The last round of the 2007 Superbike World Championship, held in Magny-Cours on October 6, saw a Ducati twin from less than 1000 cc appear for the last time in an iridata race.
In 2008, in fact, the Casa di Borgo Panigale debuted in Qatar, in February, the 1098 F08 of 1200 cc, according to the regulations, thus sending a family of motorcycles into retirement that contributed to the victory of 26 world titles (12 riders and 14 constructors), in addition to having characterized for twenty years the championship of series derivatives thanks to its unmistakable sound.
Troy Bayliss’ fifth place in the last run in France, after the Australian took the podium in Race-1, marked the end of an era.
Let us therefore retrace together the history of what can most likely be considered the most significantengine, as well as victorious, produced by a European manufacturer over the last 25 years.
To do this we have to go back until the beginning of the eighties, when the Bolognese factory was a long way from the condition it has today. In 1983, in fact, the company produced less than 3000 motorcycles per year and was about to be progressively converted to the construction of marine diesel engines at the hands of the VM Group, a semi-state company that had taken control of them in 1978.
The closure of the factory was practically imminent when, in 1985, the Castiglionibrothers, Claudio and Gianfranco, took over its fate.
This episode coincided, in fact, with the retirement of the Engineer Fabio Taglioni,
then sixty-five years old, who was succeeded by the young “disciple” Massimo Bordi.
All this was, of course, a very important change for the future of Ducati. With the same energy that they used to put into their other successful entrepreneurial activities, the Castiglioni started, with the help of Bordi, a renewal of the Ducati range, its production methods, its image and, above all, its competitive activity. Gianfranco Castiglioni’s tears on the podium in Misano alongside
fresh winner of the Italian stage of the TT1 World Championship in 1986, say a lot about how passionate the two brothers were about racing.
The latter, strongly determined to create a new generation of Desmo twin-cylinders with which to gain new market share, commissioned Bordi to design an engine that would establish new reference points within ducati production.
While maintaining the classic 90Â° V-shapedarchitecture, the Desmoquattro of Bordi represented the first Desmo twin-cylinder equipped with electronic injection, liquid cooling and more than two valves per cylinder, exactly the same characteristics that we find, more than twenty years later, on the Testastretta Evoluzione of 1098.
Thanks to the insights he had drawn during his four-month stay at the British Cosworth in the winter between 1985 and 1986, Bordi made a prototype of 748 cc (characteristic measurements of 88 x 61.5 mm) that in September 1986 debuted in the race at the Paul Ricard, on the occasion of the 24 hours of the Bol d’Or, where he retired during the thirteenth hour , while in seventh position.
In any case, thanks to a maximum power of 94 Hp in this very first phase of development (against the 87 Hp of the most advanced two-valve engine of the time, the TT1 of 750 cc), the potential of the Desmoquattro was evident.
All this was confirmed when Bordi brought the engine to a displacement of
What is even more interesting to note, however, is that on that occasion, Lucchinelli’s bike recorded lap times and maximum speeds in line with the four 750 cc cylinders of the Superbike category that raced that same weekend in the famous 200 Miglia.
Later, in 1987, two more victories arrived in the Italian Superbike Championship (which at the time also admitted prototypes), so much so that the Castiglioni were convinced to officialize Ducati’s participation in the unborn Superbike World Championship,which would start just the following year, in 1988.
Here, then, at the Milan Motor Show was promptly presented the 851 S Tricolore, or the road version of the bike with which the Casa di Borgo Panigale would take part in the championship of maximoto derived from the large series production.
Nowadays we are used to seeing the Ducati win in Superbike, but at the time the circumstances were very different, so much so that the Italian house was seen with an air of sufficiency by Japanese opponents.
In fact, it should be remembered that even at the cycling level, the Ducati presented itself with its steel tube hose frame when the double aluminum beam, the so-called Deltabox, was a standard.
This is also demonstrated by the fact that, at the regulatory level, concessions were made which gave twin-cylinder engines advantages in terms of weight and displacement. However, what is even more incredible is that the 851 managed to win even without making full use of these advantages.
The prototype raced by Lucchinelli at Donington Park, during the first ever Race of the Superbike World Championship, in April 1988, had a displacement of 851 cc and used the same base as the air-cooled engine of the Pantah series, of which it also resumed the control of the camshafts by means of toothed belts.
With that bike Lucchinelli won the race,proving to everyone that a twin-cylinder Desmo could compete in the Superbike class at world level. Likewise, Lucky’s victory represented a kind of levies against the detractors of the tube-hose frame.
Thanks to this structure, in fact, the twin-cylinder engine enjoyed better cooling of the rear cylinder, while the chassis itself was easier to repair in case of any accidents. More importantly, it conveyed excellent sensations to the rider and optimized the handling of the bike.
During that debut season, in 1988, the Ducati engine received a reaming increase of 2 mm, therefore the characteristic measurements were 94 mm for the reaming and 64 mm for the ride, for a total displacement of 888 cc.
However, the first 500 road examples of that same bike had a displacement of 851 cc and, as well as the race version, suffered from some youth problems.
After learning his lesson, the following year Ducati churned out a revamped version of the 851 Strada,this time completely red, like the bikes that ran in the world championship with Raymond Roche and Baldassarre Monti under the supervision of Lucchinelli himself as team manager.
The bike was immediately successful, increasing the turnover of the company. Mainly, its strengths were engine performance and excellent handling.
The era of Desmoquattro had therefore begun.
It took until 1990, however, before Ducati won its first world riders with Raymond Roche riding the 851. The first in a long series. At the same time, the House of Borgo Panigale was increasingly successful with the road version, the so-called SP2, faithfully inspired by the bike of the champion French.
This same bike formed the basis for the race vehicles of riders including the American Doug Polen,who under the insignia of the satellite team of Eraldo Ferracci, an Italian who emigrated to the United States, won the world title in 1991.
At that time, Ducati was now close to the limit of 145 kg imposed on twin-cylinders by regulation, 25 kg less than that of the four cylinders of 750 cc, although this gap will be progressively reduced until it was cancelled in 1996.
However, on the occasion of Polen’s victory in 1991, Claudio Castiglioni said, ” We do not mind being beaten by
Polen also enjoyed success in 1992, this time under the supervision of Franco Uncini (also a former 500 cc world champion like Lucchinelli), before returning to America, where he had been recalled to win the AMA title, since the American market was strategically very important for Ducati.
At that point, many versions
The latter finally received the engine with an effective displacement of 888 cc only in 1993, when the rumors of the presentation of a completely new vehicle were already insistent.
The rumors became reality on the occasion of the Milan Motor Show that same year, when the whole world gasped in front of the Ducati 916.
This bike thus ended the era of the first Desmoquattro and was called to regain the world title that in 1993 had ended up in the hands of Scott Russell and his Kawasaki.
Born from the brilliant mind of Massimo Tamburini,the one who together with Morri and Bianchi first founded Bimota and then landed in Cagiva in 1984, the 916 was able to immediately establish new references in terms of performance and aesthetic beauty.
Its engine, with characteristic sizes of 94 x 66 mm, for a total displacement of 916 cc, was inserted in a new traliccio frame designed by Tamburini himself and combined with a
The exhaust system also played a highly distinctive role for this model, with two terminals placed under the codon, in a convergent position.
These characteristics immediately made the 916 a real object of desire and, as if that were not enough, the corresponding race version literally flew into the hands of Carl Fogarty,who won the title with a version pushed by a twin cylinder of 955 cc (96 x 66 mm).
Of course, this fact only further increased the prices of this new model. Fogarty also won again in 1995, when, as far as mass production is concerned, the 916 was joined by a younger sister: the 748,which used the same characteristic measurements as the first four-valve prototype used in France at the Bol d’Or.
This bike was also built with the aim of running it in the Supersport championship, where the four cylinders up to 600 cc and, precisely, the 750 cc twin cylinders were allowed.
In short, therefore, the 748 proved to be a success both commercially and competitively, as it won the Supersport World Series in 1997 with Paolo Casoli and recorded excellent sales numbers, resulting in less demanding but equally exciting to drive than the 916.
Unfortunately, however, these successes paradoxically brought out the economic difficulties in which the Cagiva Group was. In fact, there was a lack of money to pay suppliers with. No longer arriving the pieces with which the bikes were made, they could no longer be produced and sold and, therefore, the company did not collect the profits with which to pay the debts.
A vicious circle that Massimo Bordi, who had meanwhile been appointed General Manager of the company, was unable to stem.
For Ducati it was therefore a black crisis: Troy Corser’s victory with the 996 (98 and 66 mm race) in the 1996 Superbike Championship did not improve things. Production at the factory increased from 21,000 in 1995 to 12,500 the following year. In September, therefore, came the announcement that castiglioni were in the process of divesting 49% of the company to the American investment fund Texas Pacific Group. However, it wasn’t long before the TPG also took over the remaining stake.
Under the guidance of Federico Minoli, therefore, Ducati was profoundly transformed in a short time. In addition, the Bolognese company regained the SBK world title in 1998 with Carl Fogarty, after the previous year it had been won by John Kocinski on Honda.
Sales of the standard products, meanwhile, experienced a 250% growth and being ducatisti began to become a status that many bikers around the world wanted, without of course the discomfort of having to wait months before seeing the bikes arrive at the dealers.
At the same time, then, there was the rotation between Massimo Tamburini (who decided to stay in Cagiva alongside castiglioni to give life to the MV Agusta F4 project) and the South African Pierre Terblanche at the head of the Ducati Style Center.
Even in the technical area, however, there were important innovations, given that Gianluigi Mengoli replaced Massimo Bordi as Technical Director, after the latter had tried to bring ownership of the company back to Italy thanks to a group of entrepreneurs in 2000.
Following this rear-up, in 2001, the new Testastrettaengine debuted, lighter and more compact than the first series of Desmoquattro.
This twin-cylinder had a displacement of 998 cc (which corresponds to a 100 mm beeam and a stroke of 63.5) and equipped the 996 R first.
On the competitive front, however, the race version developed 173 Hp at 12,100 laps: a great step forward if you consider that, in 1987, the first prototype of the 851 driven by Lucchinelli had 115.
In 2000, Ducati won the constructors’ riders title in SBK, while honda won it with Colin Edwards riding the twin-cylinder VTR 1000 SP-1.
It must be said, however, that at the beginning of that rider ducati’s leading rider, four-time world champion Carl Fogarty, suffered a serious injury that practically ended his career…
Photo Cathcart Archive
Prova in pista della 888 di Doug Polen, la moto con cui il pilota americano replicÃ² la vittoria nel mondiale SBK 1992, dopo il titolo dell’anno precedente.