MotoGP/World Superbike: It’s Gigi’s World – Roadracing World Magazine

First person/opinion:

by Michel Gougis

Coming back to the media center after the podium ceremonies after the race in Valencia, I heard cheers going up between the Ducati transporters parked behind the garages. I looked down the catwalk and saw Ducati Corse General Manager Luigi “Gigi” Dall’Igna in the middle of a crowd of admirers. Several of them kissed her. Others held up the banner that identified them as the Gigi Fan Club.

Let’s come back to this one more time: the general manager of Ducati Racing has his own fan club.

You could see this as a manifestation of Italian fans’ gloriously abnormal passion for motorsport. It is, like in Spain, one of the major national sports, part of a larger culture. I was in Italy earlier this year and walked into a little roadside cafe on a Sunday afternoon. Two old men were watching the Formula 1 race on a big TV. When the second Ferrari exploded, they got up and walked out. We couldn’t care less about who won, because they knew a Ferrari wouldn’t.

Alex Marquez has been thrown off his Honda RC213V a lot this season and has struggled with a series of unremarkable finishes.  He rode the Ducati during post-season testing in Valencia and was smiling.  Photo by Michel Gougis.
Alex Marquez has been thrown off his Honda RC213V a lot this season and has struggled with a series of unremarkable finishes. He rode the Ducati during post-season testing in Valencia and was smiling. Photo by Michel Gougis.

And with crowds of varied Ducati aficionados roaming the Valencia circuit, culminating with a group of Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia fans who took part in the official media debrief wearing red wigs and singing “We Love You, Pecco” on the tune of Paul Anka’s famous hit, well, it’s easy to write the Gigi Fan Club as another facet of Italian motorsport passion.

Don’t.

The record books will record Pecco as the 2022 MotoGP World Champion. And he’s as worthy as they come. But the reality is that Dall’Igna won this title. He’s been working towards this goal for a very long time, and it’s as much his as anyone else’s.

Francesco Bagnaïa (63).  Photo courtesy of Dorna.
Francesco Bagnaïa (63). Photo courtesy of Dorna.

Desperate for someone to save them after the failed Valentino Rossi experiment, Ducati lured Dall’Igna away from Aprilia, where he had engineered a couple of Superbike World Championships with Max Biaggi. The company was really at an emotional low point. They had given a nine-time world champion the best MotoGP bike they could build, and he could barely slide it onto the podium. And things weren’t much better in World Superbike. Dominant in the production racing series for years, Ducati hadn’t won a title there since 2011.

Under Dall’Igna, things improved. Battling the force of nature that is Marc Marquez at his best, Ducati first started winning races and then fighting for the riders’ championship. For three consecutive years, Ducati has finished second and been runners-up four of the five seasons leading up to 2022.

Ducati unleashed an army of machines against the MotoGP field in 2022, and shared data and updates freely.  The factory machines, and their preparation, were impeccable.  Photo by Michel Gougis.
Ducati unleashed an army of machines against the MotoGP field in 2022, and shared data and updates freely. The factory machines, and their preparation, were impeccable. Photo by Michel Gougis.

All the time, Dall’Igna was working to build a foundation for the team. Instead of crushing year-old bikes, Ducati started fielding them to satellite teams. Perhaps having learned from the attempt to place all his hopes on a superstar driver, Dall’Igna also began to improve the quality of equipment available to the satellite teams and began to improve the quality of the drivers for those teams.

When a dispirited Johann Zarco was looking for a ride in 2020 and turned down the offer to race in the third-string Ducati team, it was Dall’Igna who assured him he would have better gear than that team had had in the past, and would receive a salary. Zarco was on the podium that year and nearly won a race.

The Mooney VR46 Racing team, in its first year, took a second-place finish in the GP, equaling the Repsol Honda factory team's best finish.  Photo by Michel Gougis.
The Mooney VR46 Racing team, in its first year, took a second-place finish in the GP, equaling the Repsol Honda factory team’s best finish. Photo by Michel Gougis.

Dall’Igna correctly estimated that the more riders and teams on Ducatis, the more data the team would have on what worked. The data has been shared. The new riders, like Bagnaia, had the time to learn in a satellite team, without the pressure of the factory team but with factory machines. Ducati now has eight bikes on the grid and Zarco is the unofficial in-race tester for the new components. Don’t underestimate the value of race weekend data collected by eight very fast runners on your constantly updated gear.

And Dall’Igna took a hard look at the rulebook to figure out what it said he could do – and what it didn’t say he couldn’t do. The Desmosedici sprouted wings, vents, scoops, fins. And again, don’t misunderstand the importance of these things. In Valencia, Jorge Martin was asked what caused his recent uptick in results. “The fairing – 100%,” he said without hesitation.

Prohibition of “shape-changing” electronic devices? Gigi stroked that graying beard and thought, is there any other way to do this other than electronics? Hence the complicated hydraulic systems that intertwine through a modern Desmosedici.

And all of that technology was eventually passed down to all of the satellite riders, as their feedback going back to the factory team helped all of the Ducati riders fine-tune those complicated missiles.

The culmination of all Dall’Igna’s efforts is the GP22, perhaps the most efficient MotoGP machine ever. He holds the lap records. It took more poles, more wins than anyone else in 2022. Its eight riders sat in the front row at least once when the lights went out on Sunday.

Perhaps the moment that best illustrated just how much Gigi dragged Ducati came on Tuesday afternoon. New signing Alex Marquez, the only driver to switch to the Bologna brand for 2023, ended the day happy, his ever-present smile not looking at all forced, as he often did as he struggled in vain with the struggling Honda RC213V in 2022.

It was in stark contrast to the face presented by his brother Marc, who flat-out told the media that the bike he tested was not good enough to win the 2023 championship, and that of outgoing world champion Fabio Quartararo, who looked a little crestfallen about the performance of his Yamaha YZR-M1 prototype.

And the coolest thing is that as soon as post-Valencia MotoGP testing was over, Dall’Igna flew to Mandalika, where factory Ducati Superbike rider Alvaro Bautista has more than a good chance of sealing the title, giving the factory both championships in a single season, something that has never happened.

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