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Ducati and WSBK analysis: product development and Valentino Rossi

This post started in the most natural of ways, that is to say a chat between a friend of mine and me over Ducati’s decision to pull out of the WSBK as an official factory team.
My friend is Italian, a motorcycle nut and rides a BMW so that makes him both interested and disinterested in Ducati’s decision in the sense that it’s obviously disappointing for any WSBK fan to see a team pull-out, it’s particularly disappointing for Italians to see Ducati do it from a cultural heritage point of view; but for my friend it’s also not a disaster as his beloved BMW is still in the running and looks like it could have a positive 2011 (he also likes Australian riders so that helps, too).

Ducati’s WSBK pull-out has been almost universally accepted as a way to fund the purchase of Valentino Rossi in the MotoGP but I decided to suppose this not true for a moment and to take Ducati’s stated reason as the truth: they want to invest more in product development.

In which case I was interested in my friend’s take on product development and whether the nitty gritty end of the business gets done in WSBK or in the prototype world of the MotoGP.
I had always supposed the real product development – that is to say bikes that become production models to be used on the road by the general Joes and Janes of the world – to occur in WSBK.
The prototypes developed for MotoGP will always be able to lend something to their production counterparts but in the end, they’re mostly designed purely for racing.
The WSBK is where the action’s at in terms of developing production models, as indicated by the Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC Special Edition and the Ducati 1198SP seen at the 2010 Intermot.
They are both superbike models providing special, performance editions of standard sportsbikes models.
While my friend agrees that the bulk of product development occurs in the WSBK he basically told me to accept the fact that Ducati pulled its WSBK team for Rossi and leave the analysis there.
But I was still curious to understand exactly where product development takes place and if pulling an WSBK team is a silly idea anyway, whether Ducati signed Rossi or not.
There are far too many coincidences to suggest that Ducati pulled its team for any reason other than Rossi and while the WSBK will never have the marketing clout of the MotoGP, it’s still an important forum for the brand.
Meanwhile in the WSBK paddock, BMW is sticking around to….
develop its new S1000RR bike and has signed Leon Haslam to the task, who came within a whisker of the WSBK title this year, with Troy Corser to partner him (more on how BMW is faring later).
And while we’re at it, Carlos Checa, while not racing with the factory team, has proved just how competitive Ducati can be, racing hard and describing his Imola round as the best day in his career.
Althea racing will continue with the 1198 because it seems to be on a winning ticket; if Ducati was looking for examples, it wouldn’t have had to look hard to find the talent and investment to be successful.
In fact, it looks like Checa will get a gig to replace Mika Kallio in MotoGP for the final two races.
So what can we expect from Ducati 2011? Aside from the total marketing anarchy we expect to see from signing Valentino Rossi, will Ducati be able to manufacture the best street superbikes ever off the back of the Italian rider? Is this rather a job to be done in WSBK where street bikes are put to the test in more extreme conditions? And is it possible that given the WSBK role in product development, we could see bikes like the BMW S1000RR and the Aprilia RSV4 take over Ducati’s space in the market?

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