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GP Week : Issue 133
It looks as though Ducati are on the brink of abandoning their great experiment. Leaked news repor ts and a sneaked spy shot of some CAD chassis drawings being studied by the Ducati pit were followed by a reported confession (after earlier denial) from within Ducati – they are testing an aluminium twin-spar chassis. It brings the Italian manufacturer in line with every other motorcycle on the star ting grid. And (not for the first time in bike GPs) draws a line under a new line of structural development where racing could possibly contribute something new and important to chassis engineering. “Not for the first time” applies specifically to carbon-fibre and motorcycles. The material ... which is de rigueur in pretty much all automotive applications that have more than two wheels, has seen several small-scale attempts, the most successful being in the 1980s, long before the current understanding of controlled chassis flex, by the England-based semi-independent Suzuki GP team. Honda constructed a spidery carbon- fibre chassis for the very last iteration of the oval-piston NR500 four-stroke, but by then it was a show bike, not for go; and the same company has recently used bonded-on carbon-fibre fillets on their aluminium chassis, to adjust stiffness ratios. But only Ducati has espoused the material, first for the swing-arm; and subsequently for the front mini-chassis, doing double duty as an airbox. Not without success, it should be noted: Casey Stoner won three races on the easy-to-crash carbon bike, although he did crash out of several others. With hindsight of less than a year, given Rossi’s struggles, it shines a ver y bright light on the level of the Australian’s talent and ability. The lack of successful precedence means, as Filippo Preziosi explained in an exclusive interview with GPWEEK earlier this year, that the use of carbon-fibre in motorcycles is in its infancy. Ducati’s work is at the cutting edge of what many regard as a frankly over-due direction of development. Preziosi went further in a somewhat tense Press briefing at the last race at Misano, where he insisted: “ The material is not the problem”. In our interview he had been almost evangelical about his belief that carbon-fibre could be engineered to be superior to metal (iron age versus space age, if you like). All you could do with a conventional chassis was change the shape and thickness of the metal. “ With carbon-fibre you can change the thickness, you can use different fibres, and you can change the orientation of the fibres. So you have three degrees of difference you can manage. For me, it is not difficult to reach the stiffness target. What we are trying to do now with Valentino is to understand what is the right target for stiffness.” Since those words, the search had gone sour, as the needs of science came 40