Du­cati’s Su­per­bikes. A his­tory.

Chron­i­cles of the ultimate V-twin Su­per­bike

Classic Racer - - WHAT’S INSIDE - Words: HAMISH COOPER Pho­tog­ra­phy: PHIL AYNS­LEY.

Hamish Cooper looks at how the racing world went from 888 to 916 and a bit be­yond.

Du­cati de­fied the crit­ics when it rein­vented the V-twin in 1986. Its clean-sheet de­sign launched a Su­per­bike leg­end but it of­ten trav­elled a rocky road to suc­cess.

Where it all be­gan

Du­cati’s ground-break­ing 851 Su­per­bike was born in a great pe­riod of change in the mid1980s, both for the Ital­ian com­pany and world mo­tor­cy­cle racing. A takeover by Ca­giva had brought in new money and a re­newed in­ter­est in racing. From Dakar-win­ning Ca­giva-du­catis to dom­i­nance in Battle of the Twins and World F1 cham­pi­onships, the Ital­ian firm seemed back on track. But it needed a new, more pow­er­ful en­gine to re­place its age­ing Pan­tah-based twins. With the re­tire­ment of leg­endary de­signer Fabio Taglioni, the spot­light fell on a new team of young lions. Chief among them were Mas­simo Bordi and Gian­luigi Men­goli. In just a few months they cre­ated the pro­to­type of what would be­come the world’s most so­phis­ti­cated pro­duc­tion V-twin. Then they flew it to the world’s big­gest race for twin-cylin­der mo­tor­cy­cles, Day­tona’s Pro Twins. While it re­tained the Pan­tah’s 90-de­gree V-twin lay­out, its pack­age of liq­uid-cool­ing, fully-com­put­erised fuel in­jec­tion, DOHC heads and eight valves was new ter­ri­tory both for Du­cati and mo­tor­cy­cling’s main­stream. It may have been a world beater but what fronted up at the Florida speed­bowl in early 1987 re­sem­bled a back­yard build. Elec­tri­cal

ca­bles looped clum­sily through the frame and hoses stuck out at odd an­gles. The tank even looked like it had been yanked off Ca­giva’s GP two-stroke. But Du­cati’s 851cc pro­to­type fit­ted eas­ily into Day­tona’s Pro Twins (for­merly Battle of the Twins) scene. A sup­port event to the fa­mous Day­tona 200, it was a hot­bed of in­no­va­tion and a nurs­ery for some of the most cre­ative Su­per­bike par­tic­i­pants of the next decade. Martin Adams was turn­ing Honda’s ul­tra­rare flat-track RS750 V-twin into a po­tent road­racer that could ex­ceed 160mph on the bank­ing. In the 1990s he be­came a ma­jor player in Amer­i­can Su­per­bike racing run­ning the Camel and Smok’n Joe’s Honda race teams. The Erion brothers were do­ing sim­i­lar things to a hum­ble Honda Hawk V-twin. They would go on to form Two Brothers Racing, one of AMA’S top per­for­mance shops. Af­ter tun­ing Rob-north-framed Tri­umph triples for Day­tona’s vin­tage races, Eraldo Fer­racci switched to the Pro Twins class. A few years later he would team with Doug Polen and de­liver Du­cati two World Su­per­bike ti­tles. Then there was Dr John Wit­tner, whose home-built short-stroke, four-valve Moto Guzzi would re­vive the fac­tory and help re­fo­cus its model range. Soon John Brit­ten would ar­rive, with var­i­ous ver­sions of his V1000. The clean-sheet Du­cati was so new it didn’t even have a name. Its tech­ni­cians re­ferred to it as the 4V (a ref­er­ence to its four valve heads). But the fact that 1981 world 500cc cham­pion Marco Lucchinelli was rid­ing it meant Du­cati was tak­ing this race deadly se­ri­ously.

‘Lucky’ had eas­ily won the BOT race the year be­fore on the ultimate ver­sion of Du­cati’s TT-F1 air-cooled twin. This year he faced sev­eral TT-F1S and a host of home-brewed but dev­as­tat­ingly fast twins. The ‘4V’ was a highly de­vel­oped ver­sion of the ex­per­i­men­tal racer co­de­named 748 ‘IE’, which had lasted 15 hours of the Septem­ber 1986 Bol D’or en­durance in France. Based on air-cooled Pan­tah crankcases, this un­her­alded and largely ig­nored en­try had proved to its cre­ators that the de­sign was worth de­vel­op­ing. Within a few months it had been boosted to 851cc, fit­ted into spe­cial crankcases and dyno-tested for over 100 hours. Fuel in­jec­tion meant Du­cati could in­crease intake size from a max­i­mum of 42mm us­ing car­bu­ret­tors to a start­ing point of 50mm. Not only that, us­ing com­ple­ments sourced from nearby We­ber Marelli meant F1 car tech­nol­ogy was on hand. The re­sult was a world first – a com­put­erised and fully-mapped in­jec­tion sys­tem tuned to suit var­i­ous fuel and ig­ni­tion re­quire­ments. Be­fore the race Lucchinelli was play­ing down his chances, say­ing his bike “only had 850cc” against his mainly 1000cc op­po­si­tion. Among them was the Uk-built Quan­tel Cos­worth twin rid­den by Rob Phillis and Har­ley’s one-off short-stroke XR1000 housed in an Erik Buell frame and rid­den by reign­ing Amer­i­can Pro Twins cham­pion Gene Church. Phillis didn’t front the starter af­ter the bike that Paul Lewis had taken to sec­ond place the year be­fore failed in prac­tice. Church’s race lasted one lap be­fore he speared off the track try­ing to out­brake Lucchinelli. Then the Ital­ian was chal­lenged by Ste­fano Carac­chi, on an 850cc ver­sion of Du­cati’s air-cooled F1.

Lucchinelli lost the lead when his bike ap­peared to fal­ter but he got lucky when the race was stopped in the next lap due to an oil spill. He was de­clared the win­ner. What re­ally cre­ated in­ter­est was the bike’s top speed and lap times. Of­fi­cially clocked at 165mph, it was just 10km/h slower than the fastest four-cylin­der in the 200-mile race for 750cc four-strokes. These were the bikes that would be racing in World Su­per­bike a year later. Back in Italy, the Day­tona pro­to­type con­tin­ued as a mo­bile test bed, raced in lo­cal events while the pro­duc­tion 851 was de­vel­oped. It was cleaned up to take pride of place be­side the road-go­ing 851 Strada at the Mi­lan Show in Novem­ber 1987. So the ver­sion you see on dis­play in Du­cati’s mu­seum now has 851 on its fair­ing, twin ex­hausts and many other sub­tle dif­fer­ences to the Day­tona win­ner. But this is where the leg­end be­gan.

The 851 with the road kit fit­ted.

1993 888 Corsa.

The 996 en­gine.

Carl Fog­a­rty in ac­tion on the 996.

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