British MotoGP: Ducati tyre gamble ends in humiliation

Published: 27 July 2009

Ducati suffered a disastrous British MotoGP at Donington Park after Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden shocked the paddock by opting to run wet tyres for the 30-lap race.

The gamble spectacular backfired as Stoner and Hayden were lapped just 13 laps into the race, with the rest of the field all selecting Bridgestone slick rubber.

The race hadn’t even run for ten laps when Stoner and Hayden were over one minute adrift of early leader Valentino Rossi and Ducati’s strategy drew widespread bewilderment in the paddock.

The decision by Stoner was baffling as he is locked in a title fight with Fiat Yamaha duo Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, who both crashed out of the lead in a thrilling final Donington Park Grand Prix.

But the Aussie, who eventually limped home in 14th place and now trails series leader Rossi by a massive 37-points with seven rounds remaining, said it was a risk worth taking.

The 23-year-old said: "Everybody knows I’ve been struggling for the last few races in the dry so I was praying for the rain to come.

"Every single lap we were out there it threatened to pour down and we were very close to having the perfect situation.

"Unfortunately, even though it got heavier, it didn’t come soon enough and our tyres were destroyed so it ended up being the wrong decision.

"For us, in our current situation, I still think it was a risk worth taking because it could have worked out fantastically but obviously we’re disappointed it didn’t.

"I’m sorry for the team because they’ve done a great job to give me a bike capable of winning races at every circuit we’ve been to lately, even though for one reason or another I haven’t been able to get the best out of it.”

It was easier to understand Hayden’s high-risk strategy given he was way down the grid in 15th place with nothing to lose.

The Kentucky rider though finished down in 15th place, nearly ten seconds down on Stoner. The 2006 world champion said the decision was entirely his to ignore the slick option.

“We took a big gamble, it backfired and it’s frustrating because we made a big change to the bike for warm-up and I had a great feeling with it in the wet.

"The track was damp for the sighting lap and it was spitting with rain on the grid and since my pace on slicks hasn’t been great all weekend we took a big gamble.

"I had nothing to lose so we rolled the dice. The odds were against me but it was so close to paying off.

"It rained throughout the race but the track was so warm the moisture wasn’t accumulating on the ground and unfortunately that spelt disaster for us. I take full responsibility for the decision.

"We agreed on it together with the team but it was my shout, I thought ‘let’s try and be a hero here!’ The tyre was pretty much destroyed after seven or eight laps but there was no point coming in to pit and it came apart five laps from the end.

"To be honest it’s amazing how it held together for that long! I don’t want to say it was a mistake; it was just a gamble that didn’t pay off and we’ll learn from it,“ said Hayden.

Factory team boss Livio Suppo said he had informed both Stoner and Hayden that he felt the right choice was to go for slick tyres.

But he said he would never try and convince riders to change their mind if they felt slicks would have been too dangerous in the perilous conditions.

He said: “We took a big gamble and it didn’t work. We actually informed both riders that all the other guys were on slicks and that we thought it was the right choice but they were both adamant it was too dangerous and at the end of the day we have to trust their instinct in a tricky situation like that.

"If it had rained heavier we might be celebrating an amazing success now but we’re not and we have to accept it.”

See Wednesday’s MCN, available on July 29, for more reaction, including the frank opinion of Rossi’s crew chief Jerry Burgess on Stoner’s tyre choice gamble.