I understood the exceptional opportunity Ciabatti, Tardozzi, and Taramasso had arranged for me. I would test what turned out to be the world championship-winning machine on the tires for which its specialized aerodynamics, carbon brakes, chassis geometry, electronics, and suspension were designed. My experience would parallel that of a Ducati factory rider.
I sat in Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia’s custom chair — red, of course — in the Ducati pit box beside factory test rider Michele Pirro and his crew chief, Marco Palmerini. Ciabatti told me Pirro would lead me around some laps and then let me in front for some laps.
“Three behind and three in front?” I asked.
If I had raced the Misano World Circuit–Marco Simoncelli in the current clockwise direction, I would have suggested fewer laps behind Pirro, but I wasn’t confident I could quickly figure out the two decreasing-speed right-hand corners after the fast right at the end of the back straightaway, which, for me, don’t flow naturally in that direction.
All MotoGP machines sound beautiful to me, but the Ducati possesses my favorite exhaust note of all those elite machines.The baritone growl literally makes the hair on my arms and on my neck stand on end with excitement. After the mechanics warmed the engine, I pulled on my helmet and gloves. It was time for me to ride.
Remembering my first modern MotoGP riding experience on the KTM RC16, I avoided the low engine rpm that I normally use to be nice to the clutch when taking off on a production motorcycle. MotoGP engines are designed to be most efficient in the rpm ranges used in the practice sessions and races.
In fact, these engines simply don’t want to run at lower rpm. They judder and “bunny hop,” making similar sounds to what you hear when the pitlane speed limiters are employed. I had spent time at races in my role as a TV commentator studying MotoGP riders leaving their garages, so I knew a slightly higher rpm is necessary to avoid looking like a complete novice.
I nailed the take off and might have felt pleased with myself if I wasn’t so busy thinking that I had just experienced the most perfect clutch feel of my life. As I motored down pitlane, I lightly dragged and gently pumped the front brake lever as Pirro was doing ahead of me to build temperature in the brakes while taking care not to add any lean angle.