It is hard to keep secrets when Valentino Rossi is involved. Not because of the Italian - Rossi has been the very soul of discretion on the subject of Ducati's development - but because of the exposure he brings to any situation, and especially to Ducati. So on Thursday, Ducati held a private test of a brand new chassis for their 2012 MotoGP machine, all of the details of which were supposed to be secret, but most of which everybody knew. Even the times were supposed to be secret, but the ever well-informed GPOne.com claims that Rossi managed to lap at around 1'39 during the test.
What Rossi was testing was similarly common knowledge: Earlier this week, Ducati took delivery of an aluminium twin spar chassis - though again, GPOne reports that the difference between the Deltabox design in common use by Yamaha and the Ducati chassis is that the Ducati chassis does not have the rear cross tie joining the two spars together at the rear - and it was this chassis that was being test at Jerez today and yesterday, with Franco Battaini riding the bike on Wednesday, and Valentino Rossi taking the bike out on Thursday. The chassis, built by FTR, (though the Buckingham-based Moto2 manufacturer has consistently denied any knowledge of the project) is in response to requests from Rossi for a chassis with more feel, the Italian failing to get to grips with the original carbon fiber subframe design which has been in use since 2009. According to GPOne.com, Rossi spent his time going out for short, five-lap runs, which suggests that either he had a lot of parts to test, or that he was testing something radical that needed lots of adjustment in between runs.
As stated, Rossi eventually dropped his times to set a lap of 1'39, which is just shy of Casey Stoner's pole time from the April race of 1'38.757. Though this is an improvement on previous test times from Jerez, and it is heartening to match the pace of the 800s, there is still plenty of cause for concern. Paddock gossip - some of it very well-informed - from Casey Stoner's test of the 1000cc Honda at Jerez in May suggests that Stoner was two seconds quicker on the RC213V than he was on the 800cc RC212V during the race weekend. About a second of that was in better track conditions, insiders contended, but that still left the Honda worryingly fast. Conditions at the track for Rossi's test on Thursday are unknown, though the weather was sunny and warm.
It is hard to estimate just where Ducati are with the new twin spar project. Being around 2 seconds off the pace of the Honda RC213V would appear to be problematic, but on the other hand, this is the very first roll-out of a brand new (to Ducati) chassis concept. While Honda's 2012 MotoGP bike is based broadly on the 2011 machine, the Ducati tested at Jerez today is a very different animal to the machines that Ducati has built in the past. There may well be much more potential to come from the bike, once Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden can start riding it with any regularity.
The key point will be whether Rossi has more confidence in the front end, the Desmosedici's weak point that Rossi has struggled with all year long. That is something we will not find out until Motegi, once the press get to ask Rossi questions about the test. Though what Ducati are testing is far from secret, whether it is having any effect or not remains to be seen.