Paolo Ciabatti on Ducati’s motocross action

By | March 5, 2024

“I am proud to announce Ducati’s entry into motocross,” Claudio Domenicali, CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, told the motorsport world in January this year.

“A totally new world for Ducati in which we want to bring our talent in designing lightweight motorcycles, with excellent components and high performance and – above all – that can captivate more and more motorcyclists. Just as we believe that the track is the best laboratory to develop and test the bikes that will then be available to customers and enthusiasts.”

Ducati has been at the forefront of FIM World Championship racing success for 70 years, winning 18 constructors’ titles and 15 riders’ titles, all the while becoming one of the most successful teams in the MotoGP and World Superbike championships of motorcycle racing.

Now it’s coming into motocross. It has developed a prototype of a four-stroke, single-cylinder 450cc Ducati Desmo450 MX bike, which it will take to the start line for the first time in mid-March with Maddii Racing and team rider Alessandro Lupino as part of the Italian Motocross Pro Prestige MX1 Championship.

Overseeing the program will be Paolo Ciabatti, sporting director of Ducati Corse from 2013 to 2023. The 66-year-old Ciabatti, who was appointed to the role of General Manager of the new Ducati Corse Off-Road program, helped Boost Ducati’s MotoGP success, starting with Casey Stoner’s 2007 MotoGP title. A key variable in the calculation of Ducati’s MotoGP and WorldSBK dominance – Ducati won both the MotoGP and WorldSBK championships in 2023 – Ciabatti will now take a place above the starting Ducati MXGP program.

“Obviously Ducati had the idea of ​​going off-road for many, many years,” Ciabatti explained from his home in Italy. “For whatever reason, the project and plan were always delayed; it was, ‘Next time! The next time!’ Fortunately, three years ago there was approval to continue with this project. Ducati decided that there was a market for Ducati, even though the off-road market is very new to Ducati and currently dominated by KTM and the Japanese brands.

By giving Ciabatti control of the spectacular new project, Ducati is showing a strong vote of confidence in the experienced racing manager.

“This whole project is a clean sheet of paper,” he said. “It’s clearly an exciting challenge because Ducati has never been present in the off-road world. All the projects I worked on were of course already existing projects such as Superbike or MotoGP. You enjoy success, but you want something new; a new challenge; a new motivation. I think it came at the right time.”

“Ducati believes that with the right product and the right network we can be successful. Success will of course depend on the quality of the product, which will be our goal at the top of the segment. Ducati also wants to be successful in racing. We believe that with this model we can attract a younger customer base who will come into the Ducati family through a new product and ultimately stay with Ducati and perhaps move on to something else as they get older.”

Domenicali has told the motorcycle industry media that Ducati cannot make any mistakes along the way. Ciabatti addressed Domenicali’s concerns.

“When you enter a new segment as a manufacturer, not only is there racing, but also with the product you have to be very careful about what you do,” he said.

“Obviously the quality and properties of the product are very important. Some good success in racing obviously helps convince people that this is the right product. There is also a lot of work to do on the sales network and many other things that Ducati takes very seriously, because we still have some time for production, because the bike will be on the market at the end of 2025. We want to be ready.

“Ducati is very proud of our technical qualities,” Ciabatti continued, referring to the 20 Ducati engineers sent to the Borgo Panigale dirt bike. “It’s a brand new engine. It has no part in common with any other existing engine. The Desmo system has been retained because Ducati has it on all sports models, so this bike has a Desmodromic Valve System.

“We also took a different approach with the frame. We started with all competitors because this is what you normally do when you develop a new product – especially when you develop a product in a different space outside your comfort zone. We got some insight into the competitors and what they were doing and then we decided to go our own way.”

And so far things are going well with the Desmo450 MX project.

“The first test we did seemed to show that we are going in the right direction,” Ciabatti said. “It’s clear we’re going to need more testing this year. We will also participate in the Italian Championship with Alessandro, mainly with the aim of further developing the bike in the most grueling situation, racing. Toni Cairoli also helps push the bike to its limits. Maybe he’ll do some races too. That hasn’t been decided yet.

“The riders Cairoli and Lupino have decided to join the project and I think this shows that Ducati is taking things seriously. We want to be successful. We know it will take time, because we know how long it has taken some other manufacturers to achieve success. We know we can get there and that is the goal.

“The most important goal is the development of the bicycle. We are working on developing the engine, and on the other hand we know that with riders like Alessandro and Toni, the expectation in racing is that we will be at the top, or fighting for the top. On the one hand, we are a mix where people expect Ducati to come to races and immediately be hyper-competitive. I think we can be very competitive, but we will never forget that the main goal of racing in 2024 is to further develop the engine. If it produces very good results, it will be the perfect situation.”

As the Desmo450 MX continues to be raced and developed over the coming year, it will be imperative for Ducati Corse and Ducati Production to remain closely linked as the two entities will be in a constant flow and exchange of R&D information.

“For Superbikes we are developing a street bike, which has a number of features that make it competitive in Superbike, so it is a way for Ducati Corse engineers and Ducati Motor engineers to work closely together,” he said.

“In this case of the Desmo450 MX, this is even more the case, because it is a non-homologated bike. It is not a bike that you need to homologate. It is a bicycle that will be used on motocross tracks by enthusiasts and professionals. The bike that will be on sale in the second half of 2025 will have a lot in common with the bike we race. This is why the Ducati Corse Off-Road was created.”

After developing the new bike in the Italian Pro Prestige MX1 Championship, Ducati Corse R&D will focus on the US-based Monster Energy Supercross Championship. Ciabatti is fully aware that American Supercross is a very different world to navigate.

“It’s definitely a championship we want to be in and hopefully that will be in 2026,” he said. “This is the plan. We know it’s a different story for motocross. It takes a lot of preparation, but it is exciting. We can see that not only KTM and the Japanese manufacturers, but also Beta is there and Triumph is there. I think this is good for the sport because when you see more and more manufacturers interested in motocross and supercross, it shows that this sport that we all love is now attracting more interest from new manufacturers and is very good.”

Now owned by Audi and armed with the German car brand’s financial and technical resources, Ducati has not been shy in preparing to take on its new motocross battle with both the Japanese and Austrian motorcycle brands.

“We will definitely fight those guys, like we fought them in MotoGP and Superbikes,” Ciabatti said. “Like I said, we know it will take some time. Possibly less time than some other manufacturers needed, hopefully. We know it won’t be easy because it is a very competitive championship. Riders make a big difference. It’s clear that attracting the right riders to ride our bike will be a key to our future success. Hopefully, I think the image that Ducati has globally as a company that is successful in every motorsport activity we participate in will help us put together the best possible team with the best possible riders.”

The story originally appeared on Racer

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