Friday, October 11

DUCATI HIRES APRILIA'S RACE CHIEF

By MICHAEL ESDAILE

IT HAS been rumoured for weeks, now it is confirmed: the head of Piaggio Group's motorsport division and Technical Director of the Aprilia Superbike and MotoGP projects, Luigi Dall'Igna, has been signed as the new General Manager of Ducati Corse S.r.l.

He replaces German Bernhard Gobmeier, who had been the General Manager of Ducati Corse for the past ten months, having replaced former Ducati Corse General Manager (and Technical Director) Filippo Preziosi in November, 2012.

Luigi Dall'Igna is joining Ducati Corse after
may successful years with Aprilia.
(Photo:  Michael Esdaile)
At that time, it was the biggest shake-up at the top of Ducati Corse S.r.l., the subsidiary arm of Ducati that deals with the company's involvement in motorcycle racing.

Gobmeier, former head of BMW's Superbike racing project, was joined by Paolo Ciabatti as the MotoGP Project Manager. 

Ciabatti was former director of the World Superbike Championship for Infront Motor Sports until it was taken over by Dorna.  He replaced Alessandro Cicognani as Ducati MotoGP Project Manager.

Ciabatti is now confirmed in his role and will report directly to Dall'Igna, the new Ducati Corse General Manager, as will 39-year-old Engineer Ernesto Marinelli, Ducati Superbike Project Manager for the past two seasons.  The new appointments become effective from November 11, 2013, immediately after the end of the 2013 racing season.

Gobmeier, who has many years experience in auto racing with BMW and Porsche, will return to Germany to "pursue the opportunity of a prestigious and strategic position within the Motorsport organisation of the Volkswagen Group. In his new position, the 54-year-old Engineer from Bavaria will continue his upward professional curve within the VW Group," says the Ducati press release of October 10.


The 47-year-old Luigi Dall'Igna has been involved in Aprilia's racing activities since 1992 and brings enormous experience to Ducati.   Initially he was an engine engineer working with two-stroke power units then in 1999 he was appointed Technical Director of Aprilia's two-stroke racing, which meant he was working with the development of the 125 and 250 grand prix machines as well as and the 500 V-twin engine.  In 2003 he was made was chief engineer of the Aprilia MotoGP project - the notorious three cylinder 'Cube'.

At the end of 2003, because of the financial crisis Aprilia was in in the last months of Ivan Beggio's ownership of the company, Dall'Ignia left and joined Piaggio Group where he worked on the 125 Derbi.  He was reunited with Aprilia in 2005 when Piaggio bought Aprilia.


Dall'Igna continued to work on the Aprilia 125 and 250cc grand prix racers, which led to the development of the RSA models, the highest expression of two-stroke performance.

He was also involved with the Aprilia RSV4 Superbike project from the beginning, providing input into the engine layout and chassis design and then heading up the team which has claimed two Superbike World Championships (2010 and 2012) and eight race wins so far this season, to give Aprilia the lead in the 2013 Manufacturer's Championship.

Over the past two season Dall'Igna has also led the development of the RSV4 as a MotoGP machine for the privateer teams.  Currently the Paul Bird Motorsport team is running these engines in the bikes of Yonny Hernandez and Michael Laverty while Cardion AB Motoracing runs an Aprilia for Karel Abraham.  These use the Dorna-supplied Magenti-Marelli electronic software.

But by far the most successful of the Aprilia V4s in MotoGP are the Power Electronics Aspar machines raced by Randy De Puniet and Aleix Espargaro.  In fact, Espargaro in particular has been a thorn in Ducati's side, often beating the satellite Ducatis and splitting the factory bikes as well.

The Power Electronics bikes use Aprilia's own sofftware.

No doubt Ducati will hope that signing Dall'Igna will eliminate the embarrassment of a Spanish privateer outfit using a production-based engine to harass the purpose-built V4s of the house of Borgo Panigale.

But make no mistake, joining Ducati to turn its fortunes around is a huge challenge, even for someone of Luigi Dall'Igna's enormous experience.  He inherits a MotoGP team that is really struggling and has been for at least four years. Ducati's last wins in MotoGP were in 2010 when Casey Stoner was victorious at Aragon, Motegi and Phillip Island after a string of podium placings mid-season.

At that stage the team was using a chassis that featured a carbon-fibre 'airbox' that had the steering head at its forward end and was bolted to the engine, which served as a structural member.

After Stoner left to join Honda, and immediately won on its 800cc V4, Ducati pinned its hopes on seven times MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi.  But despite numerous changes to the Ducati MotoGP machine over the next two years, Ducati and Rossi failed miserably.  In fact, at many tracks they failed to match the lap times and race times the 'carbon-fibre' chassis machine had achieved in the hands of Stoner in 2010.

Recently American Nicky Hayden, who has been let go from Ducati, stated that he had been excited by the way the carbon-fibre chassis project had been headed, but after he injured his shoulder and was unable to test, it was shelved in favour of the twin-spar chassis favoured by Rossi.

While the chassis design is blamed by many for Ducati's MotoGP malaise, there are those who say the gears that drive the twin over head cams in each cylinder head are too large in diameter and this is producing too much gyroscopic effect, making the bike hard to turn into corners.

So Dall'Igna has a monumental task ahead of him.  Not only does the Ducati MotoGP look in a state of chaos, its Panigale Superbike project has also failed to deliver to anything like the level Ducati has achieved in the Superbike World Championship since that series began in 1988.

Ducati has always been a force in the Superbike World Championship.  But not in 2013.  So far this year it has a solitary podium placing to its name, with Ayrton Badini's third place finish in the first race at the Moscow round.  

Carlos Checa, who was a major force on the old steel-tube framed 1198R, has struggled on the Panigale after injuring his shoulder when he crashed out of third place at the opening round at Phillip Island.

Prior to that the 40-year-old Spaniard had put the new Ducati on pole position for the race and was fastest in the morning warm-up at the Australian circuit.  But it has been all downhill from there.

Just as with the MotoGP project, opinion is divided on what ails the Panigale in Superbike trim.  There are some who say the ultra over-square engine design is the problem while others say it is not the over-square design per se, but the way Ducati has gone about it.  This group says the valves are too big, the combustion chamber too thin with vaguely designed squish areas and the connecting rods are too short, leading to inconsistent power delivery.

There are also those who question the chassis design, which uses a steel airbox as a major part of the chassis, with the engine as load-bearing unit.  

However, Dall'Igna has been in a position to have a good look at the Panigale so perhaps he will get that project sorted first.  After all, Ducati's record in grand prix racing is nothing compared to its Superbike winning history.

Dall’Igna will report directly to Ducati Motor Holding CEO, Claudio Domenicali, the man who signed-off on the Panigale project.