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Ducati’s destiny revealed by V4

Published: 08 April 2002

These are the world first pictures of the stunning new Ducati V4 GP bike. This is the bike that could change the face of Ducati for ever.

MCN has managed to get hold of two exclusive pictures of the bike from Ducati. They show what is obviously an early prototype. It is expected to start track testing in July. The legendary Italian firm has never won a Grand Prix world championship – it has just four 125 GP wins to its credit – and despite a record-breaking haul of WSB titles and wins, it rankles in Italy that the " Ferrari of bikes " has never won the most highly-regarded of racing titles.

Under the old racing regulations, GPs favoured two-stroke engines, so that wasn’t likely to change. But the introduction of new GP rules for this season, allowing prototype four-strokes of up to 990cc, prompted Ducati to enter the MotoGP fray. And its chosen weapon is this all-new 16-valve fuel-injected machine.

The bike is a mix of traditional and experimental technology, as engineers balance the needs of creating a bike that is distinctively Ducati with the demand to build something which can win races.

The bike’s styling flows from the pen of British Formula One car designer Alan Jenkins, a self-confessed bike nut and close friend of Ducati’s race chief Claudio Domenicali.

The nose is still being designed and that’s why it isn’t shown in these photos, but we understand that four different designs have being tested as Jenkins balances the need for aerodynamic efficiency with Ducati’s insistence that the bike looks good. The final decision will be made after more wind tunnel tests.

The fairing on the bike is much bigger than on the 998, with a flavour of much older bikes – more rounded and less angular than the 998, too. The rear though has definite family overtones, twin pipes exiting under the seat, though that too is for aerodynamic reasons.

The steel trellis frame stays, Ducati believing it to be a far more elegant – and effective – solution to chassis design than the sheets of welded aluminium alloy favoured by rivals like Aprilia and Honda on their race bikes.

The trellis only puts strength where it is needed. But, unlike the 998 the GP bike’s frame runs halfway down the bike and is then bolted to the engine which is used a stressed member. This in turn holds the mammoth fabricated swingarm.

A single-sided swingarm, associated for so long with the 916, has been ditched in favour of a more traditional dual-sided design.

The firm persisted with the single-sided approach long after most teams accepted that a dual-sider was better. Normal swingarms are lighter and less prone to twisting than the chunkier single-siders, and give better feedback to the rider. But for Ducati the double-sided swingarm was plain ugly.

The engine is hugely different to anything Ducati has made before. For a start, it’s not a V-twin. Computer modelling told them that 990cc four-stroke engines can make 270bhp. Restrictions on fuel supplies, noise and other engineering hurdles have brought that figure down, but " only " 220bhp is still easily attainable when the bike approaches its 18,000 rev limit.

Philipo Preziosi, the Technical Director at Ducati Corse – the race division of the firm – and the man behind the bike, said: " We knew we could compete with the 500cc two-strokes if we were allowed to cut the weight of our superbike from 164kg (360lb) to 135kg (297lb), but that wasn’t the point. Lap times in testing by the four-stroke machines showed the two-strokes were not the correct benchmark for us as the new bikes were setting new lap records everywhere. "

The solution was to effectively Siamese together two 445cc V-twins into a 990cc V4. Not only will this recreate the sound of a V-twin, but it will improve grip out of corners and preserve rubber by having a " Big Bang " effect on the rear tyre. The power pulses come far enough apart to allow the tyre to recover inbetween.

But it’s not the end for the 90-degree V-twin for Ducati.

As Preziosi explained: " In our opinion it continues to be the best layout for superbike racing and for road use. "

The V4 will race for the first time next season, possibly in the hands of Troy Bayliss and Ben Bostrom, while Britain’s Neil Hodgson becomes the firm’s No1 rider in WSB on the traditional Ducati V-twin production-based 998.

Comparing GP and WSB Dukes

J Bayliss’s V-twin revs to 14,000rpm, the V4 will hit at least 18,000rpm.

J The GP bike will make 30bhp more than Bayliss’ 188bhp V-twin, around the 220bhp mark expected of the Honda V5 and Aprilia RS3 GP bikes. Suzuki’s GSV-R makes 210bhp and Yamaha’s M1 around 200bhp.

J The minimum weight limit for Bayliss’ bike is 164kg (360lb), but GP rules say four- and five-cylinder bikes can weigh a whole 19kg (42lb) less. The Aprilia triple is allowed to shed another 10kg (22lb).

J Bayliss’ bike must be no noisier than 110 decibels (think teeny-bopper pop concert, around about the front row), while the GP four-strokes can hit an ear-shattering 125db (think angry thrash-metal concert, pain, disrupted heart-beat and difficulty in swallowing). Take your earplugs to the Donington Park British GP in July. You have been warned

*All-new fuel-injected 16-valve 990cc desmo V4 has the pairs of cylinders in each bank firing in unison. This provides a twin-style " Big-Bang " power delivery

*The trellis frame is similar to a 998’s but the engine acts more as a stressed member, needing fewer frame elements.

* Ducati has always maintained that " if we race it, we sell it " . So something based on the V4 GP bike must be coming for road use.

*British F1 car designer Alan Jenkins is the man behind the styling of the new bike, not the controversial Pierre Terblanche.

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