After being unable to achieve the racing regulations in World Superbike that it desires, Ducati has announced that it has officially pulled out of WSBK racing in order to focus its technical efforts on MotoGP racing, and bringing new technology to its street motorcycles. While Ducati Corse will continue to provide motorcycles and support to private teams, the Italian company will not field a factory team in the 2011 season.
Although Xerox is apparently still game to foot the bill for Ducati’s WSBK effort, the title sponsor only wishes to do so if the factory team is winning races. This goal becomes increasingly more difficult for Ducati, who is finding the current 1198 Superbike not on equal footing performance-wise with the inline-four Japanese Superbikes. Closing the performance gap for Ducati means either the simple fix of adding larger throttle bodies to the existing race package, or the expensive choice of developing the 1198 motor further.
Ducati says that “the Superbike World Championship, according to the current regulations, has been interpreted as moving more towards competition between prototypes rather than for bikes derived from production machines…this has led to an increase in costs, both for the manufacturers and the teams participating in the championship. This picture does not correlate with the current worldwide economic situation, which has made the securing of sponsorship even more difficult.”
Ducati of course built its racing heritage on its success in World Superbike racing, so this announcement is a big shift for the Bologna brand. Talking about the reasoning behind the move, Ducati Motor Holdings CEO Gabriele Del Torchio said the following:
“This decision is part of a specific strategy made by Ducati, the aim being to further increase technological content in production models that will arrive on the market in the coming years. In order to achieve this objective, the company’s technical resources, until now engaged with the management of the factory Superbike team, will instead be dedicated to the development of the new generation of hypersport bikes, in both their homologated and Superbike race versions. I would like to thank Nori and Michel, and all of the riders that have contributed to the great history of Ducati in Superbike, but above all the Ducati employees; it is their hard work and professionalism that has allowed us to achieve such important results. A big thank you also to all of the partners that have supported us, first and foremost Xerox of course. I would also like to acknowledge the Flammini brothers who have managed the championship for so long, and the FIM, the organization with which we have continuous, constructive relations.”
Speculation of course surrounds this announcement as Ducati Corse has surely had to make a competitive offering to Valentino Rossi recently to secure the Italian’s seat in the Ducati MotoGP team for the next two years. Some rumors suggest that acquiring Rossi’s services meant raiding the coffers of the WSBK effort. With funding tight, and Ducati as a company not doing as well financially as they would like us to think, the Italian firm is likely looking at its resources and wondering which racing effort will bring in the biggest return for its dollars.
A less cynical analysis would also suggest, while perhaps not the core impetus of the move, that this announcement plays into a larger plan by Ducati to shift its image as a sport bike manufacturer, to a company that offers motorcycles in all market segments. Sport bike sales have been dwindling across virtually all markets for the pasts few years, and are increasingly drawing the ire of citizens and lawmakers alike. While WSBK has been an integral component to the Ducati brand, Bologna likely thinks that it can maintain its reputation for performance-based motorcycles by having a strong showing in MotoGP with Rossi.
Source: Ducati Corse; Photo: © 2010 Dan Lo / CornerSpeedPhoto.com