Ducati.net recently sat down at with Jake Zemke, rider of the Ducshop Racing 848 EVO. With similar backgrounds and friendships going back years, we couldn’t help but notice the divergence the careers of ex-Honda factory riders, Zemke and Hayden have taken, yet here they are, after all the years, racing again with the same manufacturer (Ducati), something that we’d be willing to bet neither saw coming as a career path. And that is where the similarities stop.
The 2012 season has been a struggle for Ducshop Racing and Jake Zemke. Underfinanced, short staffed and with no factory support, they have been racing head to head against better financed teams in Daytona SportBike without even the most basic tools (no electronics, not even traction control). The results have been impressive given the situation. Now, on the eve of the final race of the season in New Orleans, here is what he has to say.
DN: How do you feel about, besides Nicky Hayden, being the racing face of Ducati in America?
JZ: It’s great. We are the only team running a full season of AMA on a Ducati and so I get all the attention from all the Ducati riders that come to the track. I’ve known Nicky since we were little kids. We’ve grown up racing dirt track together. It’s really cool, you can see all of his hard work and how that pays off in what they are doing over there in MotoGP, you can see that he’s helping them drive the brand over there, and over here as well. All the fans love Nick, he’s an awesome guy and the guy works harder than anybody. I can guarantee you that he works harder than anybody in that MotoGP paddock and he’s done it since he was a little kid.
DN: Is it frustrating to you with such a similar background that he’s over there making the big bucks and you are here doing what is essentially a race to race program? How do you feel about that?
JZ: It is a little tough but the hope is that we can do a proper race team with Ducati in the future and really show what we can do with these bikes. Everyone in the paddock has seen, and they know, how much we are doing with what we have. Everybody has commended us – the other factory teams come over and say “man we can’t believe you are up as far as you are” Guys we are mixing it up with like the factory Yamaha guys are right on our heels. Nobody on the crew is getting paid, we are doing a lot with very, very little. If we had the proper budget for a proper team, who knows what our results would be. I think we could be on the top of the box.
DN: If you could have had one thing that you did not have access to this season (and money can’t be the answer to this question, what one thing would you have used?
JZ: It’s such a tough question when you say besides money because money would buy everything we need. My guys have done a wonderful job this year but basically at the track there’s usually three of them so we could use a little bit more manpower. Also, we don’t have electronics on our bikes, we don’t have traction control, we don’t have a lot of the things that pretty much everyone we are racing with has. So if we had some of those things, I think it would go a long way. Those are tools that I have used in the past. I’m experienced enough to set the bike up without those things but it’s a big disadvantage when you are trying to make it all work.
DN: You’ve had some time on the Ducati now, what do you think the difference is racing for the Japanese manufacturers and racing for Ducati?
JZ: The season has been really great. It’s the first time I have raced a Ducati and I had only even ridden one Ducati before this and that was just on the street from a buddy with a bike collection. The bike is really great but the best thing about it is the fans. The people that own Ducati’s are so passionate about the brand. My wife and I have spent some time in Italy and that’s really the Italian way, everything is about passion there. That carries over to the fans – the people that own Ducati’s, they bleed Ducati. It’s so much different than all the fans I have interacted with from the Japanese manufacturers, those people go down and buy a bike and then they root for the riders on that brand of bike. But Ducati fans, they are so much behind the riders and the brand itself, they have a huge connection. It’s really great. And they are so into the racing, they just really love it. Ducati riders, they want to see this bike do good, they want to see me do good, because I’m on their bike, their brand. It’s not like I’m just a guy – I’m representing them. It’s cool.
DN: Ducati.net has been a team supporter this season because we are impressed with what you are doing here so I have to ask an important question, are you a Ducati guy now?
JZ: Well yea, like I said, the Ducati fans have embraced me as their own. They make me feel like I have a home, they make me feel like I am part of their effort. That’s something that’s pretty special.
DN: What about adapting to the bike itself?
JZ: It’s been a challenge for me to learn something completely different than what I have been on my whole life, I’ve been on Japanese 4 cylinders pretty much my whole career. It’s been a great challenge to take the Ducati and transform my riding style to suit the bike and see what we can get out of it.
DN: How long has that taken?
JZ: It probably took a few races for sure. I’m still learning about the bike all the time. As a racer I think you always are. If you stop learning I think you are done racing. So you are always trying to figure out how to get around the racetrack a little bit quicker.
DN: Last question. Do you still ride on the street?
JZ: Very rarely but that’s a question I get a lot.
DN: OK, well good luck for the rest of the season, we’ll be rooting for you just as hard as we have all year long
JZ: Well thanks; I really appreciate all your guy’s support. Like I said, it’s taken a lot of the fans support this year. A lot of the Ducati community has embraced not just me but our whole team and they really helped us out when they needed it. We talked about being race to race and without their help we
wouldn’t have made all the rounds. Right now we only have one race left so it looks like we are going to complete the season.
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