Editor's Note: This continues a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2012, as determined by the Soup staff.
No. 14 of 2012: Ducati Gives Birth To Junior
It seemed for all of 2011 and most of 2012 that Ducati couldn't get out of its way. Countless promises of improvements to its Desmosedici GP11 and GP12 MotoGP bikes created nearly the same resultlapping around one second slower than factory rivals from Yamaha and Honda and finishing somewhere between sixth and 11th in dry conditions.
Yamaha and Honda both had strong satellite teams pushing at the works outfits, sometimes even nipping at their rear tires and beating them. Tech 3 Yamaha and Gresini Honda and LCR Honda also consistently beat the Ducati factory bikes of World Champions Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden, while Ducati's one-bike satellite teams at Pramac and Cardion AB usually were targeted by the CRT leaders and all but useless to the factory team in Bologna.
Ducati knew something had to be done. Rumors of the creation of a "junior" team to work closely with the factory team on the development of the GP13 started circulating and intensifying this summer.
In early September, Ducati announced it was forming the rumored "junior" team to be run by Pramac, with American Ben Spies and Moto2 graduate Andrea "Crazy Joe" Iannone as the riders. The announcement and choice of riders were two of the worst-kept secrets in the paddock all season.
But Ducati still popped a bit of a surprise in the announcement. The Boys from Bologna insisted Spies and Iannone would receive factory-spec GP13's next season, giving the manufacturer four factory bikes on the MotoGP grid. Ducati insisted this was the best path to accelerate development of the GP13 for Hayden and new factory team recruit Andrea Dovizioso.
The junior team provided more than just a route to the premier class for Italian rising star Iannone and a career lifeline for Spies, whose MotoGP tenure appeared to be over when he announced in late July that he was leaving the Yamaha factory team at the end of the season. It also provided a clear signal from Ducati that the standard paradigm of two factory bikes and two satellite bikes wasn't working.
Ducati has significant financial and technical backing from new owner Audi. It was now or never to take risks, to show Ducatistas around the world that it meant business.