too different. The two bikes are opposite as in we are on opposite parts of the world. We can improve the Ducati and adapt it to me, but it will remain always a different bike compared to the M1,” said Rossi.

The 32-year-old is hoping the engine changes will help alleviate the understeer issue, which crew chief Jerry Burgess believes is caused by an aggressive power delivery, Rossi said one focus of the new engine will be to improve his feeling in the first 20% of the throttle opening and he said: “We work very much on this point of view. For me the bigger problem is that in Ducati they always work very much for maximum performance for everything but they don’t work on

Nicky Hayden
Former World Champ Nicky Hayden secured ninth at Estoril while Ducati continues to sort things out with its machinery.

the details, which for me are very important. You need to use some different lines compared to the Yamaha because this bike has some understeer and you have to pick up the bike as soon as possible in acceleration. The M1 was more a rounded package and very agile. The Yamaha remains the best bike in the corners, but maybe with a lack of power compared to Honda.”

Rossi’s crew chief Jerry Burgess believes it is unrealistic to expect the Italian legend to be consistently challenging for MotoGP race wins until the second half of the season.

Burgess reckons it will take time to turn the GP11 into a winning package, saying: “Being realistic I don’t think you’ll see the best of us in the first part of the season. We know Valentino is going to improve in his fitness but we’ll just have to measure ourselves against the guys going the best and if that continues to be the Honda then so be it. Our target will be Yamaha and then we’ll be looking at the Honda.”

Ducati’s new GP12 is the only new 1000cc MotoGP bike to be seen in public after Rossi and teammate Nicky Hayden gave their first impressions of the prototype machine in Jerez earlier this month. The factory riders both spoke of their excitement and anticipation for 2012 having completed shakedown tests.

Rossi said he had been impressed with the engine performance of the GP12: “I like a lot the 1000cc engine. It is a bit of a return to the past and it has great horsepower from the bottom and I like a lot the bike. From the point of view of the chassis it is very similar to the GP11 so the behavior of the bike is also very similar. But the priority of the test was to understand the engine.”

Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi: “The two bikes [Yamaha and Ducati] are as opposite as we are in opposite parts of the world. We can improve the Ducati and adapt it to me, but it will remain always a different bike compared to the M1.”

Hayden too said he had been impressed with the performance of Ducati’s 800cc replacement. The 2006 world champion said: “I enjoyed it. It was great to be able to get out on it. I think Ducati did a nice job. We tested that bike three days, I was there every day and we had no real problems. It wasn’t like it was a prototype shakedown. They came ready to ride it. I only did one day and I didn’t catch much of a break with the weather. I really only got the afternoon of the last day, but I enjoyed it. It’s hard just be out riding by yourself and until we know what we’re up against, we don’t really know. But we got to start somewhere and I think we got a good point. The engine had good connection with the throttle and there is a bit more there to play with for sure. I had a bit more wheelie off some of the corners.”

Although the 1000cc motor has more horsepower, Hayden said it was much tamer compared to the 990cc Honda RC211V he won the world title on in 2006.

He added: “I would say it’s calmed down a bit for sure. But definitely there’s some more torque. Jerez is such a small little track you never got to really see how it would feel on top with the top speed. By the time it got ready to stretch its legs, it was already time to shut her down. Those straight are really short. So it would be interesting when you try it somewhere with quick top speed.”