The Aruba.IT Ducati Team come into the 2017 World Superbike season as one of the favourites to take not just the constructors championship, but a riders’ championship too. The bike, which has no fully acclimatised to WSBK and is up to speed, has been in the series for four seasons now without a title success. Can they go all the way?
The bike itself is a proven race winner in the hands of Welshman Chaz Davies. After initial teething problems, the machine is now firing on all four cylinders (despite it being a twin cylinder), and is ready to take championship success from national, to international race series. Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne took the Panigale to its first British Superbike Championship in 2016 at the first time of asking and Matteo Baiocco took the bike to Italian Superbike glory also. Having finished in the top three in the WSBK on two consecutive seasons, the Aruba.IT Ducati will seek to go on to finish top of the championship tree in 2017. One problem that prevailed last season was the straight-line speed of the bike – yes, you just read that Ducati struggled with top speed! It was an issue in Phillip Island and at Buriram due to the long corners that lead onto the huge straights.
But just who have Ducati hired to take the bike to the top? Unsurprisingly, Chaz Davies signed for a 4th season on the Ducati, having come so close to glory last season. Despite taking 11 race wins – more than anyone else – Chaz could only manage third in the title as inconsistencies in the mid-season put him on the back-foot. 20 wins to his name thus far, can the soon-to-be 30 year old take that all important championship victory?
Out to stop him – or act as wingman – is former 250cc champion and MotoGP winner, Marco Melandri. The famous #33 returns to a series in which he has become known as a nearly man, where the Italian has never been out of the top four, but never took the elusive title win. Having had a torrid time in 2015 for half a MotoGP season, and a retirement year in 2016, Melandri comes back hungrier than ever to challenge at the front. Having had successful surgery to fix an injured leg, he can now focus on returning to former glory and becoming the first Italian to win on the Bologna Bullet since Michel Fabrizio in 2010.
The more troubling issue for Ducati is their start of season form, as they haven’t taken a win in the opening two rounds since Carlos Checa in 2012. They’ve never won in Thailand and haven’t won at Assen since 2012 with Sylvain Guintoli. Donington Park hasn’t been kind to them either, with no win since Carlos Checa back in 2011. However, Davies comes into the championship off the back of six consecutive wins towards the end of last season – the first to win the final six races in a season since Colin Edwards in the amazing 2002 season. Both of their riders are seasoned campaigners and both will be looking for a title win, at any costs…
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Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko