Q&A with Ducati North American CEO Jason Chinnock

With the dust of the 2019 EICMA Milan Motorcycle Show finally settling, it appears Ducati has a big year ahead.

For sport bike and racing enthusiasts, the 2019 Ducati Panigale V4 R stole the show, but the Bologna-based brand updated several of their other models.

In the states, the Progressive International Motorcycle Show (IMS) is the first time that motorcycle fans will be able to feast their next year’s most anticipated releases. At the Long Beach IMS stop, we sat down with Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnock.

Interview with DNA CEO Jason Chinnock
Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnock (Photo by Ron Lieback)

Chinnock has been at the helm of DNA since 2015. His enthusiasm for Ducati is only matched by his excitement for motorcycling.

During this interview, we spoke about the upcoming V4 R, domestic racing aspirations, his time with the brand, and how Ducati has evolved during his tenure.

Ultimate Motorcycling: The 2019 Ducati Panigale V4 R was just announced at the EICMA show in Milan, Italy. It’s the World SBK ready package that consumers can pick up in any showroom. What is V4 R in today’s market for Ducati in the US? What does this bike represent for Ducati North America?

Jason Chinnock: This is the flagship Superbike for us. It’s the halo; when you think of what Ducati is known for and our core values of style, sophistication, and performance, this is the pure embodiment of that. Every once in a while, every few years, we bring a product to market that actually encapsulates every bit of learning and technology that we’ve taken from the track that we can make relevant to the street and the V4R is a representation of that.

In the states, we have a very rabid, loyal fan base. When the V4 first came out last year, we had a lot of guys really excited that we’re all saying, “I’m waiting for the R,” which is great. It’s great to have built a subtext that is flowing.

Those riders will say, “The V4 is an amazing bike, but I know when the R comes out it’s going to be on a different level.” Even then, when I look at the difference between where we were at with the S and the R, the R is really a bike that was designed, while you can ride on the street, but was designed for the track.

The way that it delivers power and where it delivers the power, more up on the top end, the faster revving motor; all these elements of technology. The way the suspension is a fixed, stabilized suspension versus a dynamic system. It is really meant to be a track bike.

So, I anticipate that we’re going to see a lot of track enthusiasts. I know that we’re going to have club racers all over already. We’ve even had some people that have approached this in the last couple months about possibly campaigning in the MotoAmerica series. Those are all exciting things because this is a bike that can deliver in all those areas.

Interview with DNA CEO Jason Chinnock: V4 R
Ducati Panigale V4 R

UM: Ducati has been making waves in MotoGP and has always been a competitive force in WSBK. In recent years, Ducati’s presence hasn’t been as consistent, but there has been success when racing in the states with guys like Doug Polen and so forth. Can you elaborate on some of the plans that Ducati North America has in regards to domestic racing?

Chinnock: Since Doug Polen we’ve had several efforts in the US. We’ve had the Parts Unlimited Superbike that ran for a few seasons, Larry Pegram ran a Ducati effort for some time. Most of that was as a privateer. Let’s call it a privateer effort that was blessed by Ducati Corse.

We would love nothing more than to see the V4 R racing locally at the level of MotoAmerica. In order for us to compete in the global arena, at the level that we do for MotoGP and World Superbike and be competitive, all of our efforts are focused on that. All race-related resources, our people, or time, everything.

We’ve been approached for some opportunities in North America and the US, specifically. It’s our role to connect the team and the sponsors with the brand and the product. I would love to be able to see us out there but I also want to make sure that if it’s done, it’s going to be done right. If someone’s going to campaign a Ducati, they can go out and buy the bike from the dealership on the street but if they want official recognition, it needs to be done in a way that’s right for our brand.

Our responsibility in North America is to be able to take a serious effort and make the connection between Ducati Corse. That’s really our role – to be the conduit to make that connection. But the combination of the right rider and right team need to be presented in order for us to campaign that effort.

We can’t waste time speculating. We need to do it for real or just don’t do it at all. We’d rather not participate than do it and not be competitive. It’s not the product I’m concerned about, it’s how a team can be put together in order to be able to be competitive. It’s more complex than just the bike.

UM: Ducati has never been one to shy away from pushing the performance envelope, as Superbikes are one of the core pillars for the brand. With the introduction of the Panigale V4 and V4 R, these are some of the most powerful consumer motorcycles ever created. To play devil’s advocate a bit: is there a horsepower or performance plateau on the table, or is Ducati always going to push further?

Chinnock: When you drop 230+ horsepower, it’s a headline stealer. People get excited about that. I think that the amount of horsepower, while it’s quite relevant, what’s more important is how you get it down to the ground.

It’s about taking that power and getting that 234 when you need it, but then also managing that power when you don’t need it. It’s about control, not just power. If you can’t get that power down to the ground, and you can’t keep the riders stabilized, it can’t be utilized.

This is why we’ve done everything from electronic aids to aerodynamics. The entire aerodynamics package is an extremely important part of the bike. It’s not just to keep the bike stabilized but also the rider.

Interview with DNA CEO Jason Chinnock: Ducati V4 R
Ducati Panigale V4 R

I was sharing with you earlier about this shape on the tank (points to channel on fuel tank). When a rider is on the bike, they’re tucked and they’re leaned over to the left-hand corner, you get to put your arm deep inside this channel here, which keeps the rider’s arm out of the air and cuts down on wind resistance, but also reduces the air turbulence and the rider getting beat up.

These types of additions reduce the strain and the stress that the rider has in holding on because they’re not fighting the bike. These are the sorts of things that showcase how we use all elements of technology, whether it be aerodynamics, or electronics, in order to be able to hardness the power on tap.

Will there continue to be more power for motorcycles? I’m confident that there will. Again, it doesn’t matter unless you can actually get it down to the ground. You’ve seen and you’ve heard of 300 horsepower supercharged motorcycles that destroy a tire one lap around the track. What’s the point, besides bragging rights? And there’s value to bragging rights but a sport motorcycle should be able to balance its power with control. to bragging rights. It needs to have the balance of that power but with the control. That’s something that’s key. I think there was an old ad years ago from Pirelli or something that was like, “Power is nothing without control,” and that’s what’s most important.

UM: World SBK has always been the focus of the V4 R, unfortunately, it’s still up in the air as to whether we’ll be seeing a WSBK race in the US for the 2019 season. Have you communicated with the Aruba.it Racing Ducati WSBK team at all during this whole process?

Chinnock: I’m very disappointed that World Superbike won’t be making its stop at annual Laguna Seca, and from what I’ve read I don’t believe that it is. I might have to make sure I schedule one of my business trips over there for around the world superbike event (laughs).

I talked to Chaz Davies, because we’ve developed a good relationship with him in the US. When he comes over for World Superbike, he usually comes a week early and he hangs out in Venice, so we loan him a Scrambler to ride around town to get acclimated. Which is basically a vacation for him. A couple days off to kind of just relax and enjoy California (laughs).

But in talking to him about the bike, usually he said when he gets out and he rides a new motorcycle, it takes him a while to develop his comfort, his understanding, feeling and feedback. He rode the V4 R bike and immediately, he was connected with it. He said he’s immediately there, which is awesome. So, for me, that’s incredibly exciting. I would anticipate a very competitive season this year.

Obviously, there’s strong competition, and great riders and good product, but I’m really excited about what the V4 R is going to be able to bring to the arena as well. As much as I love MotoGP, I love the of rawness of World Superbike. It’s a different thing. It’s a completely different thing.

It’s interesting. I’ve sat down with the team at Corse. We spec-ed out what the Corse-built V4 R is going to be for next year, and some of the discussions we’ve had with the teams. It’s not MotoGP money. It’s really approachable. In fact, I was a little concerned because you think about how much is derived in technology from that and MotoGP, the reality is that getting into a V4 R Corse built bike is attainable.

Not necessarily for the casual rider, but for somebody that wants to really be out there and be competitive. It’s not GP level funding. So, I think as the rider, let’s say the human rider like you and I, that you feel like you have a connection to this because it’s more tangible. That’s what I love about World Superbike. Is you feel like, I could potentially, someday, maybe…Probably not, but (laughs)

With MotoGP you’re in another world, right? You feel like you can; you might be able to be part of this world. Even the race scene, the crowds and access to the talent and everything like that, it’s a different feeling there. I love the show of MotoGP and the racing still is great, but the rawness and accessibility of World Superbike is really fun, too.

Interview with DNA CEO Jason Chinnock: Ducati Diavel
Ducati XDiavel

UM: Laguna Seca is always something I look forward to every year. Hopefully, it gets worked out. Shifting gears a bit, you’ve been CEO of Ducati North America since 2015. As a brand, Ducati has introduced new models that redefined what we understand the company to be, but you’ve also been part of several new bikes that have pushed that even further. What are you most proud of so far?

Chinnock: I think the thing that I’m most proud of is that we stay true to who we are in our spirit. Despite the fact that we’ve brought product to market that’s allowed us to stretch the boundaries or maybe even stretch what people think they know about our brand.

A product like the XDiavel is a perfect example. It’s a bike with forward controls, belt drive, upright riding position, and sensibly a cruiser. But, you throw that thing into the corner and you twist the throttle, and it’s unquestionably a Ducati. It’s a different character of Ducati, but it still retains that same DNA.

To me, that is something that is important, both as a motorcyclist and a fan of Ducati. Even though I’ve been back for three years, I worked for Ducati for nine years prior and I worked at a Ducati dealership for four years before that. I’m a fan first. I’m a motorcyclist. There’s a reason I was attracted to the brand. It’s because of having that authentic connection and experience with the product.

While there a lot of motorcycles out there and there are great bikes that are out there, the ones that retain their soul and retain that emotional, visceral connection that’s irrational – that you can’t calculate on the back of a piece of paper to make sense, this is what Ducati still provides, regardless of the expansion of our brand. So, for me, I’m really proud that as a brand, we’ve been able to keep our identity.

I think it’s more about the fact that we’ve kept that DNA. We’ve expanded and we’ve also become more accessible. That’s the other element that I think is really important; becoming more accessible and more approachable, but still inspirational or aspirational.

People want to aspire to be part of who we are. We’re moving barriers between product by adding different product that makes that possible. We’re moving barriers of cost of ownership with increased mileage with the service intervals. Moving from 6000 miles for your service intervals to eighteen thousand miles. I mean, it’s industry-leading now!

Access and entry into the brand are paramount. We’ve been working with Ducati Financial Services to bring what’s named Ducati Premier in, to market which allows for a very low monthly payment. So, people think, what can I afford every month in order to ride a Ducati? Those sorts of things are critical because it gives us the ability to grow our brand and still to be able to bring products like the V4 R to market.

The reality is that the market for sport bikes has not grown in the last 10 years. We know that. We’ve found ways, through new products, to be able to grow our brand and to expand our footprint and our share, but it’s also fueled our ability to bring the most amazing production Superbike known to man and the most powerful production Superbike here today at the show. All these things add to the greater sum and reinforce who we are as a brand.

UM: We’ve started our conversation with the pinnacle of performance in regards to Ducati’s lineup, the V4 R. Let’s zoom out a bit and look at something that’s done very well for you guys – Scrambler.

The Scrambler line provides accessibility to new riders, while also being a departure from the track-centric models that have helped define the brand in a modern context. Interestingly, Scramblers were sort of a US incarnation. How has this helped and changed Ducati as you see it?

Interview with DNA CEO Jason Chinnock: 2019 Ducati Scrambler
2019 Ducati Scrambler Icons

Chinnock: I love the fact that we have Scrambler because also as a motorcyclist, I’m not any one specific motorcyclist. I ride a Desert Sled regularly. It’s probably my daily rider. I get on a Multistrada when I want to get out and adventure and disappear. What I love about the Scrambler brand is that it makes the world of motorcycling accessible. We’ve seen that we have the highest number of returning motorcyclists, and the highest number of new motorcyclists, and three times the number of female riders with Scrambler.

The fact that we’re able to bring product to market that opens a world to those people to come, not only into Ducati’s overall world, but actually into motorcycling. I’m quite proud of that. We’ve also been able to use the Scrambler brand to go to places that are unexpected.

We took Scrambler to the Moto Beach Classic and you might expect us there, but we also participated in a street art festival in Denver called Crush Walls. People wouldn’t expect a motorcycle brand to be there. When you think about the Scrambler, it’s more lifestyle. Owners consider, “I’ve decided to have this lifestyle, and this is an accessory to this lifestyle.”

This year, we’ve also introduced on the new 800 series with technological upgrades that enhance safety, because that’s something that’s really important for new riders. The value of cornering ABS for the customer to feel more confident that they’ve got the technology working for them, and it’s not just in the top-of-the line product, but it’s actually accessible in something under ten thousand dollars.

We’ve been very proud of the brand’s ability to reach out. For us to be able to use this as a tool to bring people into motorcycling; it’s been very valuable. We have a responsibility, and we’re not going to do it with an inexpensive product because we’re still a premium brand. It needs to be something that instantly reminds you, when you crack the throttle, you know it’s a Ducati.

UM: Sounds good, thank you!

Chinnock: No problem, thank you!