SPORT AND TECHNOLOGY
Lenovo powers Ducati MotoGP on the racetrack and the roadway
To spectators, Andrea Dovizioso’s bike looks like a red blur skimming across the track. It’s March 2019, and Dovizioso — one of the stars of the Ducati team that races in MotoGP — is just seconds from the finish line. He’s in first, but barely.
After drifting across the only straightaway — a mere kilometer — of the Qatar Grand Prix course, Dovizioso and his fellow riders face 16 fast-flowing turns spread across just 5.3 kilometers. To maneuver around these corners without falling or spinning out, riders must rely on the centrifugal force created when vehicle meets turn, leaning into each corner and just barely touching kneepad to asphalt. The slightest miscalculation can push a rider from the top of the pack to the bottom — or worse.
After 42 minutes and 36 seconds of racing, Dovizioso zooms past the finish line, winning by a mere .023 seconds.
“In MotoGP, every few milliseconds count,” says Konstantin Kostenarov, the Chief Technical Officer of Ducati. Indeed, the gap between first place and 10th place in this race was just 9.6 seconds.
But the difference between first and last hasn’t always been this small. Fifteen years ago, the time between first and last place at Qatar was over a minute. So much has changed in the sport since then.
In MotoGP, it’s not just a racer’s talent, courage or training that gets him the top spot on the podium these days. If he wants to win, he’s going to need to think beyond the rubber of his tires and the asphalt of the track. He needs 21st century technology.
Ducati, a 93-year-old Italian motorcycle company, knows this well. In April of 2018, the Ducati team, that races in MotoGP, signed Lenovo as its premier technology partner. Now, Lenovo’s award-winning PCs, tablets and high-performance servers are fueling world champion motorbike racers and preserving a decades-old legacy of Italian speed, sweat and racing success.
We know how to create high-performance racing and road bikes,” Kostenarov says. But given the paradigm shift the motorcycle industry is facing, the company had to undergo a “digital transformation” and become a “data-driven company.” It had to think big and get smarter: collect, analyze, learn, repeat
Lenovo was the logical choice for facilitating Ducati’s leap into the 21st century, given its track record in designing “smarter technology” and providing “high-level services,” Kostenarov says.
Where once racers relied on intuition and guesswork to determine the day’s conditions, now they can track the minutiae of their vehicle and its surroundings to optimize each race and practice.
“Every track has its own specific layout,” according to Davide Barana, the Ducati Corse Technical Director. Each bike must be adapted to the track’s specific characteristics — Lots of turns? Fast-moving straightaways? — as well as the rider’s personal preferences. The bike, Barana says, is “largely adjustable.” Everything from the chassis to the control panel can be tweaked.
Data matters in this game of speed and metal. It all starts with sensors — upwards of 50 tiny processors embedded in the motorbike that track everything from the speed of a spinning wheel to the engine’s ease of acceleration. During a race, data is stored in the bike then downloaded via cable to the Ducati team’s arsenal of Lenovo ThinkPad P1s during each pit stop. The workstations quickly analyze the information, then the team modifies the motorcycle’s specs for the next session.
“The faster the computing power, the faster the motorbikes,” says Stefano Rendina, Ducati Corse IT Manager, of the importance of high performance computing.
But technology is no substitute for a rider’s skill and training -- it’s a complement. “The bike is always completely under the control of the rider,” says Barana. Electronics, like traction control, are meant to serve as aids, not invasive distractions.
Barana says the technological evolution of MotoGP has helped keep riders safer by reducing the rate of crashes and preventable errors. But it’s also served as an equalizer of sorts.
“We see an increase of potential for different riders” because the new tech helps “less talented riders” stay competitive, he explains. In his opinion, this makes races all the “more interesting for the fans.”
It’s not just riders benefitting from the latest in data technology. The advances piloted on the track are eventually implemented in consumer Ducati road bikes, ensuring customers experience safest, smoothest rides possible. And because of Lenovo’s high-performance computing capabilities, Ducati can adapt its racing technology to the road with unprecedented speed and security.
After all, “racing activity is the test bench for new technology before it enters into mass production and becomes implemented in large numbers,” according to Rendina.
Adapting technology from the track to the road is a complex endeavor, as Ducati’s headquarters are located in Bologna and the team’s races are spread around the globe. One week, the Ducati team could be burning rubber in Catalunya. The next, it might be tearing up the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Lenovo is the link between the traveling team and the folks back home, and speed gives the racing team advantages in more ways than one.
According to Kostenerov, “Lenovo technology helps us have a shorter time from designing the motorbikes to beginning production” and onto the showroom.
The high computing power of Lenovo solutions enables Ducati designers to quickly adapt their algorithms and racing bike technology to consumer-friendly models. An example: In 2018 Ducati introduced winglets to its racing bikes—a feature adapted from airplane technology to enhance the vehicle’s aerodynamics. In November of last year, at the Milan Motorcycle Show (EICMA), the company unveiled a road bike with winglets inspired by the racers. From the racetrack to the road — in no time flat.
Ducati Corse is one of the primary influences on the brand’s identity and the customer’s experience, Kostenerov says, and consumers expect the same technology that enables MotoGP bikes to fly through the finish line to be available at Ducati showrooms.
“We have more power, more security, more possibilities to use the technology,” he says. All of this means Ducati is “quicker to implement new parts… and design new products.”
Such a speedy turnaround has implications that reach far beyond the bounds of MotoGP circuits. Of course, Ducati wants to continue dominating the elite racetracks, but their ultimate goal is to create faster, safer and sleeker motorcycles for the public. Eventually, the technology riders test on the track will make its way to the gridlocked streets of Tokyo or the oceanside cliffs of Greece.
Lenovo is with Ducati nearly every step of the way, from security and performance to product sophistication. “We are looking for a partner that respects our main values, like performance, sophistication, and security,” Kostenarov says. “In the solutions of Lenovo, we found the best-in-class to accomplish this goal.”
The intelligent transformation enabled by the partnership means Ducati technology will make an impact beyond the racetrack, transforming the ways we all live, commute and play. That’s what Lenovo calls smarter technology for all.
MotoGP is at “the top level” of technological innovation, says Ducati electronics engineer Gabriele Conti, but at the same time, “it’s still a sport where you can see a hand-to-hand combat.” On the one hand, “you have the technology,” he continued. On the other, “you have the fight of the riders until the last corner.”