There were some not so happy racing fans this weekend during World Superbike’s penultimate stop at Imola. A home track for Ducati, the race stands where filled with Italian racing red, and also some signs from some very unhappy Ducatisti. Perceiving Valentino Rossi’s switch in the MotoGP from Yamaha to Ducati as the reason for at the end of this season, Ducati WSBK fans aired our their discontent with anti-Rossi and anti-Ducati banners and stickers throughout Imola.
It’s almost a moot point to debate the reasoning behind the belief of these race fans, as the negative sentiment towards Ducati is very real. But while it’s easy to associate the two contemporaneous announcements from Bologna as being correlated, Ducati’s reasoning behind its World Superbike decision has probably a lot more to do with the fact that Ducati couldn’t get Infront Motor Sports, the media holder behind the World Superbike series, to make more rule concessions for Ducati’s 2012 Superbike program.
Ducati has always had a seesaw relationship with World Superbike, with racing regulations routinely being adjusted to meet the Italian manufacturer’s needs for racing v-twin motorcycles. This has at times left the WSBK series being drastically one-sided, resulting in critics calling World Superbike the “Ducati Cup” when the rules so heavily favored a twin-cylinder format. In the late 1990’s the rules so heavily favored v-twin race bikes, that it spurred superbikes like the Honda RC-51 and Suzuki TL1000R to be developed and entered into the series, as the Japanese manufacturers deciding to beat Ducati at its own game.
With Marlboro footing almost the entirety of Ducati’s MotoGP budget, and Xerox doing the same in World Superbike, the issue of paying Valentino’s salary isn’t really an issue at all for Ducati. An argument could be made about resources available to Ducati to support both racing efforts, but the real truth of the matter comes down to developing and selling more motorcycles.
Unable to get the rules it wants in WSBK this year, and unwilling to develop a four-cylinder motor, Ducati sees MotoGP as an alternative card it can play, effectively telling World Superbike “we don’t need you to market our bikes.” With the star power and marketing punchline of “developed by Valentino Rossi” Ducatisti will just as likely want the latest Superbike incarnation from Bologna, even if it doesn’t have a World Superbike racing pedigree.