The smoke of rumor erupted into the intense fire of reality Thursday, as Ducati's courtship of Gigi Dall'Igna was consummated when it was announced Dall'Igna would leave his job as head of Aprilia Racing to take a similar role at Ducati Corse starting Nov. 11.
Dall'Igna's departure didn't come as a huge shock. European media reports earlier this week indicated Dall'Igna wouldn't be able to resist Ducati's second contract offer - which included a higher salary (rumored to be near one million dollars per year) and the authority to hire and fire engineers. Plus Max Biaggi spilled the proverbial beans about Dall'Igna's departure on his Twitter feed Wednesday.
But Dall'Igna's departure for Borgo Panigale still arguably is the biggest move by anyone in the somnambulent Silly Season of 2013. His departure will create quite a ruckus in Grand Prix motorcycle racing for weeks and months to come.
The first aftershock of Dall'Igna's move came when it was revealed that he is replacing Ducati Corse chief Bernhard Gobmeier. Many observers and media hedged that Dall'Igna would become the day-to-day technical manager of Ducati Corse, much like the deposed Filippo Preziosi, and Gobmeier would remain to navigate the politics of the paddock, sponsor deals, liaison with Audi and general management.
But instead Gobmeier effectively was sacked, sent packing back to the four-wheel world in an undefined motorsports role with another Audi marque, Volkswagen.
Gobmeier's exile may be a clear sign that Ducati is on the verge of a major overhaul. Gobmeier constantly emphasized a policy of evolution, not revolution, during his 10-month reign as head of Ducati Corse, the typical approach of a cautious German engineer.
But that policy ended up being a PR-laden disguise for stasis. Ducati Team factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Nick Hayden - neither of whom are considered political rebels in the paddock - both openly and privately criticized the lack of engineering development this season on the GP13 under Gobmeier's watch.
And those complaints weren't just idle bitching: Ducati is making little to no progress this season.
For example, Valentino Rossi was the top Ducati rider at the 2012 Grand Prix of Aragon, finishing 44 seconds behind winner Dani Pedrosa's Honda. Two weeks ago, leading Ducati rider Dovizioso finished 40 seconds behind winner Marc Marquez's Honda. In 2012 at Misano, a strong track for Ducati, Rossi finished just four seconds behind winner Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha. This year, Dovizioso was 42 seconds behind winner Lorenzo as the top Ducati at Misano.
"It's better to say that the policy of small steps did not pay, they needed a big change," Ducati MotoGP project manager Paolo Ciabatti said when asked if Gobmeier's strategic direction for Ducati Corse failed.
So it's clear Dall'Igna has the authority to make nearly any and all changes he deems necessary.
But how much will Audi back those changes? Is Dall'Igna's hiring a true statement of intent - about truly caring about motorcycle racing - by Audi, or is it just a hand-washing move of handing the motorcycle racing business of its new marketing toy to an Italian who has the same Latin passion for the sport as the Ducatistas?
A prominent Ducati insider told Soup earlier this year that he still believes Audi bought Ducati more for the marketing muscle of the most evocative marque in motorcycle racing - the Ferrari of two wheels - than to use its engineering might to right a listing racing ship.
And a true cynic might point out Ducati hired Dall'Igna because it was afraid the customer version of Aprilia's ART bike, which reportedly will include pneumatic valves and seamless shifting, would threaten or beat Ducati's Grand Prix prototype next season, a potential major source of embarrassment. It's one thing to get your ass kicked by Japanese rivals; it's completely another in Bologna to lose to a rival Italian manufacturer, which has happened already this season in World Superbike.
Regardless of the reason, the ripple effect of Dall'Igna's move spreads just as far to Aprilia as it does Ducati. Aprilia quickly named Roman Albesiano, the head of the Technical Center Motorcycle Group of Aprilia parent company Piaggio, as Dall'Igna's replacement. Albesiano has a deep research-and-design background with Cagiva and Aprilia.
But there's clear bitterness at Aprilia over the departure of Dall'Igna, proven in an uncharacteristically blunt quote in a press release Thursday.
"The Piaggio Group has immediately accepted the resignation presented by Luigi Dall'Igna, as is natural while wishing him every success in the future , for the differences in terms of strategic vision sports management and in view of the results achieved so far in the 2013 season of World Superbike."
Those differences probably stem from Dall'Igna's desire to eventually return Aprilia to full works status in MotoGP with a proper prototype and the Piaggio Group's reported reluctance to fund that effort. Aprilia's CRT bikes have dominated that economical, production-based class the last two seasons in MotoGP, giving the brand more exposure than potentially getting trounced by Japanese rivals as a works team in MotoGP.
The rip about the results achieved so far this season by Aprilia also was peculiar. Aprilia leads the Constructors' Championship in WSBK, and Aprilia Factory teammates Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli are second and third in the standings, respectively, on their RSV4 machines.
Dall'Igna's domino toppling also will affect the remaining rider market.
Hayden and Laverty were rumored to be headed to Aspar in 2014 to ride an Aprilia customer prototype, as Aspar boss Jorge "Aspar" Martinez is a longtime friend of Dall'Igna. Martinez hinted earlier this week he may look to a customer Honda bike or even a Ducati customer bike if Dall'Igna jumped Aprilia's ship.
Hayden probably would have no problem riding a Honda next season, as he spent the first six years of his MotoGP career as a Honda factory rider, winning the world title in 2006 with Repsol Honda. But his tolerance for another year or two on a Ducati probably is zero after five fruitless years with the factory team.
Laverty was believed to be Aspar's choice for the other seat because of his strong performance for Aprilia in WSBK and tight relationship with Dall'Igna. But if Aspar decides to run a customer Honda, does that damage Laverty's chances to race with the team in MotoGP next season?
And if Dall'Igna has complete authority over hiring and firing at Ducati Corse, how does that affect Ben Spies? The American has started just two races this season for Pramac Ducati as he continues to recover from a reconstructive shoulder surgery a year ago.
Rumors have swirled that Ducati wanted to replace Spies or nudge him to race its Panigale next season in WSBK. But Spies has continued to publicly counter by insisting he has a tight MotoGP contract with Ducati for 2014.
Dall'Igna, with his remit of revolution, may be more willing and able to assign Spies anywhere he wishes than the more conservative Gobmeier and co.