Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Troy Bayliss the Hero

Now that the dust is starting to settle on the MotoGP world championship, it's time to give full credit to the Valencia race winner- Troy "Baylisstic" Bayliss.
The first time I became aware of Bayliss was when he joined the British Superbike Championship in 1998 with GSE Ducati. In 1999 he became BSB champion, gaining many fans with his down-to-earth Aussie personality. He acted like racing bikes was just a way to pay the rent. His riding style was also a big talking point. Some of his fellow racers said that Troy was taking lines that they'd never seen before, and using bits of tarmac that no bike had ever ridden across.
If the ultra-smooth riding style of somebody like Max Biaggi is equivalent to caressing the bike and whispering sweet nothings into its ear, then the Bayliss style is more like dragging the bike into the back yard and spending half an hour beating it with a big stick.
The year 2000 saw Troy dispatched to the AMA Superbike series, but only for a few races. Ducati's WSBK superstar Carl "Foggy" Fogarty had been hurt in a collision with a backmarker. Bayliss was drafted in as a temporary replacement, but when surgeons told Foggy that he would never fully recover from his shoulder injuries, Bayliss became the new Ducati WSBK star.
2001 brought Troy Bayliss his first WSBK title. The Australian who was only supposed to be in the series for a couple of races turned out to be a revelation, somebody who was born to race Ducati superbikes at the highest level, and win.
The 2002 WSBK championship is best known for one of the greatest last laps of any race, in any race series. Bayliss fought it out with Colin Edwards around Imola in the final lap of the 2002 championship, bashing fairings and overtaking each other all the way round. The Texan won the title narrowly from Bayliss.
2003 was the start of Ducati's MotoGP challenge. Bayliss was signed alongside the Italian Loris Capirossi to ride the evil new 990cc 4-stroke Desmosedici, which had monstrous amounts of power. Unfortunately, monstrous also describes the engine's power delivery characteristics, and the bike's chassis. Neil Hodgson, another WSBK champion on a Ducati, who rode the Desmosedici for the D'Antin team in MotoGP, once spoke of how hard the bike is to ride. He compared the physical effort of finishing a race on the Desmosedici to riding the WSBK machine for 24 hours non-stop.
Bayliss achieved a few good results, but just couldn't ride the hard-edged MotoGP bikes in the same way as he had ridden the relatively squishy WSBK machines.
A year on a Honda in 2005 was even worse, with the Honda being even worse suited to Troy's riding style.
Back to WSBK for 2006, and back to the factory Ducati squad. Bayliss hadn't ridden the Ducati 999, but he immediately got to grips with it and started winning races. Troy dominated the series, and took his 2nd WSBK Championship. That wasn't the end of his year, though. Ducati MotoGP rider Sete Gibernau could not ride at Valencia, after being injured by his own replacement, Casey Stoner. Troy Bayliss was asked to step in, and agreed, on the condition that he could bring some of his WSBK pit crew with him.
Bayliss amazed everybody by qualifying in 2nd on the grid, and leading the race from lights to flag. He beat Capirossi hands down. When anybody got close, he just put in a couple of fast laps to pull away. It is unheard of for a WSBK rider to come to a race on an unfamiliar bike, on tyres he has never used, and totally dominate. An incredible achievement. As Troy put it, this was his "first and last" MotoGP win. He will return to WSBK to defend his title in 2007, and who would bet against him?
There's a great post about Troy on the blog of British MotoGP journalist Matthew "Birty" Birt. This is an excellent blog that I stumbled across recently, and has a lot of rumour and behind the scenes gossip that only a journalist would be able to reveal.

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