Pecco Bagnaia, during the Qatar GP.AFP7 via Europa Press (AFP7 via Europa Press)
The title of MotoGP world champion is a matter of two riders, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martín. Both on the back of a Ducati. That is why there is a person who will emerge as the winner no matter what happens in the last grand prix of the year this coming weekend in Valencia. Luigi Dall’Igna (Thiene, Italy; 57 years old), Gigi to everyone, is the guru behind Ducati’s resounding success. The machine that the Bologna factory has built is so good that even Marco Bezzecchi, with last year’s bike, has certified his third place in the general classification in the penultimate race of the course in Qatar. The Desmosedici have won almost everything in this World Championship, and on Sunday night, at the Losail circuit, they achieved their sixteenth victory of the season, a new absolute record in the premier class for a manufacturer.
Right now no one is complaining about Ducati and a large part of this success is the work of the brilliant work in the garage and offices of Dall’Igna, a mechanical engineer who has been involved in the world of competition for more than 30 years. “Gigi is, above all, a winner, someone very competitive. Although he may not seem like it, he goes out of his way to win,” says Paolo Ciabbatti, sports director of the Borgo Panigale brand, in conversation with EL PAÍS. The Italian executive knows very well the man who in 2013 exchanged a decade of success at Aprilia for the ambitious task of turning Ducati into the reference in world motorcycling. Now general director of Ducati Corse, the brand’s racing department, Dall’Igna can boast of multiple records and two years of full titles in both MotoGP and World Superbike.
“Gigi is a genius, a brutal engineer and, furthermore, a great guy who is highly appreciated within the paddock,” says Jorge Martínez Aspar, who met Dall’Igna when he was starting with Aprilia. “There he made an engine with a specific type of change that made the difference, but at that time no one imagined that he could go that far,” he acknowledges. From the outside, Gigi is a very normal guy. He stands out for his imperturbable calm in a world accustomed to the most extreme emotions. “He carries the tension inside and I’m sure he feels butterflies in his stomach like everyone else,” Ciabatti clarifies. His tranquility, they say, is what allows him to think more and better in situations of maximum stress.
A fan of good wine, so much so that he has set up his own winery at home, those who know Dall’Igna well describe him as a family guy. When he can escape the circuits, he loves to go with his camper van to natural places with his wife Lucia and his two children, Anna and Andrea. He is also a regular sportsman, and loves bikes and skiing. Although he is now considered a guru in the discipline, his arrival in competitive motorcycling was pure chance. He wanted to be a physicist or astronomer, but finally opted for engineering and specialized in engines. Without further ado. When he finished his degree he went to work for a sports prototype company linked to Ferrari. There he wrote his thesis, but the project closed and he had to make a living. He found his opportunity in Aprilia. Until then, motorcycles had interested him merely as a means of transportation after having traveled through much of Turkey and Greece on two wheels as a young man.
Gigi Dall’Igna.Lisa Guglielmi (ZUMAPRESS.com / Cordon Press)
Dall’Igna has the air of a meditation teacher. He helps his fluffy white hair and lush beard of a wise man fresh from the pages of JRR Tolkien. He always listens with maximum attention and his dialogues are clear, concise and calm, never the product of a predetermined speech or the marketing that usually surrounds high competition. “This final challenge between Ducatis is increasingly exciting and fascinating for us,” he says about the tight duel for the title between Bagnaia, official pilot of the brand, and Martín, pilot of the Pramac satellite team, who arrive at the Comunitat GP. Valenciana separated by 21 points and 37 at stake. His impartiality may seem strange, but it is sincere and transparent. He does not get carried away by colors and only sees two of his products fighting on equal terms for the world crown. “It’s one thing what other people think about the brand, but for him, whether Jorge or Pecco wins is the same. Ducati wins and he wins,” Aspar certifies.
The method that everyone wants to replicate
The success of the Italian engineer is explained by daring and dedication. The key is in his revolutionary work method within the category. “Gigi unites the technical part with the rider’s sensations, he doesn’t just trust the data,” highlights Álvaro Bautista, double champion with Ducati in the World Superbike, a project that Dall’Igna also supervises. “With it, not everything that works on paper is validated, since the pilot has a lot of decision-making power,” he adds. Ciabbati summarizes his formula in two essential elements. “First, we accept some risk in developing parts to always stay ahead of others. This greatly changes the convention established by Japanese factories until now. Secondly, we share all the information between engineers and pilots, and that has also accelerated the ability to respond on the track,” he explains. We must add a third element that the Bologna factory has never hidden: Ducati has eight leading motorcycles and eight riders with very different styles that allow them to unravel the secrets of each route faster than anyone else.
The current incontestable dominance, however, comes after a long and arduous road. “Now that we know how nice it is to win, we want to continue doing it,” Dall’Igna himself hopes. Gigi built the Ducati project little by little, with a lot of patience and very clear ideas. In its day, the Desmosedici was an indomitable and feared motorcycle, just as the Honda is today, from which Marc Márquez has fled to end up, precisely, on the Italian motorcycle. The machine that currently dominates MotoGP was born from the ashes of the failed project together with Valentino Rossi, who left Yamaha to attempt a still unprecedented success: an Italian motorcycle and rider winning the MotoGP title.
When he took office, Dall’Igna opted for a group of very capable young engineers and led the Bolognese troops outside of traditional schemes. “Gigi developed areas that no one paid attention to,” Ciabatti points out. In 2015, they opted for a completely new motorcycle that for the first time introduced aerodynamic elements and concepts more typical of Formula 1 to the world of two wheels. Today it is the rest of the factories that try to replicate the Dall’Igna method, which always seems to have an ace up its sleeve when other brands approach. Whether Bagnaia wins or Martín wins at the Ricardo Tormo in Cheste this Sunday, a Ducati and the quiet genius who has been behind the project that has completely transformed the MotoGP universe will surely win.
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