Wrooom 2011, the annual season-starting press extravaganza from Ducati, came to a close last Friday with plenty of anticipation for the upcoming MotoGP campaign.
Taking place at Madonna di Campiglio, a ski resort in the Dolomites, the event began with the first official public appearance by Valentino Rossi as a rider for the Italian factory.
Rossi was the undisputed star of the show all week, eclipsing even (especially?) two-time F1 champ Fernando Alonso. The Spanish driver was there with a little car outfit called Ferrari due to shared Marlboro sponsorship.
A press conference last Tuesday provided the attending media the first opportunity to grill Rossi and his teammate. Trying to calm the sky-high expectations, Rossi said, “I will definitely have extra pressure with Ducati compared to the past… Maybe we won’t be ready to win in the first races, so I hope the fans will give us enough time.”
The Desmosedici GP11 is a famously unruly beast and Rossi spoke about making it more user-friendly. “This is a different bike [to the Yamaha] and you have to ride it more aggressively,” he said. “This is my work at Ducati, to improve it and make it an easier bike and have fewer risks in all the races.”
The most obvious changes come from the fairing. Engineers have added ‘gills’ on each side, with two on the right and three on the left (the third is said to help with clutch cooling.) The winglets introduced last season to reduce front-end lift will remain in place, and the fairing has grown to accommodate Rossi’s larger frame when compared to outgoing rider Casey Stoner, who has moved to Honda.
The technical boffins were characteristically vague when discussing specific changes to the bike beyond the obvious aerodynamic modifications. Ducati Corse general director, Filippo Preziosi, said, “The main changes are in the engine. They are internal and external and are designed to achieve a more favourable, flatter torque.”
Vittoriano Guareschi, team manager, test rider, and world-class sideburn cultivator, added, “[It] has more torque, more revs, and is much better than 2010… We worked on corner exit because we wanted more acceleration and more of a connection with the tire, which is important to the riders.”
On Friday, Rossy and Hayden competed with their F1 counterparts in a two-leg ice racing contest split between go-karts and Fiat 500s. Fernando Alonso took the win in both rounds, with Rossi driving his Fiat to second while his teammate, Nicky Hayden, claimed two third places.
“This is a great way to kick things off,” said Hayden in summing up the week’s activities. “But there’s been enough talking about everything now; it’s time to get out there and do the real thing.”
Ducati will head to Sepang, Malaysia, on Feb. 1-3 to begin preseason testing.