MotoGP fans will get a small glimpse of Ducati's future at Jerez this weekend. Ducati test rider Michele Pirro is due to make his first wildcard appearance of the season at the Spanish track. Most significantly, Pirro is to ride Ducati's so-called lab bike at Jerez, which contains a number of major updates to the Desmosedici GP13.
Though it is unclear exactly what Pirro will be riding - in the Ducati press release, Vitto Guareschi says only that Pirro's Ducati "will have some new development parts that will help us to focus on the development for the rest of the championship" - it seems likely that he will be racing the bike he has been busy testing. This machine, first seen at the Sepang test, was also the bike Pirro spent a lot of time testing at Jerez.
The most obvious differences from the GP13 currently being raced by the factory duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden are the chassis and exhaust layout. In the photos shown below (poorly taken by me on a camera phone) the main changes are clear: the exhaust from the front cylinder pair has been relocated from the left side of the bike to underneath the fairing; and the chassis has been modified, moving the cross member to which the rear suspension is fixed further forward, and altering the chassis, presumably to modify the stiffness. Dark tape has been applied to the main chassis beam, hiding details from prying eyes, but again, the suggestion here is that the frame construction has been altered to modify frame stiffness.
All of the changes seem to be aimed at a single goal, modifying the weight distribution of the bike in an attempt to fix the understeer which continues to plague the Desmosedici. During the test at Jerez, Pirro posted some very respectable times, keeping pace - within a few tenths - of both the factory and satellite Ducati riders. How that translates to race pace is difficult to judge, given Pirro's different role at the test, being sent out to work purely on development.
At Jerez, Pirro will be able to drop his focus on development, and turn his hand to racing. This will give a much clearer idea of where Ducati's lab bike is in terms of competitiveness, and where it still needs work. The changes currently being worked on by Pirro are due to be incorporated into the new version of the GP13 which is set to be tested by the factory riders at Barcelona in June. Though the bike Pirro rides at Jerez is unlikely to be the definitive version handed over to the factory riders, it at least offers a glimpse into Ducati's thinking for the future.