The latest episode of our Bar Sport was full of guests, which took place between the Ducati presentation in Madonna di Campiglio and the Superbike tests in Jerez. And the Borgo Panigale manufacturer, holder of the titles in both championships, was one of the key points of our live coverage, which saw the intervention of Michele Pirro, Danilo Petrucci, Jonathan Rea, Xavi Vierge, Lorenzo Baldassarri and the inevitable Carlo Pernat.
One of the most keenly awaited riders of the two days in Andalusia, which will start at 10 this Wednesday, there will undoubtedly be Danilo Petrucci, in his first outing as part of the Barni team. After the adventure in the Dakar and in MotoAmerica, the rider from Terni is ready to face this new challenge with the team led by Marco Barnabò, who will provide him with the latest model of the Panigale V4R, which he has already started to size up. "This is the 2023 bike. In America I had the one from the year before, the 2021 bike. This is the latest evolution, but I still haven't been able to understand what changes in detail" explained Danilo, who will have to get used to the Pirelli tires as well as getting to grips with his new mount.
Rea: “Kawasaki has moved in all directions. We have to see first the level where we are”
After winning everything there was to win in 2022, Ducati is aiming for a new full house of titles in the Superbike World Championship, but the competition is ready to give it a hard time. “Everybody improves every winter. This is the first real test where everyone’s together, so it will be nice to see first the level where we are, because we made some changes on our bike. I guess Phillip Island is very close, so not long to wait before we go to race” said Jonathan Rea, who has worked hard with his team to make the ZX-10RR more competitive.
“A little bit in all directions, of course I can't say exactly what we've been doing. Last season was very difficult, especially with Alvaro, who is so small - continued the British rider - We didn’t notice this difference so much when Scott (Redding) was on the Ducati, but with Alvaro it's too easy to pass... For us, we have to try to cover this area. Of course, I will never be 66kg with my racing gear unless I cut off my leg. This winter I took off 1.5kg of body weight and we changed some staff in the team, we are working hard on a technical side, so all is in the right way so we just have to be good. I also have to improve, because last year I made too many mistakes. Alvaro and Ducati were the benchmark level last season and we have to improve."
But is Bautista the rider to beat, or is Ducati the bike to beat? “It's always the package. Since Chaz Davies, there hasn't been anyone who has won consistently on the Ducati until Alvaro arrived. Perhaps, a little with Scott but not so much. Alvaro is a quite a skilful rider and the package with him and the bike is working well” commented the six-time world champion, who then took part in a nice interlude with Michele Pirro. “Johnny, please go slowly” the Italian test rider said to Rea, who promptly answered: “Hey, it’s your fault for developing the bike. You should go on holiday!”
Time to settle the score between the two in a CIV SBK Round? "No. Never. People think the level is down in the national championships, but it's not. You find pure animals, who want to be competitive" the Northern Irishman immediately made it clear, briefed by Pirro on the fact that "the bike is completely different from the one in World Superbike, it's a stock bike". “But the stock Ducati has the same power as my Kawasaki! Just joking! I don't know what power it has" countered Kawasaki’s multiple champion, declining an invitation to get on the Ducati with a smile dressed up like a diplomat: "I'm happy in green, I look very nice in green".
Vierge: "At Honda we are going in the right direction"
However, Kawasaki and Yamaha are not the only teams that would like to oust Ducati. Work is also in full swing at Honda, as confirmed by Xavi Vierge: “Pirro is certainly doing an excellent job. We saw it last year: all the Ducatis were very fast, but we're here to work and try to catch them - said the Spaniard - Honda is working very hard and last year we saw that our competitiveness depends on the track. We were strong on some, while others were more difficult for us, but I think we can improve this season. For me and Iker it will be the second or year in the category, so I'm sure we can take a step forward. We'll see if it's enough or not, but I'm sure we're going in the right direction."
A path that points towards a clear change of pace in both Superbike and MotoGP, where former Suzuki technician Ken Kawauchii, who arrived in Jerez following the test team, is ready to take over from Takeo Yokohama as technical director.
But what can we expect from the Ducati in the Sepang tests? “There are some things we need to confirm - Pirro anticipated - We don't want and we can't repeat last year's mistake, since it will be a very difficult World Championship, because with 42 races, with the sprint race on Saturday, you can’t afford to start not with certainties. Since we have confirmation that the bike won a lot last year and monopolized Qualifying, we are in a situation where we have to find something to improve. There are some important things, which are not visible, but they will allow us to make a little difference. And others, visible, which we still have to confirm in the tests".
All that remains is to wait for the action to begin on the track, to understand how wide Ducati's margin will be in 2023.