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It will soon be time for the engines to fire up and the winter testing ban to roar to an end in MotoGP™, with Sepang International Circuit ready to bear witness to the grid’s awakening ahead of the 2018 season. And for Alma Pramac Racing, where multiple-time podium finisher Danilo Petrucci is now joined by premier class winner Jack Miller, it’s a season full of optimism. With a well-established link to Ducati and the Borgo Panigale factory more than simply a supplier, the team will once again have a new Desmosedici – the 2018 bike, to be raced by Petrucci – and will be testing and developing, too. Newcomer Miller, on a factory Ducati contract, meanwhile, will race the 2017 version - and has already shown some serious pace in testing. So ahead of their new adventure, Team Manager Francesco Guidotti sat down with motogp.com to both take stock and look forward, beginning with a 2017 that gave the squad a few reasons to celebrate.
“With Petrucci, we were on the podium four times,” smiles Guidotti. “Results that, alongside the four front row starts Danilo had, make me sure we had a great season. We had an official bike in the box and it was a very positive year despite some more difficult moments and technical issues. This was the price of having a prototype for development; we ran this risk.” And one moment that stands out? For Guidotti, it was getting on the podium at the Italian GP: “It was also a season we’ll remember thanks to Mugello; an amazing race at our home track.”
Petrucci: "I would sell my house for a podium here!"
It was Petrucci who took that third place, and he did it after fighting at the front throughout. As then, the Italian shone for much of the year, but not every race weekend bordered on greatness: “There were some races in which we had technical issues, as I said,” nods Guidotti. “It’s a situation in which you can suffer some inconveniences, but you have to face those when you’re experimenting and testing.” In addition, the Team Manager says Petrucci has some things to work on, despite progress having proven impressive. “Danilo must…let’s say, perfect how he manages the season at the highest level. He still needs to improve in this aspect but it must be said that’s he’s made some big steps forward compared to previous seasons. In a couple of seasons he jumped the gun, because he didn’t have any experience from the lower categories to draw on. Slowly, he’s getting to grips with everything involved in racing in the premier class. We expect he’ll improve more from here on out, and that he’ll be competitive in most races.”
For his former STK1000 competitor turned Grand Prix podium finisher, Guidotti has some key targets: "He had some important highs this season, but he also had some tough moments. I’d like him to keep getting the good results he achieved last year and improve on them, but more than anything else, I don’t want him to be outside the top ten - even when things aren’t going well. I’d like to see him constantly in that top ten, which would indicate an overall improvement in terms of both the situation and his speed.”
Petrucci: "My Ducati is a laboratory bike"
Then there’s Jack Miller. The Aussie made an impressive debut with the team at the test in Valencia following the final Grand Prix of the season, and he’s now being tipped as a possible surprise frontrunner for 2018. So what does Guidotti expect of the Queensland native?
"He’s not a rider I spent time with when he was in the lower categories,” explains the Team Manager, “and I met him him during the negotiations to make him one of our riders, before the contract. He made a subtle, good impression. Subtle because that’s always when one party studies the other. However, once we got there, we realised we were dealing with a guy who’s changed a lot compared to his reputation. He seemed a lot more reflective and when I spoke to him I recognised a positive attitude and a low enough profile. In Valencia, he was so eager to get on the Ducati and everything went well; he put in a strong showing. At Jerez, on the other hand, he started to understand a bit better how difficult it is push whilst staying consistent and methodical. But the hope is for us to be able to bring out a rider who has a huge amount of talent but, as yet, whose results that haven’t fully come to fruition. I don’t think that will be an immediate thing, but I think we’ll see that more in the mid-part of the season as opposed to the second half.”
Miller & Tardozzi on adapting to the Ducati
In terms of overall targets as a team, Guidotti says the goal remains the same for 2018: get as far forward as possible. “As we have during the last few seasons, we want to stay as close as we can to the front, and to the factory riders. That’s still the goal for this season. On paper, fighting with the factory teams is something we can’t do, because they have incredible resources. But we’ll try! And maybe we’ll be able to get some more satisfying moments this season.”
Pushed for a little more specificity, Qatar is a track the Italian hopes will remain a positive for Ducati, and Mugello is another he pinpoints as somewhere to aim high: “I think and I hope that Qatar is still a favourable venue for Ducati, and starting well would be a great thing. I also expect to do well at home, at Mugello, and during each and every weekend to some extent.” And there’s that phrase again: “I don’t want us to be outside the top ten, even when we’re struggling.”
19 races, three preseason tests and a maximum of 475 points are on the board in 2018. How many of those Petrucci and Miller can score remains to be raced, but Qatar certainly seems a good place to start for Alma Pramac Racing’s Ducatis – and the 2017 season has laid some seriously impressive foundations.