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Friday, December 9, 2022

Colin Fraser: Petrucci’s American Adventure

Colin Fraser

The Auto Parts 4 Less MotoAmerica 2022 Superbike National campaign launched at Austin Texas April 8-10, in support of the annual MotoGP World round at the Circuit of the Americas.

The big story was bound to be the much-vaunted arrival of former MotoGP ace Danielo Petrucci, most recently a star in his debut for KTM on the Dakar Rally.

Petrucci is looking to revamp his career and take a small step back from the hyper-competitive world of the MotoGP series. The 31-year-old had a variety of offers when he decided to leave MotoGP, and eventually opted to come to the U.S. to race a works Ducati for a mega-dealer supported effort.

Last year, former World Superbike star and MotoGP racer Loris Baz competed in the U.S.A. for the same group and entered 2011 as a favorite. Unfortunately, Baz could not counter the dominant Attach Performance Yamaha effort of Jake Gagne. The Ducati squad struggled to come to terms with the spec Dunlop rubber, given their bike was designed for the World Superbike spec Pirelli slicks.

Even so, the Baz struggles were a major story during the last MotoA tour. The whole confusing episode was then exaggerated by Baz’s end-of-season return to World Superbike, when he was an unlikely front runner in a stand-in role. This earned Baz a return to WSBK with a new BMW squad.

Petrucci tested during the winter in Europe on Dunlops, but his preparation efforts were hurt by a motocross knee injury one month ago. So based on various uncertainties and the whole Baz/2021 storyline, it was anyone’s guess how things would go in Texas.

Ducati development rider, former MotoGP ace and Dakar Rally hero Danielo Petrucci prior to his MotoAmerica National Superbike debut for Ducati at Circuit of the Americas. Image by Colin Fraser

Things went good… real good. Perfect, in fact. Petrucci worked through some issues but had fewer problems that the other top teams. In the end, he took two solid wins, but Matthew Scholtz on the Westby Yamaha proved motivated competition.

Reigning Champ Gage was out on the warm-up lap for Saturday’s Race One with continuing electronic woes, and then chose to ride a de-tuned back-up bike to a careful third on Sunday. The much-anticipated show down between Gage and Petrucci will have to wait until next weekend at Road Atlanta, at least.

Following Race Two, Petrucci explained, “when I left home, I didn’t know what my pace would be – the only think I knew was the track.

“Our bike is really good on braking and maximum speed (an incredible 195 mph!), but Scholtz was so strong in the middle of the corners, I could not carry that speed inside the corner, I had to brake hard and then pick up the bike and accelerate.

“I have to thank my team, we made quite a few moves (changes) to the bike, and I do not know for sure if it was better or not! I am at the beginning of this experience; I really need to make some kilometers. It was really great to fight with Scholtz.

A larger than typically sized racer, Petrucci opted for a conservative, medium front tire choice, and explained, “for my size and experience in MotoGP, I need really a big bike, a stiffer bike. I need a lot of support to brake hard, and for this reason my bike is harder to turn. For some reason, my riding style on this bike right now is stop and go.

“There are a few corners where this hurts. In the first section, it is really flowing, and Mathew (Scholtz) was much faster. I also need to feel better physically, to have some better training in the next few days.

Petrucci also confirmed in was still very early days with the spec Dunlop rubber: “I don’t know the tires. I aske my Crew Chief to use the hardest one, but I don’t know the numbers, the compounds.”

Petrucci’s works Ducati Panigale was the centre of attention on the MotoAmerica grid at Circuit of the Americas in Texas for the opening races of the 2022 season.
Image by Colin Fraser

Petrucci also spoke of his career options at the end of 2021.

“I had the chance to go to World Superbike, but last year was really, really tough in MotoGP. Last year, the later part of the season, I remember really well in Barcelona, I was fighting with Valentino (Rossi), I was able to pass him with two laps left, the I crash. As I walked away in the gravel, I was thinking that maybe my time has arrived.

“I got some offers to stay in MotoGP, to be a test rider, a few opportunities World Superbike, but I decided ‘no way, I want to change everything.’ I choose to come here to see a new country, and here the environment is really, really good.

“I have really much more talks with these guys (people in the MotoA paddock) this day than a year in MotoGP! It’s really nice to be here.”

Although he saw his MotoGP friends in the paddock for the first time in a few months, Petrucci explained, “I have to find my will to do things again. I don’t miss the MotoGP, the fight for the two or three tenths of a second, and it is so tough. After ten years of MotoGP, I was really, really tired.

“But I think with this season I will find the will again to come back in World Superbike. But I want to focus on this year. Maybe, if I am good, I will stay here, because I really like this place.”

Regarding the machinery provided by Ducati in Italy for Petrucci’s MotoA debut, the double victor explained, “this bike is quite similar to what we tested with in the winter, it’s a factory bike. It is sent to us by Ducati, all the Ducati guys from the factory were working for us today, and for sure we know nothing about the Dunlop tires!

Petrucci’s trick works Ducati v-four Ducati is backed by a U.S. dealer consortium including Warhorse, Houston Superbike and Ducati New York City.
Image by Colin Fraser.

They were here to give us advice, and also for me – every session, it is a new bike, and I really don’t know the tires, and it makes a lot of difference. Definitely, I like the bike, but it is made for the Pirelli tires, not these tires.”

As far as specific set-up issues, Petrucci confirmed a challenge faced by all the front runners at this particular venue.

“We fought all weekend with the chattering, and we work all weekend for the chattering not so much the performance. We don’t know if the bike is better or not, because the chattering is still too big. I want to sort this problem, and then we go forward.”

Petrucci also explained that he had checked in with 2021 Ducati rider Baz about what to expect.

“I think Loris had a different swingarm compared to me, although the bikes are the same. In World Superbike, they are maybe using another one. Loris told me things are really, really different, but it would be more tough. Now I will study the videos.

“Now we go to Atlanta, for me a completely new track, and maybe we suffer much more!”

  • Colin Fraser

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