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GP Week : Issue 173
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: There have been low points aplenty in Valentino Rossi’s two-year Ducati misadventure, but Phillip Island may have been a new nadir, on the day Stoner eclipsed him as the winningest rider at his favourite circuit. It’s not that seventh place is out of the way this year ... pretty much par for the course, really. And, if you like, an improvement on tenth at the opening round at Qatar. You could call that progress, if you wanted. Not the way Rossi measures it. He looks at the gap to the leader. At Qatar, it was 33.665 seconds. At Phillip Island, 37.113 seconds. No progress there. And this at a track that Valentino is not ashamed to trumpet as a major favourite. It was the scene of perhaps his greatest race. In 2003, on the V5 Honda, he inadvertently passed under a yellow flag, and was hit with a 10-second penalty. He opened the gas and defeated Capirossi by more than 15 seconds. Phillip Island suits Rossi’s fluent style. As he’s proved over and over again, with five consecutive wins from 2001 to 2005. Stoner matched that, from 2007 to 2011. And in 2012 went one better. Phillip Island also suited the powerful Ducati. At least when Casey rode it to four serial wins there. This year, Rossi was reduced to familiar Ducati complaints about understeer and being unable to commit to the corner. He crashed in morning warm- up, and in the race had some trouble staying ahead of satellite rider Karel Abraham, let alone team-mate Hayden, who pushed him all the way. It was a sad shadow of a glorious past, for both motorcycle and rider, and a cruel revelation that Misano’s second-place dawn had been a false one. News came at Phillip Island of Ducati’s plans for the important post-Valencia tests, where new riders Dovizioso and Iannone (but not Ben Spies) will get their chance to try the prototype of next year ’s bike for the first time. It will not, team manager Vittorio Guareschi told Italian web-site GPOne, be much different from the current bike. Which is not really very good news for those increasingly wide-eyed new boys. It’s not very good news either for new owners Audi, and a great deal depends on how long the Germans will be prepared to put up with it. Already there are rumours, from the same Italian source, that Ducati are on the verge of pulling out of World Superbikes. This has been a Ducati stronghold for decades, partly due to strong links with the Italian Flammini Group management, now taken over by Dorna. This could indicate that top management want to divert resources to bolster the faltering MotoGP effort; alternatively in the worst case a future withdrawal also from MotoGP. There is a period of grace, while MotoGP awaits the (by now very long-awaited) new technical rules for 2014. When they are confirmed, will heads roll at Ducati Corse? Design chief Filippo Preziosi’s position might come under threat sooner rather than later. There will be others wondering whether the chill wind in the corridors of power is coming from the snowy Alpine valleys to the north, or direct from Ingolstadt. OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor AUDI, AND THE LIGHT THAT FAILED OPINION