Danilo Petrucci has always been one of the most underrated riders in MotoGP. The Italian came into the class from Superstock, where he finished runner up in the Superstock 1000 class. He joined the IODA Racing team, where he started off on the team's own Aprilia-based machine, before switching to the Suter BMW. Last year, he rode the Aprilia ART machine for the team, before finally getting a shot at a proper MotoGP machine this year with Pramac.
Since making the move, Petrucci has quickly got up to speed, but three years on underpowered bikes have left the Italian with a riding style problem to fix. Like many other former Open class and CRT riders, he is used to carrying corner speed, to compensate for a lack of horsepower. Now on a Ducati Desmosedici GP14.1, he has horsepower to spare, and needs to adapt his riding style to stand the bike up earlier and make use of the available acceleration.
I spoke to Petrucci after the last day of testing at Sepang, where he explained what he had been working on. He talked of changing his riding style, developing electronics for the factory team, and getting help from his friend Valentino Rossi.
You have a GP14.1, the bike Crutchlow had?
Yes, I have exactly Cal's bike. And I have the same crew chief, Daniele Romagnoli. I feel very very good with him, he's very calm, relaxed, he always spends a lot of time when he explains to me what he does on the bike. We are working especially on the electronics. Because the bike in Ducati, the geometry of the bike is OK. You have to work on the electronics.
Now my problem is that I open too early the throttle in the middle of the corner. Because when I brake on the hard braking, like Turn 1, like Turn 4, I am very very fast, compared to Dovizioso I am exactly the same maybe sometimes faster. But in the long corners, when you need to go in fast to the long corner, I lose a lot of kilometers.
But I'm pretty happy. This morning we tried just one soft tire, because we are not focused on the lap time. For sure we are happy, we go away with a good lap time, 2'00.9 is a good lap time, the problem is the guys at the front of the pack are too fast! I wanted to stay absolutely between 1 second and 2 second gap with the first, but Márquez did an incredible job. 1'58 is absolutely incredible. Also because the track is getting worse year by year, the grip is getting worse, so it is incredible, really really incredible. I want also to stay between maximum 1 second gap with the factory riders, Dovizioso and Iannone, with Dovizioso I am exactly 1 second, but with Iannone 1.5 seconds. I'm not really happy about this. But for the first test, is OK.
Especially I have to ride a lot, make many kilometer with the bike. Because like I said, my problem is not the braking stability or turning power, I'm too fast into the corner. And I open the throttle too early, when I have not picked up the bike enough, so I slide a lot, and when I feel sliding, I open more the throttle. Because if I let the bike slide, I turn well, and I open much more, but it's worse. I struggle a lot in the exit of the corner, and I lose a lot of time. This track I don't enjoy so much. Especially with hot temperatures I struggle a little bit on the race pace because it's very very hot. This kind of situation where there is not so much grip is for me much worse, because I have no traction, and I'm not fast.
I need to work. Yesterday, I was happy about the pace. I followed Valentino, we are friends, so he let me follow him, and I stayed two laps behind him. Very very close, we did the same lap time, 2'01.8, 2'01.9. And I was really really happy, because I feel very very calm when I was behind, and then he let me pass and the time goes up one second! [Laughs] I was not so happy. Then Valentino text me, with Valentino we have a nice feeling, because he ask me always, when the point of the track how is looking, he ask me, how I was in Turn 1, Turn 2, you were faster in Turn 4, but you were not so fast in Turn 11. So for me I am proud to follow Valentino for two laps. In the past year, I can follow him for three or four corners, so stay behind him for two laps and then be followed by Valentino is a thing that two months ago I was never never thinking. Only on video games! So I am happy.
Then this afternoon we tried to finish the work on race pace on long distance with the hard tire. I'm happy, because we only work with the hard tire. In the morning we set the time with the soft tire, but only one lap, only for going away with the good lap time for the classification. Because if you are good with the classification you go away with a happy face. But the qualifying lap doesn't give you points, and points are arriving with race pace, and the first riders are very very fast! They are two or three tenths slower than my fastest lap time, and they can repeat the time 20 times! So it's very very difficult at the moment. For me to be 20 seconds from the leader at the end of the race would be a very good target. 1 second per lap is very very good for me.
So 1 second per lap is your first target?
Yes. In a long track like this, 1 second per lap for me is a quite hard target but I think I can reach this target. Maybe for the race here in October, which is almost one year away, I think we have to be closer than now.
You said you were working on electronics for the factory?
Yes, next test we try something for the factory team. Because you know the factory team will have the new bike, so we will try something new for Ducati with the electronics. Then, if the results are positive, they can pick up the information and use for themselves the good information that we give if the results are good. I think for the race in Qatar, I will have the new fairing and new exhaust system. I think the bike from the first view will be very very close to the 14.2. I think for the rest of the season, for all of the season will be the 14.1.
So you won't get the 14.2?
Maybe, but don't know. My team manager, Francesco Guidotti, says that if the results are good, maybe I will have some new parts or maybe a new bike, but now at the moment in Ducati, they are focused on the new bike. And I don't want absolutely nothing at the moment, because the main thing to work is for myself. I have to work, and I think this bike could go very very fast, faster than now. First I have to work with me.
You say that you open the gas too early, the bike starts to slide, and you open the gas to try to help the bike turn, but it starts spinning too much?
Yes, spinning too much, because I open the throttle too much with too much lean angle. So the problem is that I don't pick up the bike so fast. So Dovizioso wait just one tenth to open the throttle, but in that one tenth, he has picked up the bike and opened. And I'm still not fast to pick up the bike, especially because I have a lot of speed in the middle of the corner.
So you have too much corner speed in the corner. So you're fast in, fast in the middle, but you need to be faster out?
Yes. When I brake, I'm fast like Dovizioso, maybe faster, in the entry of the corner I'm always faster than Dovizioso. But with this bike, with this power, you make the time going out from the exit of the corner when you open the throttle. And Dovizioso, I didn't see any data from Iannone, but I saw from Dovizioso, and he is very smooth riding, and always when he open the throttle, the bike is up, and the bike is going forward very fast.
Is this a habit from riding motorcycles with less power?
Yes, exactly. In Ducati, this morning I had a little talk with Gigi Dall'Igna, and he's very happy with my result, but he said only, you have to be calm. Because you are very very fast, but you have to be calm, because this bike is difficult. You have to be calm when you open the throttle. I was always riding CRT bikes with not so much power, so this kind of solution was not the best solution. With not so much power, we have to brake hard, go in faster, and if you open the throttle, you have not so much power so the bike doesn't slide so much. Now, the power, there is a lot, so when I open the throttle, the bike slides, and I don't pick up the bike, but I continue to open the throttle to help the bike turn. And like you saw Casey Stoner, Casey he is able to do these things, me not! [Laughs].
So at the moment when he opens the throttle, when he turns the bike, he picks the bike up, and I am not doing that. So, the bike continue to open, but the electronics system cuts the power and lets you slide, but you don't go forward.