Pictorial: 2018 World Ducati Week - heaven for the Ducatisti
Italians are a passionate lot, particularly when it comes to machinery powered by the internal combustion engine. Ferrari has now become Italy's primary automotive faith over earlier starters such as Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Maserati, while Ducati has prevailed as the most worshiped motociclo denomination over Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, Benelli, Piaggio, Vespa, Morini, Mondial, and most notably, MV Agusta.
Just 50 years ago, the MV Agusta name was so dominant that no-one would have dared question its superiority to any other motorcycle on Earth. MV Agusta won every world 500cc (now MotoGP) championship from 1958 to 1972. In that time, MV Agusta often didn't contest the last few rounds of the championship so that the other teams could clock up a win or two. The death of Count Domenico Agusta in 1971 saw the company lose its way and it was gone completely within a decade. Ducati grabbed the baton with both hands, and hasn't looked back.
Members of the Ferrari automotive sect are known as Tifosi, while those who follow Ducati motociclo doctrine are known as Ducatisti. These are the two primary tribal groups who worship devices powered by the internal combustion engine in Italy, or for the rest of the world for that matter.
The most faithful Ducatisti from across the globe perform a pilgrimage every two years to a spot near Rimini on Italy's Adriatic Riviera, and the event is known as World Ducati Week (WDW).
Centered on Misano World Circuit "Marco Simoncelli," WDW takes place around 130 kilometers (80 mi) from the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale, deep in Ducati heartland.
The comparison of religion to the fervor of the Ducatisti might be light-hearted, but there are many parallels between Italian motorsport-bred marques and the development of the great religions, and just as followers of Islam regard Mecca as the religion's holiest city, with a pilgrimage obligatory for the able-bodied, the region of Italy centered on Bologna could be seen likewise for the disciples of Ducati.
Bologna was the birthplace of Ducati, the factory in Borgo Panigale is now in the suburbs of Bologna, and many of the legendary events which shaped the beliefs of its followers occurred in the racetracks of the region: Misano, Mugello and Imola.
The Imola Miracle and the birth of the Ducati V-twin legend
Though Ducati already had a proud racing history between 1920 and 1972, the single event which catapulted the Ducati name onto the world stage, and began the V-twin heritage with what was, in racing terms, "a miracle," happened at Imola on April 23, 1972.
Based on the massive popularity of the Daytona 200 which was run with Formula 750 rules at that time attempting to create a road bike-derived formula, the Imola 200 was meant to mirror the successful and far-more-relevant Formula 750 event in Europe, and motorcyclists across the world watched with interest the first running of the "European Daytona."
All the major road bike marques and the best riders from the Grands Prix entered the race. The 1972 Imola 200 was the point at which "superbike" racing took center stage in Europe and it can be regarded, in spirit at least, as the point at which racing began to split into two distinct streams – prototypes and road bike derivatives – the doctrines which would evolve into MotoGP and World Superbike.
Until then, 500cc Grand Prix racing had been regarded as the the ultimate class in motorcycle racing in Europe, but the relevance of having top flight that road riders could identify with was inescapable.
The term superbike might now mean a class of racing motorcycle, but the release of 750cc road-going motorcycles by all the major marques had created a new class of road bike and the term on everyone's lips was "superbike."
Giacomo Agostini was the logical favorite, having won almost every race he'd started at world championship level on factory MV Agustas since 1966. In the previous six years, he'd won 12 world titles, and he was riding a 750 class bike based on the 750 MV Agusta road bike. The Triumph, BSA and John Player Norton factory F750 teams were all present, as well as Helmut Dahne on a factory BMW, with Moto-Guzzi, Laverda, Honda, and Kawasaki all represented.
As Steven Bradbury proved during the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics, anyone can win a race on the day. If you haven't seen Bradbury's Gold Medal win, it superbly illustrates that sometimes the race doesn't go to the fastest, and circumstances can conspire for the most unlikely of results.
Having two bikes cross the line in tandem well to the fore of the field for a 1-2 win (pictured above) is an entirely different matter. Such a win isn't a random throw of the dice, but an emphatic triumph beyond question, demonstrating complete superiority.
When the chequered flag fell at Imola on the afternoon of April 23, 1972, a new and very credible contender for this new superclass of road bike-based racing had emerged and Ducati simply could not keep up with demand for the next few years. The World Superbike Championship would not begin for another 16 years, and it would take several more decades before the economic gravitas of modified road bike racing became fully clear. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and the Ducati V-twin (often referred to as an L-twin because of its 90 degree configuration) could not have made a better start.
It quickly became clear that road riders were not as interested in riding a bike with the same badge as the winners of Grands Prix as they were in riding the very same bike. Affinity with a brand can only be stretched so far, and as Ducati began stockpiling World Superbike (WSBK) championships through the 80s and 90s, the popularity of the Ducati marque grew like Topsy.
The emergence of Ducati as a major racing force with its signature V-twin (and subsequently V4) engine all stemmed from that first Imola win, and highlights how important World Superbike racing is with its direct connection to the hip pocket nerve of the world's most ardent road-going sporting motorcyclists.
Economically, WSBK is more influential than any other facet of motorcycle sport because of its relevance to the road rider. That initial WSBK series has subsequently used the time-honored practice of brand diversification in textbook fashion to launch Supersport 600, Superstock 1000cc, Superstock 600cc and now Supersport 300cc to maintain relevancy to each new and important slice of the global motorcycle industry spectrum. As often happens when an intention is well considered, the organisation has been blessed with good fortune, and the competitive female the world has been waiting for might well be emerging in the form of Spain's Ana Carrasco. If Carrasco's form continues in the dog-eat-dog Supersport 300 class, it will have a true superstar to champion the class.
In the 30 completed seasons of the ultimate road bike-based form of racing, Ducati motorcycles has delivered 14 world riders championships, and invariably, if the title wasn't captured on a Ducati, there was a Ducati rider in the hunt.
The cavalcade of World Superbike Champions since the World Superbike Championships got underway has been relentless: Raymond Roche, Doug Polen, Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser, Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, Neil Hodgson, James Toseland and Carlos Checa. Look at the road bikes in the paddock at any racing event around the world and you'll find the racing numbers of those riders on a disproportionate percentage of the bikes.
Similarly, the Ducati Corse weapon of choice has evolved with successive top-of-the-range models from Doug Polen's original 888, the 916 which was ridden to titles by Carl Fogarty three times and Troy Corser once, the 996 which was ridden to titles by Fogarty and Troy Bayliss, the 999 of champions Neil Hodgson, James Toseland and Bayliss, and the 1098 of Bayliss and Carlos Checa. Checa may not pull on the Ducati Corse leathers any more, but he's still part of the family and he attended the celebrations at WDW like so many other individuals who had proudly represented the marque. That's Carlos above during the ride through town.
Attending WDW offers untold opportunities for true Ducatisti to rejoice, not the least of which is the opportunity to see new motorcycles before the rest of the world does, and to celebrate their sectarian groups – those who prefer particular model lines within Ducati's product range.
There's something very primal and spiritual about celebrating and sharing the love with your tribe, and it highlights how Ducati's communications are state-of-the-art. Mixing live events such as WDW with online excellence is the ultimate expression of "brand as an experience" in a rapidly evolving world. The experience is often referred to in the media and Ducati press communications as "the Ducati family," though while families can be and usually are at least partially dysfunctional, WDW is not.
WDW is exquisitely organised, yet the infrastructure during the event appears to be almost flat, meaning everyone from the CEO to the factory floor workers all pitch in and get their hands dirty serving their customers, and when you line up for your food, you're just as likely to come across managers such as Gigi Dall'Igna or Paolo Ciabatti putting a sardine on your ciabata. It's not just Dall'Igna or CEO Claudio Domenicali that you'll be rubbing shoulders or sharing a story with either.
WDW is where you'll get access to the riders of the immediate past, such as Casey Stoner, Carlos Checa and Troy Bayliss ... they were there for the same purpose, though they spent a lot more time signing autographs than serving loaves and fishes.
There was a remembrance aspect to it all too, as fallen comrades were paid their respects during the course of events, and the names of past Ducati warriors such as "The Kentucky Kid" (Nicky Hayden), "Nitro Nori" Haga, and "Mike the Bike" Hailwood were mentioned.
Ducatisti will no doubt recall the day Nicky won his world MotoGP title before he was indoctrinated into the tribe, as Troy Bayliss turned a wildcard MotoGP ride on the Desmosedici into his only MotoGP win. Nori Haga thrilled everybody every time he rode, because like Bayliss, he had everyone praying for rain. Hailwood's most famous victory after a decade in retirement was at the Isle of Man on a Ducati V-twin in 1978 (bottom right in the photo above), but it is often forgotten that he won the British 125cc championship as a 19-year-old on a Ducati in 1959 (bottom left).
Unlike the paddock at a MotoGP or World Superbike event, there is no segregation between gods and mortals at WDW. MotoGP riders Jorge Lorenzo, Karel Abraham and Jack Miller were in the crowd when they weren't on stage or on track, as were homegrown stars Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Marco Melandri. That's Dovi among the crowd above.
So too were Tito Rabat, Xavi Forés, Michael Rinaldi and Xavier Simeon, not to mention Ducati's official test rider for the last five years, Michele Pirro.
Pirro is the ultimate team player, swapping into World Superbike and MotoGP seats when riders get injured, regularly taking wildcard rides, and all the while maintaining fastidious concentration on improving the competitiveness of the bikes.
Pirro attended and competed in the showcase events despite suffering one of the scariest crashes you'll ever see just seven weeks ago during practice for the Italian MotoGP Grand Prix. Pirro's 350 km/h (217 mph) crash saw him tossed like a rag doll for more than 100 meters (330 ft) and his injuries included a dislocated shoulder, yet he fronted up for the Race of Champions against Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Petrucci, Miller et al on equal machinery, at WDW 2018 and smoked them all. More on that further down the page.
In addition to the recognizable faces of the leaders of the company, brand and racing teams, and those chosen to ride the bikes at the highest level, the crowd also contained the torch carriers of every facet of the company – those who design the bikes, develop the technologies, build the bikes and maintain the standards that keep the name at the forefront of technological progress and quality.
Others in the crowd included Ducati's Design Director, Andrea Ferraresi, and Ducati's Marketing Director Patrizia Cianetti. Unlike the traditional process of only ever seeing such names in print, or interviewed as company spokespersons, they were available for a chat because they were standing beside you, ever ready to explain why it is done this way or that, so they could get invaluable one-on-one customer feedback, explain the ethos and direction of the company and, like everyone else, soak in the energy that 30,000 passionate devotees bring to the party. It's a synergetic win-win-win when this type of interaction goes down.
It may not be unprecedented access to the average enthusiast, but it is extremely rare for such unmitigated access to every level of a global company.
WDW is the heartland of the Ducati tribe, and those words aren't the product of a copywriter's imagination because when you attend WDW, you'll realize that the congruence is not staged or in any way synthetic.
This year more Ducatisti made the pilgrimage than ever before in the 20 year history of WDW. The 10th edition of the biennial WDW celebration occurred last weekend (July 20-22, 2018) at the Misano World Circuit "Marco Simoncelli," though residents of nearby towns would have argued that the Ducati carnival made its presence felt for miles around.
Across the three day Ducati party, 91,596 people passed through the gates of the Misano World Circuit, exceeding the previous record of 81,000 attendees set in 2016.
It has become a truly international gathering, because just 60 percent of attendees are Italian, and if you divide the 91,506 attendees over the three days by three, to get 30,532 individual attendees, then take 40 percent to get international travelers, it means around 12,200 people rode their Ducatis from other countries to join the festivities ... 73 different countries in fact.
Attending with your Ducati motorcycle isn't compulsory, but there would be few who didn't choose that option, as it is indeed an important part of the ritual because that's what it is all about – the acceleration, the g-forces and controlling the engine that is making THAT primal noise as you clip the apex and accelerate onto the straight.
The award for the biggest distance traveled went to a pair of intrepid Chinese riders, Ken Lu and Lv Fei, who rode their Multistrada 1200 Enduros to Misano from Xinjiang in China. The journey saw them travel 7,575 km (over 4,700 miles) through 10 countries to arrive at WDW just seven days after leaving home, having traveled the full breadth of the EurAsian continent inside a week.
"The Multistrada 1200 Enduro is perfect for a feat such as this", said Lv Fei on his arrival at Borgo Panigale. "The high-capacity tank gives excellent range, the ergonomics is perfect and, even after riding many hours, you still aren't tired.
"Outstanding reliability is combined with an incredible engine that allowed us to keep up record-breaking average speeds and, at some points, ride at 250 kph, putting us in Italy in just seven days. We're extremely satisfied."
Ride simulation at the new Ducati World Theme Park
The WDW celebrations this year were heightened by many new initiatives by the Ducati factory, the most important being the beginning of works on July 4 of Ducati World, the first themed area of an amusement park to be dedicated to amotorcycle brand.
Ducati has partnered with the famous Italian amusement park complex Mirabilandia which is located in Ravenna, in the Emilia-Romagna region, and the park's already extreme experiences will be further enhanced with a Ducati area.
The technologies to be used will involve the latest-generation ride simulators and one of the rides planned is a racing-inspired interactive roller coaster, which simulates a ride on a Panigale V4. That's a computer-generated image of the roller coaster above, and unlike last-generation roller coasters, this one enables passengers to become real riders, as it gives them control of acceleration and braking.
Given that it really does run on rails, there will be no danger of crashing the virtual Panigale V4 S, but the cornering g-forces will be just as extreme as a real one and the intention is to recreate an authentic experience for those without the necessary skill sets to generate the same forces with tires and tarmac. It is hence likely that ever greater numbers of Ducatisti will make the pilgrimage to the Ducati heartland and the Ducati brand experience will continue to become ever more compelling.
Jorge gets his mojo back
Beyond the development of the Ducati theme park experience at Mirabilandia, which is a significant coup for the company, the biggest single cause for Ducati devotees rejoicing over recent months has been the return to form of five-time (250cc in 2006 and 2007, MotoGP in 2010, 2012 and 2015) World Champion, Jorge Lorenzo.
Lorenzo famously left Yamaha at the end of the 2016 season and signed with Ducati, with the Ducatisti hoping that Ducati might add to the sole MotoGP championship win by Casey Stoner in 2007.
Stoner at times during his championship year of 2007, "rode like a God" according to Valentino Rossi during a press conference at the time. The title broke the drought for the Ducatisti, but left everyone wanting more, particularly when the Desmosedici was clearly the fastest down the chute, and Stoner's feat means he will forever hold a position in Ducati's Pantheon.
Italian motorcycles delivered 24 of the first 26 500cc World Rider Championships, but in the ensuing 33 years of competition at the highest level, Japanese motorcycles won every title but 2007. Even Valentino Rossi couldn't coax the Desmosedici onto the top step of the podium in two years of trying.
Lorenzo's form on the Desmosedici prior to the Italian Grand Prix on June 4, 2018 involved his longest ever win-less stretch in MotoGP, with just two third places to his credit while "Desmo Dovi" (Andrea Dovizioso) used an identical bike to score seven wins, a second and a third place.
Yet some seemingly innocuous changes to the tank and seating position on Lorenzo's Desmosedici suddenly transformed his race pace and Ducati scored a stunning 1-2 just 90 km (55 mi) down the road from Borgo Panigale. Sadly for the faithful, Lorenzo announced he was going to Honda two days later, though once he'd removed the monkey from his back, he backed up his first Ducati win with another at the Catalan Grand Prix in Barcelona on June 17, 2018. No doubt, when he hangs up his leathers, he'll return to WDW, and be embraced just as dearly, once more.
Reclaiming the "Race to the Clouds"
Capping off a spectacular June, Ducati's Carlin Dunne reclaimed his crown as "King of the Mountain" at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on June 24, 2018. Begun in 1916, Pikes Peak hillclimb is one of the oldest regularly held racing events in the world, ranking behind just the French Grand Prix (est. 1906) and the Indianapolis 500 (est. 1911), and given that it is the only one of the three to be run on public roads, it carries enormous credibility with the world's most hardcore performance bike enthusiasts. Though just 20 kilometers (12.42 miles to be exact) long, there are 156 turns on the climb to the summit, and the finish line is 1.44 kilometers (4,720 ft) higher.
Dunne was the first motorcyclist to complete the course in less than 10 minutes in 2012, doing so on a Ducati Multistrada 1200 S. Ducati and Dunne held the all-time course motorcycle record from 2012 until 2017, when Ducati elected not to attend. Sure enough, former AMA Pro SuperBike racer Chris Fillmore took the win – and Dunne's record – on a KTM 1290 Super Duke R in 2017, so winning this year's event reclaimed the title for both Dunne and Ducati, though next time, my money is on the team running a more finely-tuned, purpose-built prototype, as the record is still with the company's latest rival just over the mountains: KTM.
In 2018, the race-winning bike at Pikes Peak was a new Ducati Multistrada 1260 Pikes Peak model that comes standard with Termignoni exhaust, Öhlins suspension, and lighter carbon fiber bodywork and the only changes from showroom standard were slick tires and a Brembo master cylinder on the front brake.
25 years of the Ducati Monster
Many activities and opportunities make WDW a unique event and this year one of the key celebrations was the 25th anniversary of the first Monster Ducati. The Monster 900 was first shown at the 1992 Cologne Show, and production began in March 1993, quickly becoming an icon for road riders thanks to its minimalist form and exposed trellis frame catalyzing the naked sports bike category. Unlike cars, where the good bits are hidden, the engineering artistry is there for all to behold with a naked bike, and the essence of Ducati is in that artistry. Maybe one day we'll have see-through heads so we can witness the functioning of the desmodromic valve gear too.
Since 1993, 325,000 Monsters have been made, so this year Ducati decided to create a 500-only limited-edition Monster 1200 25° Anniversario, which was one of the stars of WDW.
The Monster 1200 25° Anniversario livery features the three colors of the Italian flag on the bikini fairing, fuel tank and passenger seat cover, the seat is embroidered with the birthday logo, the forged Marchesini W-spoke wheels and frame are gold (colored), with numerous parts machined from billet, with aluminum and carbon fiber parts aplenty. The Monster 1200 25° Anniversario comes standard with a full bike cover, also adorned with the limited edition birthday logo.
The traditional trellis frame and single-sided aluminum swing arm are paired with fully adjustable 48 mm Öhlins forks, fully adjustable Öhlins rear suspension, and an Öhlins steering damper. The braking system comprises two 330 mm Brembo discs with M50 monobloc calipers and a rear 245 mm disk and Brembo caliper.
The Monster 1200 uses the latest evolution of the Testastretta 11° DS engine which delivers full power at the top end of the rev range (147 hp at 9,250 rpm) and strong but manageable grunt from low revs through the mid-range, with maximum torque of 124 Nm occurring at 7,750 rpm. Unlike the Monster of 25 years ago, valve adjustment intervals have now grown to every 30,000 km. Now that is progress!
WDW rider tuition, balloon rides, taxi drives & cunning stunts
Every imaginable aspect of Ducatisti entertainment is catered for at WDW: autograph sessions with the works riders; advanced riding courses to enable one to be as good as they can be on a motorcycle; test rides of new models; ballistic racetrack "taxi drives" in Lamborghini and Audi supercars (Ducati is technically owned by Audi through its subsidiary Lamborghini, with Volkswagen owning them all); technical courses at Ducati University; watching the almost supernatural machine control of the professional stuntmen and laps on the track on your own bike.
There are also many "thematic" areas at WDW, each with different activities and atmospheres, include the colorful "Land of Joy" of the Ducati Scrambler world, the Monster Village, an area dedicated to the Panigale and the Multistrada bikes and fraternity, with the latter area, naturally enough, centered on Carlin Dunne's aforementioned Multistrada 1260 Pikes Peak.
The "preview room" was of particular interest to everyone who attended and the perpetually long queues were fueled by word of mouth because they offered a preview of one of Ducati's new motorcycles for 2019 (it's still a secret).
The arena offered for the variety of riding and testing opportunities was enormous, with 90,000 square meters inside the Misano Circuit, 75,000 square meters in the paddock and another 15,000 square meters dedicated to the off-road area where the Ducati Scrambler race and riding school were located.
The Scrambler Race
One of the most interesting aspect of the three day event was the Scrambler race. Logically, you'd think that putting all the factory roadracers together on equal machinery on a road circuit would be the place of the greatest blood letting, but the Race of Champions was relatively tame compared with the ferocity with which the same group attacked the Scrambler race, and the dirt podium looked more representative of the standing of the elite road racers than the road race podium did.
Not surprisingly, all the top line roadracers were completely at home with their motorcycles sideways, and a quick skim of any elite road racer's resume these days will usually include an extensive off-road or dirt track chapter. Troy Bayliss won national dirt track titles in Australia both before and after his superbike career, and Casey Stoner had 40 Australian titles to his credit by the time he turned 14, and none of them were on tarmac.
Elite road racers don't appear to get out of shape on the racetrack because the secret to going fast over race distance is to be conservative of movement for the sake of the tires, which have been the weakest link in the chain since Gottlieb Daimler first shoehorned an internal combustion engine between two wheels.
Whereas Marc Marquez gets from point A to point B with alien-like reflexes and balance that makes a cat look clumsy, the opposite approach of Jorge Lorenzo is smooth, perfect lines and laser focus and feel. The common element among the armory of every elite rider is complete comfort when the bike begins to slide, buck or worse, because they have learned those skills on loose surfaces.
Therein lies the promise of the future for Ducatisti, because the dirt track events at the last few WDW events have traditionally been the domain of Andrea Dovizioso, and he wasn't about to let anyone take "his" title in 2018. He didn't.
The Race of Champions
Introducing a new motorcycle with serious racing credentials in this fashion was a stroke of genius for Ducati's marketing department because the Panigale V4 S doesn't get to take on its logical competitors in World Superbike until 2019, and having all the works riders battle it out on individually prepared models was sure to deliver as advertised: the Race of Champions.
The "Race of Champions" was preceded by a spectacular flyover of the Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team. It was a real race, and there were several riders who fancied themselves as in with a chance, but no-one in the know had any real doubts as to who was going to win it.
Having a home ground advantage is a plus in any sport. Just look at the disproportionate number of Gold Medals won by the home team in any Olympic Games, and that can be put down to the enhanced human spirit created by having the crowd cheering just for you.
In other sports, such as cricket, where curating the home ground advantage by curating the pitch to suit the strengths of the home team is "just not cricket."
In almost every competitive endeavor, having the home ground is an advantage that should never be underestimated. There have been many home town heroes in motorcycle racing because knowing how to get around a particular stretch of tarmac, with varying surfaces, elevation changes, bumps that can unsettle a bike on the limit, and all those other challenges in negotiating the laws of physics on the fly, as fast as possible, under every conceivable temperature and humidity condition, is a skill that can be learned.