Following the injury to Carl Fogarty early in the current World Superbike season, Ducati Corse, the official factory-backed Ducati WSB team, has struggled considerably. Feeling its bike is still better than the new Honda v-twin (a highly debatable proposition), Ducati wants desperately to win races, but can hardly make the podium.
The high point for Ducati post-Foggy was Australian Troy Bayliss’ two fourth-place finishes at Monza last weekend. Bayliss is an amazingly quick study — although he races a Ducati in the United States for the AMA Vance & Hines team, he races on Dunlop tires (the WSB team runs Michelins — something that Ben Bostrom is still struggling with), and Bayliss had never before ridden at Monza. Nevertheless, Bayliss mixed it up with the leaders in both races, and ran as high as second place in race two.
Ducati wants more, however, and Bayliss is committed to race for the Vance & Hines team for the remainder of the AMA season. Bostrom, meanwhile, shows no signs of making the podium any time soon, much less the top rung of it. Rumors are swirling that retired John Kocinski might be drafted to ride several rounds for the WSB team until Fogarty returns. Still further rumors have Bostrom being “demoted” to the AMA team, while Bayliss is “promoted” to the WSB team.
This all occurs in the “midst” of speculation that Ducati will introduce, at the very least, a significantly revised 996 for the 2001 model year — containing a new-generation motor (displacing 998 or 999 cc) featuring (perhaps) continuously-variable valve timing (no mean feat on any internal combustion engine, much less a motorcycle engine).
Ducati is obviously embarrassed by Honda’s success in WSB this year. Ducati’s 996, painstakingly developed for many, many years, and many times world superbike champion, shouldn’t be losing races to a brand new v-twin (in Ducati’s mind, at least). Importing riders for a single race (as they have done with Bayliss and Luca Cadalora) isn’t the answer, however. Colin Edwards, Frankie Chili, and Noriyuki Haga (should he remain active this season — rather than suspended, which is another story altogether) won’t be consistently threatened by any one-shot wonder. It will be interesting to see what Ducati ends up doing, because they definitely don’t like losing, and they want the losing to stop . . . now!