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Top 15 Stories of 2013, Number 6: Dall'Igna Leaves Aprilia For Ducati
by staff
Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.

The wave of a supposed sea change for Ducati started to swell in July 2012 when the unlikely marriage of calculated German efficiency and sweaty Italian passion was consummated with Audi's purchase of Ducati.

Ducati appeared lost since Casey Stoner left the team for Repsol Honda after the 2010 season. Valentino Rossi's arrival in 2011 and his scattershot technical demands that resembled a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey by summer 2012 only plunged the iconic Italian marque deeper into a well of mediocrity.

The classic German technical acumen and planning, almost a redundant notion, brought by Audi were supposed to be crucial steps toward helping Ducati close the gap to factory rivals Honda and Yamaha on the MotoGP grid. Audi hired respected BMW World Superbike team manager Bernhard Gobmeier to lead Ducati Corse in November 2012, another step greeted as sensible, logical and so very German by the MotoGP world.

Gobmeier and Audi promised evolution, not revolution. And maybe that's where the problems started due to optics, both visible and invisible.

The visible optic centered on the recent Desmosedici machines. They lacked front-end feel. They morphed from carbon-fiber frames with the engine as a stressed member to Frankenbikes featuring carbon fiber and aluminum to the traditional, Japanese-style alloy box frame upon the request of Rossi, all within two seasons. Most importantly, the bikes were slow - usually around a second off the pace of Honda and Yamaha.

So the risk associated with revolution was needed if Ducati was going to cross the gulf to its rivals. But that's not the German style. It's not the Audi way. It was not Gobmeier's remit.

The invisible optic involved a visible firing. On the same day Gobmeier was hired, Ducati announced the "reassignment" of longtime Desmosedici and Ducati MotoGP godfather Filippo Preziosi to some abstract research-and-design position within Ducati.

Preziosi was a lightning rod during Ducati's recent struggles. He believed in forging forward with the carbon-fiber frame concept even after it created diabolical handling for Rossi and teammate Nick Hayden. He constantly pointed to data as the driving force behind decisions even when Rossi's experience and rear end told him the numbers and graphs lied.

And it was clear Audi was sending a message with Preziosi's firing: This is our show now. But Preziosi also knew the technical DNA of Ducati's MotoGP operation better than anyone, and no one was left to fill that void once he was sacked.

These decisions and optics created an environment in which Gobmeier was almost destined to fail.

Ducati remained a second behind Honda and Yamaha at most tracks. The sight of Hayden and teammate Andrea Dovizioso wringing the fork tubes off their GP13s in a battle for seventh or eighth at most tracks became a sad, common sight.

It was clear that German precision might win endurance sports car races, but Grand Prix motorcycle racing was a beast misunderstood and underestimated by Audi. So Audi boiled the pasta and made a double pot of red sauce by turning to the most successful recent purveyor of Latin passion in global motorcycle racing - Aprilia Racing boss Luigi "Gigi" Dall'Igna - to turn its fortunes.

Dall'Igna led Aprilia to numerous constructors' titles in 125cc and 250cc racing in the 2000s and led the brand into World Superbike racing in 2009, winning rider world titles with Max Biaggi aboard its RSV4 in 2010 and 2012. Dall'Igna was respected and admired in both the MotoGP and WSBK paddocks, and Ducati opened its checkbook wide enough to satisfy his salary demands and land him in October 2013 after a brief courtship.

The change in management style from Gobmeier was evident from the start. Dall'Igna said he would evaluate every aspect of the MotoGP bike and operation at Borgo Panigale, stressing there needed to be greater communication between the race team and factory in Bologna. He also emphasized that Ducati would rebuild from the frame up with the final version of the GP14 if that was needed.

Dall'Igna was talkin' about a revolution.

The Dall'Igna defection from Aprilia to Italian rival Ducati was bigger than the usual personnel move because it also created a technical domino effect throughout MotoGP.

Aspar was ready to stay with its ART package for 2014 after dominating the Claiming Rules Team caste in 2013. Dall'Igna and team owner Jorge "Aspar" Martinez had developed a close bond after working together on projects for many years, and Dall'Igna was pushing Aprilia bosses Piaggio to increase funding so Aprilia could grow into a works team in the premier class for the first time since 2004.

The Aspar deal collapsed once Dall'Igna joined Ducati. And not even friendship was a strong enough draw to lure Aspar into accepting a customer Ducati from Dall'Igna as its bike for 2014. So Aspar switched to Honda "customer" machinery, which led to the hiring of Hayden and HRC favorite Hiroshi Aoyama as teammates in 2014.

Aprilia restated its commitment to building a works MotoGP team by 2015 or 2016 under new Aprilia Racing boss Romano Albesiano. But he is not seen as the same force of technical nature as Dall'Igna, which puts the sincerity of tight-fisted Aprilia's commitment into question.

But even bigger questions hang over Dall'Igna at Ducati. He has staked his glowing reputation and career on a major gamble. The challenge of performing CPR on the most evocative marque in worldwide motorcycle racing already has forced all of the air from the career lungs of Gobmeier and Preziosi, both titans in the sport at their peak.

ENDS

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