Home Interviews Interview with Roberto Canè, director of the MotoE project at Ducati

Interview with Roberto Canè, director of the MotoE project at Ducati

Roberto Canè, director of Ducati E-Mobility and current manager of all the "electrical" projects of the Borgo Panigale manufacturer, MotoE (in primis)
Roberto Canè, director of Ducati E-Mobility and current manager of all the "electric" projects of the Borgo Panigale company, MotoE first of all (photo: Epaddock)

The 2024 season of MotoE is going to start. Ducati's commitment will be divided between the GPs with the V21L model and the development of the new bike for the 2025-26 period. Roberto Canè, director of Ducati E-Mobility, talks about it in this exclusive interview for Epaddock.

In about a month, MotoE will return on track for a pre-season test at Portimao to prepare for the first race of 2024, also at the Portuguese circuit, on March 22 and 23. Before sports results and standings return to capture the attention of fans, we had this exclusive interview with Roberto Canè, director of Ducati E-Mobility.
For those who don't know him, Roberto Canè is an electronic engineer from Bologna and the current head of all the "electric" projects of the Borgo Panigale company, MotoE in primis. After studying electronic engineering, his first experience in racing competitions was in Marelli's Motorsport team, where he worked on developing electronic systems for rally cars, SBK motorcycles and Formula 1. In late 2002, Claudio Domenicali, then CEO of Ducati Corse, called to ask him to bring the development of electronics for MotoGP within Ducati. Later, in 2020, Domenicali, who had become CEO of Ducati Motor in the meantime, needed someone to deal with electrification in Ducati and called Canè for this challenge as well. With his team, Canè is responsible for exploring how electrification and new technologies can support Ducati's growth in racing and on the road.

The team Ducati He ran during the tests of the MotoE 2023 in Jerez
The Ducati Corse team during 2023 MotoE test in Jerez (photo: Epaddock)

Our interview begins at the end of the 2023 season, the first in which Ducati was the sole supplier for the MotoE World Championship. For Roberto Canè, "the season that just ended was very positive. Speaking of racing performance, we are very satisfied, especially with the lap times. Right from the start, the chronometric results were excellent and have been so throughout the championship. Despite the bike's weight, we were almost always faster than Moto3, both in terms of single lap time and pace. Plus, all the riders were able to set lap times below the previous track record almost everywhere. The fact that we've been able to make a bike that everyone, not just two or three riders, can ride fast with is something we care about.
Only at Sachsenring, and I put this among the underachievers, we could not perform at the level of the other tracks. Our bike was fast but not as fast as on the other tracks; we still have to identify the reason; it's an anomaly with no specific cause. We have also talked about it with Dorna because MotoGP itself has not been as fast as at other tracks; it is still an open point that we are analysing in these weeks of winter break."

The architecture of Ducati MotoE V21L
The naked Ducati MotoE V21L (photo: Epaddock)

“Like the sporting performance, the bikes' reliability was also excellent. In 2022, we had done so many hours of testing with Alex De Angelis, fixing a few unforeseen problems. Still, to do the whole championship without having even one reliability problem on 18 bikes, well, I didn't expect that. To give you an idea, in the first preseason test, we did more kilometres with all the bikes on the track than Alex did in a year of testing. Almost 40.000 kilometres were covered throughout the season without the slightest reliability problem. There were some things to fix, but they were minor.
In particular, the reliability of the electric powertrain has been very high. Only in Jerez, during testing, an abnormal signal led us to replace the battery, but it was a software problem that was fixed almost live. Not only the reliability of the powertrain has been at the top, but the consistency of performance has also been remarkable, with no drop in power on any bike in any race of the championship.
Going to analyse the rest of the systems, only in one case, at the Red Bull Ring, we approached the temperature limit of the brake discs, but we expected that because the Austrian track puts a lot of stress on the braking system. When I say ‘limit’, I mean the operational limit; we did not in any way compromise the safety of the bike; this I would like to emphasise."

La Ducati electric V21L in livery Ducati Corsica
The Ducati Corse livery of the V21L electric Ducati (photo: Ducati)

In addition to the electric powertrain, there are two other key elements of your bike: electronics and aerodynamics; what feedback have you had on these fronts?
“Aerodynamics is a fundamental element of MotoE; it is essential to minimise the energy consumed to counteract air resistance and cool the battery effectively. In this area, the performance observed on the track was in line with the simulations we had done in the design phase; only in some cases, we found data that deviate while remaining within the expected range from the design values. We are studying them, and the hypothesis is that there were situations where some bikes, being in slipstream for a long time, had less air available to cool the battery. It is an interesting study that we will complete before next season to predict the thermal behaviour of the battery in case we face very hot races in 2024.
Regarding the electronics, they mainly include throttle control, engine brake, traction control, slide control, and anti-wheelie system. For the first three, riders had three dry maps and three wet maps available. Ducati created the maps that were the same for everyone, so each rider could choose the one that best suited his riding style. Initially, some people had asked for less electronics, but when we made maps in that direction, the feedback we got from the MotoE rider group was to go back. The level of electronics was adapted from time to time following the requests of all the riders; we could make neither ad hoc maps nor maps that were good only for a few. We could have set the electronics to the minimum to ride the bike 'Stoner-style', but it's not like all the riders are Stoner."

One of more than 50 crashes recorded in the 2023 season MotoE
One of more than 50 crashes recorded in the 2023 MotoE season (photo: LCR E-Team)

Performance and reliability are goals achieved; what can you tell us about integrity, particularly of the battery? What did you do when a battery was damaged in a crash?
“It happened a few times that, after a crash, the bike was significantly damaged: forks torn off, swingarm destroyed, and so on. We were very thorough in assessing the integrity of the battery, both in the cases I just described and in the minor slips, which could still damage the battery. When the checks made at the track did not give us complete answers about the state of health, the battery pack was sent back to Italy, where it was disassembled and thoroughly checked. The procedure included disassembly and a specific examination, a kind of ultrasound scanning for the two carbon shells to check for any damage to the carbon structure. This check is essential because the battery pack is a structural element of the V21L basically it is the frame. Then, we checked all the internal components and did the same testing for a newly built battery pack to ensure we had the same level of safety as a new one.
Lastly, we carried out on the bench what we call the "Mugello cycle"; that is a simulation of the race at Mugello to check the performance of all the parameters, for example, the 96 temperature sensors, the 192 voltage sensors, and so on, were within safe limits.
Once the checks were completed, the battery pack would return among those available to the teams. Throughout the season, we thoroughly checked about ten of them. Despite even very heavy crashes, we never found any problems with the integrity of the battery pack; I would say we made it far too robust."

Ducati is the sole supplier of MotoE for the four years 2023-2026; one year has passed; what do you have planned for the next three?
“There will be no particular evolutions for 2024, while in 2025 we will have a new bike. If Dorna decides so, for 2024, we could unlock some variables for the set-up, but it's not up to us; if it's needed, the bikes will be ready anyway.
In the meantime, we are already working on the new bike. Last October, a hybrid version took to the track, a V21L with some components that could be part of the MotoE 2025. Then, starting in spring 2024, we will develop the new bike with more track tests using the V21L development bikes. We will do several comparisons to see which components work best. The main novelty will be the battery; there is no point in hiding it.
The world of electric propulsion is very young; the electric motor was born before the internal combustion engine, but its use as a propulsion unit on cars and motorcycles is very recent. So, while today's petrol engines result from a century of research and refinement, in the electric field we are in the early days of a new technology. Today, improving an internal combustion engine is extremely difficult; my colleagues in MotoGP go crazy every time. In the electric field, evolution is happening day by day. We often read about cells with miraculous performance; maybe some of them are a bit reckless statements, but the fact remains that evolution is very fast, not only in batteries but also in semiconductors, which are fundamental to the power control unit. The improvements are there, and they are huge in all systems and subsystems: the cells, the conductors, the cooling systems, the electric motors, the magnets, and so on."

Roberto Canè during one of the Ducati MotoE presentation sessions on the occasion of the 2023 GPs (photo: Epaddock)

“We started by designing and manufacturing the V21L with the best components available in 2021-2022. Some components are slightly improved, but there is no point in making a motorcycle simply by evolving some parts by a little. In the meantime, completely different technologies have become available for some systems, and we will definitely intervene in those; where there has been little evolution, however, it probably does not make sense to go and change that component. The inverter, for example, was already top of the line when we built the V21L, so we are not going to change that, whereas, for the battery cells, we will definitely use something new there.
In the 2023 championship, the bikes arrived at the end of the race with less than 10 per cent energy, including the return lap; this is because our components can withstand deep discharge, whereas many batteries cannot and degrade when they drop below 20 per cent. This figure indicates that the current battery pack was being utilised almost completely and that to go beyond that, we need something new.
Just a few days ago, I was given the prototype cells that I would like to use for MotoE 2025; we still have to test them to see the actual performance according to our usage cycles, which are more intense than what the manufacturer does. At that point, we can define whether to increase speed or range or mix the two. Thanks to the electronics, we can modulate this mix differently for each track."

La Ducati V21L on track at Sachsenring during the 2023 German GP
The Ducati V21L on track at Sachsenring during the 2023 German GP (photo: LCR E-Team)

Motorcycle electronics allow you great flexibility in performance; what is the goal you aim to achieve?
“The goal we want to achieve is to increase the overall performance of the bike; then, with Dorna, we will decide whether to use this performance step to improve lap times or to increase the duration of the race. The electric powertrain is controlled by software; it depends on what instructions you give it. Even the current MotoE, which, e.g. at Mugello, reaches "only" 282 km/h, can do 300 km/h and more. Of course, you lose range and vice versa; if you make it go slower, you can do longer races. Achieveing Moto2 lap times would not be a problem; we could do it even today, but then the range would be too penalised, while maybe for those watching the races, it would be more attractive to see more laps; we will evaluate this with Dorna.
In the coming years, cell energy density for batteries will go up a lot; 40-50% increases are expected, technically, it is not a problem. The problem is economic sustainability. We could put in batteries that have twice the energy density of those currently used, but they would be prototypes tested only in the laboratory with impractical costs and unverified reliability. There are many ideas out there; it will be to be seen which solutions will become viable and which will have no future.
Ducati is part of an industrial group that has set its sights firmly on electrification, so we are very attentive to all technological developments that can be industrialised and sustainable. We are careful with all innovations, but we focus and work on those that look promising for use on a product, which is the primary purpose of the MotoE project: to develop skills and create products. We are working with today's state-of-the-art, which we predict will become the technological solution for the next electric Ducati products."

Detail of the battery and engine of the Ducati MotoE
Detail of the Ducati MotoE battery and motor (photo: Epaddock)

So far, we have talked about battery capacity; what advantages would a battery working at higher temperatures have instead?
“So many. Current batteries can be used in a limited temperature range; having cells with a broader range, with the same performance, would be a huge advantage. In cars, you can mount a conditioner that keeps the battery at the optimum temperature, neither too high nor too low. Let alone if we can mount an air conditioner on a motorcycle to keep the battery temperature constant. In addition, a car battery may be less extreme than a motorcycle battery; weight and space constraints are not as stringent, whereas they are critical elements on a motorcycle.
Absurdly, if the V21L had cells working at maximum temperatures increased by 20°C or 30°C, we would completely remove the cooling system: radiator, ducts, channels inside the battery, and liquid. Besides the weight, we would save space that could be used to increase the number of cells. It would be a completely different bike."

La Ducati MotoE being recharged
Ducati MotoE during charging (photo: Epaddock)

The energy used by MotoE is charged in the battery, but some of it is regenerated by the bike itself; what values are we talking about?
"The V21L was regenerating about 10 per cent energy this year with minimal variations from track to track. This is because of the motor brake and the electric rear brake. When the bike brakes, the rear wheel reduces the rotational speed of the electric motor, which acts as a generator and provides energy to the battery for the time of braking. To go beyond the level we have reached, one would have to regenerate from the front wheel, which, however, on motorcycles, is not connected to the motor. Almost all of the braking effort on a motorcycle is at the front, so to regenerate more energy than we have already recovered, you have to work there. At the moment, however, the advantages are less than the disadvantages. If we mounted, for example, a generator on the front wheel, we would be increasing the unsprung masses and the gyroscopic effect, making the dynamic behaviour of the bike worse. The problem is essentially this. So many manufacturers are working on it, e.g., with linkages to bring the motion from the wheel to the engine, others with hydraulic systems, but no one has found the solution to the problem yet. We'll see."

Having reached this point, after an hour of interviewing, we finally released Roberto Canè, but we will bring him back to Epaddock before long to unveil the details of the new MotoE for 2025-2026.

Photos: MotoGP, Ducati and Epaddock

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