MotoGP tech scoop: Ducati’s latest front shapeshifter revealed

MotoGP

Formula 1-inspired, accumulator-operated holeshot/shapeshifting device and other tech spots from the first two MotoGP rounds

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The accumulator housed within the GP22’s front fairing at Mandalika operates Ducati’s latest front-end holeshot device and shapeshifter

Mat Oxley

Ducati apparently removed the front shapeshifter from its GP22 machines following a disastrous season-opening race in Qatar, but in fact the factory hasn’t abandoned the controversial technology, which drops the front end to reduce wheelies at the start and when exiting corners, for improved acceleration.

Johann Zarco’s GP22 was equipped with a second-generation front shapeshifter system at Mandalika, while the other GP22s belonging to fellow Pramac rider Jorge Martin, factory men Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller and VR46’s Luca Marini only had rear shapeshifters.

The revised system employs technology used in Formula 1 (of course), originally to allow drivers to adjust the car’s ride height during races as fuel load decreased. It’s complex and costly, which is why the Grand Prix Commission, made up of officials, teams, sponsors and suppliers, has just voted to ban front shapeshifters from next season, despite reluctance from some manufacturers (you can probably guess which).

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Inside the nose of Zarco’s GP22 fairing is a hydraulic accumulator unit, which is activated by the holeshot device at the start of the race (via a wing nut on the upper triple clamp) and by the shapeshifter when exiting corners (via a switch on the left handlebar)

The accumulator is a hydraulic pressure storage reservoir. When the rider operates the holeshot device or shapeshifter the accumulator’s three pistons drop to displace damper fluid within the front forks, via the hydraulic cables routed from the top of the accumulator, which lowers the front of the bike.

When the rider grabs the front brake as he attacks a corner, the springs (also visible in the photo) return the accumulator pistons to their original position.

Of course it’s very possible that Ducati already uses an accumulator system with its rear shapeshifter but the unit is hidden from view.

The latest front shapeshifter obviously worked well at Mandalika, helping Zarco to his first front-row start since Sachsenring and his first podium since Catalunya, both coming last June.

Therefore don’t be surprised if the accumulator and other accoutrements appear on the GP22s of Bagnaia, Miller and Martin at the next MotoGP round in Argentina.

 

One wingnut or two? Zarco’s bike versus the factory Ducatis

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The GP22s of Zarco...

Mat Oxley

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...and Bagnaia await the start of the Indonesian GP

The easiest way to spot which Ducati riders are using the combined front/rear holeshot/shapeshifter device and which are using only the rear devices is to count the number of wingnuts on the top triple clamp.

The single wingnut on Zarco’s Mandalika GP22s simultaneously deployed the front and rear holeshot/shapeshifter devices.

Meanwhile the two wingnuts on Bagnaia’s Mandalika bikes separately deployed the front and rear holeshot devices, confirming that the bike didn’t have the linked front/rear devices, which means no front shapeshifter.

The Italian had complained during the Qatar GP that since pre-season testing began he’s been testing so many new parts that he’s not been able to concentrate on his riding, which is why test duties have been shifted to Pramac rider Zarco, who Ducati presumably believe is less of a title contender than Bagnaia, Miller and Martin, the other main GP22 exponents.

However, Zarco is currently the best-placed GP22 rider in the championship, holding fifth place, six points behind GP21-riding series leader Enea Bastianini. Miller currently stands 11th overall, while Bagnaia, arguably the number-one pre-season title favourite, languishes 20th in the championship chase. Martin has yet to score a point, despite starting both the Qatar and Indonesian GPs from the front row.

 

Whatever happened to Ducati’s MotoGP swinglet?

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Bagnaia’s GP22, without swinglet, and Aleix Espargaró’s RS-GP, with swinglet, at Mandalika

Mat Oxley

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Ducati caused huge controversy at the 2019 season-opening Qatar GP when factory rider Andrea Dovizioso won the race with an aerofoil-type device attached to the underside of his GP19’s swingarm

Four rival factories protested the victory, claiming the scoop – often described as a ‘swinglet’ (i.e. swingarm winglet) – was an illegal aerodynamic device, to increase rear downforce for more rear grip during braking.

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The protest was turned down because Ducati insisted the scoop was a tyre-cooling device, designed to channel air to the rear tyre. At that time, Michelin’s rear slick was very temperature sensitive and liable to degrade before the end of races, if not well looked after.

Michelin’s latest rear slick, introduced in 2020 (and controversially not used at Mandalika) is usually less prone to overheating and degrading.

Halfway through last season Ducati removed the swinglet from its GP21s and Yamaha and Honda followed. This year only Aprilia, KTM and Suzuki continue to fit the devices to their MotoGP bikes.

So why did three of MotoGP’s six manufacturers get rid?

“Ducati made the ‘spoon’ to throw air to the rear tyre to cool it down,” said Honda’s Pol Espargaró. “Then everyone started to use the same kind of device. Last year we started facing some problems with tyre temperature – too low – so it made no sense to keep using the device because it was actually increasing problems.”

Aprilia technical director Romano Albesiano doesn’t agree and – like pretty much everyone else in pit lane – believes the primary purpose of the swinglet has always been to increase rear downforce, not cool the tyre.

“Our experience and data tells us that you can never cool the rear tyre enough, especially here,” said Albesiano at baking-hot Mandalika. “But there are some situations where you may need to warm up the tyre more quickly, like in qualifying

“According to our aero concept we need the device for [rear] downforce in braking. The first purpose of this device is to be a wing, to create downforce. The secondary effect is to cool the tyre, which is another positive.”

 

Nakagami goes his own way with different RC213V frame

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Different frames for different folk: Espargaró’s and Nakagami’s 2022 RC213Vs

Honda’s totally redesigned 2022 RC213V is still very much a brand-new motorcycle, after less than five days 2022 pre-season testing and one dry race. Marc Márquez, team-mate Pol Espargaró and younger brother Alex Márquez all use the same type of RC213V chassis, but Takaaki Nakagami has gone his own way with a visibly different chassis spec.

The main beams of his frame are deeper, but of course that doesn’t mean much, because we don’t know wfhat’s going on behind the outer section of each beam.

“I know the other Honda guys use different chassis but during testing I tested the two specs many times back-to-back,” says the Japanese rider, who is still chasing his first premier-class podium. “The one I use is a bit less stiff, a bit softer, it just works better for my feeling – and I believe my feeling.”

Nakagami scored a top-ten finish at the season-opening race in Qatar but qualified at the back of the grid in Indonesia, his RC213V struggling with Michelin’s 2017-spec rear slick casing that also caused problems for several riders.

 

HRC is always good at the details

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The front of Pol Espargaró’s RC213V

Mat Oxley

Honda’s new RC213V definitely wins the best-looking air-intake award of 2022. The RC213V’s carbon-fibre fairing features different carbon-fibre weaves, not for aesthetics or airflow but simply to add strength where needed and reduce weight where possible.