WORLD SU­PER­BIKE AND THE 888

Classic Racer - - CLASSIC RACER DUCATI SUPERBIKE HISTORY -

In lit­tle over a year, Du­cati’s 851 had gone from work­ing con­cept to pro­duc­tion mo­tor­cy­cle. Now the fac­tory tar­geted the in­au­gu­ral World Su­per­bike cham­pi­onship as the per­fect show­case for its new flagship model. No other ma­jor mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany has re­lied so heav­ily on racing suc­cess for sales as Du­cati. So much was hang­ing on this first sea­son of Su­per­bike. Early in 1988 it man­u­fac­tured 300 of the 851 Stradas with a heady price tag of $25,000. It also quickly pro­duced 200 racekit­ted ver­sions to meet the se­ries ho­molo­ga­tion re­quire­ments. In a time when four-cylin­der engines housed in beam-al­loy chas­sis seemed the only way for­ward, Du­cati’s 851 was an odd­ity. It was the only bike on the grid with a V-twin en­gine and “bird­cage” tubu­lar steel frame. But Lucchinelli gave the 851 a win on de­but at the se­ries’ first round at Don­ing­ton in April. Af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond be­hind Bi­mota’s David­tar­dozzi in Race One he took the che­quered flag in Race Two ahead of even­tual se­ries win­ner Fred Merkel (RC30 Honda). Lucchinelli fol­lowed that up with an­other vic­tory three rounds later at the A-ring in Aus­tria. De­spite these early wins, the fac­tory only raced at se­lected rounds and fin­ished fifth in both the rid­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers’ points ta­ble. How­ever, Lucchinelli’s racer never re­ally was an 851. Du­cati was quick to ex­tract as much power as pos­si­ble, bor­ing it over­size to dis­place 888cc. It also used thin­ner body­work, lighter frame tub­ing and weight-sav­ing ma­te­ri­als in the en­gine. Its wheels were 17in while the road-go­ing 851 Strada ran 16in. Lucchinelli’s was the only com­pet­i­tive 851 Du­cati in the first year of world Su­per­bike, but that all changed in 1989. By now Lucchinelli had be­come team man­ager, with Ca­giva GP racer Ray­mond Roche his main rider. Roche fin­ished the sea­son in third place with a to­tal of five wins. Du­cati ended up third in the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ta­ble, helped by fel­low Lucchinelli team rid­ers Bal­das­sarre Monti and Mas­simo Broc­coli, with Lucchinelli him­self pulling on the leathers for a cou­ple

of rounds to earn 13 valu­able points. This time Du­cati com­mit­ted to at­tend­ing the fi­nal far-flung two rounds at Oran Park in Aus­tralia and Man­field in New Zealand. Roche (888 Corsa/roche) fin­ished fourth and sec­ond in Aus­tralia but was a DNF in both New Zealand races. Sea­son 1990 was the break­through year for Du­cati. Roche was joined by spec­tac­u­lar young Ital­ian Gian­carlo Falappa. The French­man went on to win the ti­tle while Falappa rode into 11th place and Du­cati folk­lore with his lurid and fear­less race tech­nique. Roche’s se­ries win came de­spite strong chal­lenges from Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki. Nev­er­the­less, Du­cati came within 13 points of beat­ing Honda to the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle The fac­tory had raised the stakes in 1990, re­leas­ing the first of the true race-replica Corsa range. Al­though nom­i­nally an 851, they dis­placed 888cc and fea­tured race in­ter­nals and stronger crankcases. The base model 851 gained a twin seat while over the next few years var­i­ous lim­ited edi­tions of the Corsa or SP range brought more of the race tech­nol­ogy trick­ling down to the buy­ing pub­lic. Du­cati’s su­per­bike was now a vi­able op­tion for rac­ers around the world. How­ever, many new own­ers strug­gled with the wide-rang­ing sus­pen­sion and steer­ing ad­just­ments avail­able while the en­gine also re­quired in­tense main­te­nance. One is­sue that blighted the early racing suc­cess of the 851-888 racer was its frag­ile crankcases. Of­ten they failed to last a full race week­end. Sea­son 1991 was the start of Du­cati’s decade of dom­i­nance. Doug Polen ar­rived with Amer­i­can super tuner Eraldo Fer­racci in a satel­lite fac­tory team and won the cham­pi­onship by a stag­ger­ing 150 points. Roche fin­ished sec­ond ahead of Kawasaki’s Rob Phillis. Du­cati also won the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle by over 100 points, helped by five Du­cati rid­ers fin­ish­ing in the top 10. It was a sim­i­lar re­sult in 1992 but when Polen was sent back to win the AMA ti­tle for Du­cati in 1993, it lost the world cham­pi­onship but re­tained its man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle. How­ever, new sign­ing Carl Fog­a­rty had recorded 11 race wins on the ultimate de­vel­op­ment of the 851, now heav­ily de­vel­oped into a 926cc pow­er­house. By now even the pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the Su­per­bike was called an 888 (the SP4 of 1992 was the first Du­cati to be of­fi­cially called an 888). Time had moved on and the next chap­ter was about to be writ­ten.

Ray­mond Roche in ac­tion on the 888.

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