Ducati’s AMA Superbike Plans Revealed

Henny Ray Abrams | July 22, 2008

Ducati North America (DNA) would like to return to the AMA Superbike Championship, but it’s far from a done deal. DNA hasn’t fielded an AMA Superbike squad since disbanding the Parts Unlimited Ducati Austin team at the end of the 2006 season. The decision to shut down the AMA effort was made by Ducati Corse. Corse would have to give its blessing for a return to racing, which will be among the items on the agenda when Lock travels to Italy in the coming weeks. DNA is helping Larry Pegram with his Leo Vince/Foremost Insurance Ducati squad, but the 848 is mostly stock, Lock said. With the exclusion of the Suzuki GSX-R750 from the approved equipment list, the Ducati 848 is likely to be the most successful motorcycle because of the amount of torque the V-twin produces. “We’re looking at all the pro classes at the moment, because having pored over the public rules we think we can be competitive in all three classes, which is quite exciting,” DNA CEO Michael Lock said before adding that “the whole thing rests on whether I can bring a sponsor. We can’t afford to fund it without a quality headline sponsor. I am talking to potential sponsorship parties.” What worries Lock is the continuing discord between some of the Japanese factories and the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG). “Every time one of the Japanese factories says they don’t want to play, it diminishes the commercial part of series,” he said. And it affects potential sponsors. “They read about the conflicts; that’s the kiss of death. I’m hoping that it all gets sorted out quite quickly. Otherwise, it’s academic. If we can’t bring a couple million in, we’re not going to be there. Sponsors want to get involved in well-promoted, exciting race programs.” In addition to needing a sponsor, Lock would like a waiver on stock pistons, one of the technical mandates of the 2009 AMA Superbike rules. The Ducati 1098 stock piston isn’t suitable for racing, Lock has been told by Ducati Corse. As to how Ducati could develop a street bike with pistons unsuitable for racing, Lock said the answer is in the V-twin configuration. “We’ve got big old pistons,” Lock said. “Technically, they’re not the same as an inline-four. There’s a lot more stress on a twin, as we’re spinning up. If Corse say it’s a safety issue, I believe them.” The British Superbike Championship mandates stock pistons and Ducati is leading the championship. Airwaves Ducati’s Shane Byrne hasn’t finished off the podium all year, with eight wins in 14 races. A ten kilogram (22 lbs.) penalty was imposed on the team after the third round of the series. Byrne won four of the first six races and finished second twice. He swept both rounds of the next round, after the weight penalty was applied.. Lock said he was continuing to have discussions with DMG CEO Roger Edmondson about an allowance for aftermarket pistons and he hasn’t “given up hope and been encouraged not to give up hope.” Whether or not the piston issue would keep DNA out of the Factory Superbike class, Lock wouldn’t say, but he did say it was “a potential deal breaker.” Ducati would have had to use stock pistons if they’d have chosen to race the 1098 this year in the AMA Superbike Championship. Lock said Ducati has been “pretty consistent on this. We don’t use street bike pistons on the world factory Superbikes and we don’t have to because of World Superbike rules. The concept was to mimic World Superbike, which they’re not doing.” When DMG CEO Roger Edmondson left a series of meeting with the Japanese factories, and others, in Los Angeles two weeks ago, it was believed World Superbike rules would be adopted for the 2009 season. Instead, Edmondson went back to the 2009-2010 rules agreed to by the now defunct road race committee of AMA Pro Racing. Those rules were set aside when an objection was raised about the manufacturers having to guarantee four bikes in qualifying. Without a minimum number, and no firm commitment from the Japanese manufacturers, Lock fears the Factory Superbike grid could be thin. Lock said if one or more of the Japanese factories pulled out, as they’ve threatened, it’s “starting to get less attractive. We’re watching how this develops and the almost daily developments.” The heads of American Suzuki and American Honda embraced the Factory Superbike rules when questioned at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Yamaha was non-committal. “As far as Daytona Superbike goes, we’re feeling really gung-ho,” Lock said. “The 848 is very competitive. The bike Larry Pegram is racing is basically a street bike.” Given Pegram’s results, Lock believes he could count on Ducati Corse’s support for Daytona Superbike. “If we can beat the Japanese on the racetrack, that’s huge.” If the 1098R is homologated, Lock believes it would “do very well” in American Superbike. “Politics aside, we’re quite excited,” Lock said. “I take the view that this is where we’re going with the DMG and it may take a couple of years to knock the bugs out of it, but the industry is committed to doing it.” He added, “Sitting on the sidelines and pouting won’t help anybody.”

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.