The Aruba.it Ducati team are the latest on the World Superbike grid to officially unveil their 2017 machine, pulling the wraps off of this year’s Panigale R at the squad’s launch presentation in Italy today.
The factory-supported Ducati outfit come into this season off of a strong back-end to their 2016 campaign, during which Britain’s Chaz Davies won seven of the final eight races of the year to finish third in the standings.
Joining the Welshman at the team this year is returning face and 2002 250cc world champion Marco Melandri. The Italian rider last rode in WorldSBK in 2014 with Aprilia before making a return to the MotoGP World Championship with the Italian manufacturer. A dismal half-season saw Melandri, who was never keen to leave WorldSBK, part ways with Aprilia.
Spending the next season and a half on the sidelines, Davide Guigliano’s departure to the British Superbike Championship for this season presented Melandri with an opportunity. Despite not having ridden a WorldSBK-spec machine for two years, the Italian has been impressive on the Panigale R throughout testing and is raring to go at Phillip Island in two weeks.
“The project is fantastic so far and the main features of the Panigale R were wonderful for me,” Melandri enthused. “I found a very prepared and professional team and this gave me a great stride to start this year. I have a huge motivation, more than ever.
“I had a lot of wins but I also lost some championships so the time has come to reach our main gaols, to bring forward an important Italian brand with titles. This is my dream and I want to share it with you.”
Davies enjoyed his strongest season to date in WorldSBK last year, taking 11 wins in total and managing the double at five events. Testing has been positive for Davies and he is ‘at one’ with the Ducati, which he admits is what is needed if he is to take on the might of the dominant Kawasaki Racing Team this year.
“The bike looks the same but the team in Bologna has worked so hard this winter to improve the bike,” he said. “For me it is a very important season. I want to keep winning, I won a lot last year but this is a new year, the important thing is to keep the good job and work going for this season.
“The bike certainly feels like my own now having won so much with the Panigale R, 16 race wins, and every year the bike gets better and better. I feel at one with my bike and I think it keep being like this. That is very important to win against Kawasaki and win the championship.”
Davies and Melandri will jet off to Phillip Island next week for one final two-day test before taking to the Australian track a few days later on their Panigale Rs for the opening practice session of the 2017 season.