Friday, August 27, 2010

Bologna Bail-Out! Ducati Quit WSBK!

Next year's World Superbike Championship will see no factory Ducati team for the first time ever. After blowing megabucks signing Valentino Rossi in MotoGP, the Bologna bike builder have bailed out of production-based racing.

For a long, long time, the Italian-owned World Superbike Championship revolved around Ducati's cheat on Sunday, sell not very much on Monday strategy. Rules were rigged and re-rigged to make sure the power-lacking V-twin Ducati motors had a chance against the howling Japanese bikes. This led to about a million championship victories for British and Australian Ducati riders, usually with a capacity or technology advantage over the Japanese Rice Rockets.

The only manufacturer to beat them at their own game was Honda, when they built a homologation special V-twin at monstrous expense, and Colin Edwards, a truly outstanding Superbike rider, won two world championships on it. Against Troy Bayliss (i.e. proper competition).

However, the Dukes have looked more like Ducks this season, waddling aimlessly around the farmyard that is the WSBK paddock. The BMW team stole legendary Ducati team manager and ex-rider Davide Tardozzi, and pilfered a few Ducati data engineers too. This year's Ducati 1198 has been very poor, despite its 200cc capacity advantage, and will be replaced with a completely different bike. The team's riders, Haga and Fabrizio, are a has-been and a never-was.

To top it all, the WSBK organizers have a new love: Aprilia. The other Italian factory were booted out of the 250 Grand Prix championship when it was replaced with Moto2. WSBK welcomed them with open arms, giving them the position of chief cheats by letting them run aftermarket valve gear. They are now heading for a title victory with their old boy Max Biaggi.

Fact is, there are two reasons for Ducati's escape from MotoGP.

Firstly, they have put all their eggs in the MotoGP basket by hiring Valentino Rossi. It's a match made in heaven for all of Italy. They simply don't need WSBK to sell bikes any more.

Secondly, their long marriage with WSBK has come to an end. While Ducati helped World Supers through some tough times, now the production championship is in rude health, and the Ducati bike isn't the one to have. Although people are bound to go around saying things like "WSBK without Ducati is like Boremula One without Ferrari", it's not that big a deal. There are plenty more manufacturers out there, and they're all in World Supers.

It's over. They may well be back. They may well have a semi-factory team like the Japanese factories run, where a national importer gets a bit of technical help but not much cash. It'll be strange, but Ducati have been AWOL in World Supers this year anyway. Bye Bye, Bologna.

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