A remarkable press release from Italy. Ducati have just announced that Troy Bayliss is to test Ducati's Desmosedici GP9 at Mugello next week, at a private Ducati test from May 12th to May 14th. Bayliss is to test Ducati's MotoGP bike alongside regular tester Vittoriano Guareschi, in pursuit of improvements to the difficult Desmosedici. The press release puts it as follows: "The test has been planned for a while and will be repeated during the year at future official sessions of the Test Team. Ducati can thus count on the feedback of a three times world champion, whose talent and experience will contribute to the continuous development work carried out on the Desmosedici GP9 and GP10."
Rumors of Bayliss riding the GP9 had been floating around the internet for a couple of weeks, ever since spy shots of a set of leathers with MotoGP, Baylisstic and Marlboro Ducati logos surfaced on a couple of racer websites. The shots were allegedly taken by someone picking up a set of leathers from the Arlen Ness factory from their racing department, and had unsurprisingly generated a lot of speculation about the legendary Australian Superbike star making a return to racing. Bayliss is preparing to compete in Australia's V8 Supercars series, but is known to still have both close links to Ducati and and a hankering for motorcycle racing - despite an explicit veto by his wife.
The likelihood of Bayliss ever racing in MotoGP has to be fairly slim. After his victory in the final race of the 990 era, Bayliss proclaimed himself done with MotoGP, having gained the revenge on Ducati's MotoGP team that he had sought after being unceremoniously dumped by the squad at the end of the 2004 season. Together with his World Superbike pit crew, specially shipped in as a condition of Bayliss taking Gibernau's ride as a wildcard at the 2006 Valencia Grand Prix, he came in and took victory almost from the very first corner.
But Bayliss being called in to perform testing duty also points to Ducati having recognized that they are still having problems with the GP9. Despite the machine looking almost unbeatable in the hands of Casey Stoner, no one else seems to be capable of getting to grips with the fickle Ducati. The bike is notoriously difficult to set up, the engine mapping making the bike respond differently almost from corner to corner, disrupting the riders' concentration and robbing them of confidence. By bringing in a rider of unquestionable ability, Ducati may hope to find out whether the problem really is with the bike, or with the other riders. Given that three former world champions - Loris Capirossi, Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden - all failed to get the hang of the Ducati (though fairness decrees that it is a little early to draw that conclusion for Hayden), it really does look like the problem is with the bike, and not the riders.
When asked by MotoGPMatters.com, a Ducati press officer said that the team would not be releasing times. "It will be behind closed doors, as every other test of the test team is. We may put out a final release." Of course, Bayliss' test puts Ducati in a difficult situation. If they do publish times, then this will unleash a tidal wave of speculation, either about the future of Nicky Hayden if the times are good, or about the state of the bike if the times are bad. And if they don't publish times, then this will generate even more speculation about why they didn't release the times. However, it will at least generate a lot of publicity for both the team and the sponsors.