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GP Week : Issue 42
Left: GP9 detail and swingarm (top left) Right: GP9 unveilling with Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden the corporated backside of the industry giants of Japan – last week revealed details and the philosophy of its ground- breaking new carbon-fibre- framed Desmosedici. The thinking behind the bike D is unconventional rather than radical. And it is rooted in ideas from the past. It is the execution that puts those ideas firmly in the space age. The basic aim, said Ducati, “is to abandon the classic concept of the chassis as the element that connects all the other elements, in favour of a design in which the engine is the central element, to which the main frame, rear sub-frame and rear suspension are individually connected.” They had already put this minimalism into practice with the title-winning GP7 of 2007. UCATI – the brave little Italian sports bike factory currently kicking The original 990cc GP3 of 2003 had a welded steel-tube trellis chassis (itself unique in a world of aluminium beam chassis) that ran from steering head to rear swing-arm pivot, with the engine bolted beneath. The 800cc GP7 dispensed with most of this ironmongery. A smaller sub-frame attached to the front of the engine; another at the rear mounted seat and rear suspension. But the swing-arm pivoted directly from the engine casings. More than 50 years ago, Vincent had used the engine as a stressed chassis member, at the same time pioneering monoshock rear suspension. Norton’s ill-fated Cosworth Challenge did the same, while Honda’s ill-starred oval-piston NR500 of 1978 went further on the same route. The late New Zealander John Britten achieved wonders with even more minimalist unorthodoxy in the 1990s. I remember another weird Norton racer I saw a few years earlier than that, which combined the function of frame tubes with inlet manifold – the beast that breathed through its bones. All of these aimed for better performance by doubling-up components to do more than one job. Ducati has refined the concept in its own way. The innovation for 2009 is to dispense with the steel tube sub-frame, and replace it with moulded carbon-fibre. Ducati combine the function of front sub-frame and airbox in a bulky black component that in turn mounts to the top of the engine. Once again, use of carbon- fibre composite for the chassis is not a first. Indeed, carbon- fibre is very long-established as the material of choice on four wheels, for 20 years or more. But its history on two wheels has been patchy at best. One of the earliest serious attempts came from the England-based Suzuki GP team in 1986, striving to make up for the leisurely performance of the ageing square-four engine design. For 1987 it was a composite-chassis made from a synthetic honeycomb sandwich material: the origami- style construction earned it the nickname “cardboard box”. For the next year, and the factory’s new V4 engine, designer Nigel Leaper prepared a moulded carbon-fibre unit that still looks surprisingly modern. But it was still-born: Suzuki insisted on its own aluminium- tube chassis instead. There have been others, ranging from 36