Throwback Thursday, Vicki’s View of one of the most unexpected Ducati/AMA weekends ever
This weekend Michele Pirro will compete in the Mugello MotoGP on the “Lab” bike, (seemingly entered for the purposes of gathering data during the race weekend) and Ben Spies will return to competition while still mending from a shoulder injury. It reminded me of a similar situation almost 10 years ago.
It’s been so long since Ducati has had a supported AMA team that some people might not know that for quite a few years, on most AMA weekends Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozi made the 10 hour trip as part of a variety of AMA team efforts over the years, splitting their time and efforts between the SBK team and the AMA one.
I was working with Ducati.com back them, running around with my little Sony point and shoot, taking the photos they used each weekend on the Ducati world website of the AMA series, so I attended most of those races. In 2004 Eric Bostrom was riding for Ducati with mixed results and injuries. That Eric was riding the Ducati at all was due to the bombshell withdrawal of the factory Kawasaki team from AMA in 2003 catching EBoz out with no ride. In 2003, EBoz was in contention most races, earned AMA Pro SuperBike victories at Pikes Peak and Road America as well as four additional podiums and was in contention for the championship title until he was taken out by another rider and suffering a season-ending injury. When he signed with the the Ducati Austin team to race the 999, great things were expected. To most race fans , Eric Bostrom was an AMA God. Instead, he won only the the Pikes Peak round (nobody could touch EBoz at Pikes, he owned that track) and took second in both rounds at Auto Club. It was, for Ducati in AMA, not what they had hoped for. More puzzling in particular because the SBK Ducati’s routinely at the sharp end of the grid. The question was raised, (fairly or unfairly) was it the bike? The team? Or was it the rider?
That’s a question that would normally go unanswered until season end or the following year with no test riders on staff but in 2004 VIR was postponed by Hurricane Ivan, and the reschedule date was after the end of the WSBK season. Rumors were already swirling that Ducati was bringing someone in from Europe for 2005 to team with Eric but it was still a total shock when the announcement was made that Ducati would be running three bikes at VIR – and that current Ducati Corse SBK factory star Regis Laconi, fresh off a 4 race winning streak and just missing the WSBK title to team mate James Toseland would be on one of them. With him was Lorenzo Lanzi, at that time being groomed, it was assumed for big things within Ducati Corse. I got on the plane for VIR, expecting quite a show.
VIR itself at that time was a small time race track, yet to see the updates and specialty garages it soon after received. The crowds were small and the whole atmosphere was pretty laid back. Most of the grid, teams and crews were North American so this big bunch of Europeans really stood out. It was clear just how much when a track guard asked me at the entrance when I arrived on Thursday with the question “You with that group of Foreigners?”
The general expectation was the possibility of the big name Ducati guys kicking ass and taking names but things went pear shaped pretty fast – Lanzi had a high side that sent him what looked to me like 12 feet in the air and Laconi somehow managed to catch his knee on a curb and he was having a hard time hiding the obvious pain. Meanwhile Eric, in spite of his extra three weeks to heal gifted him by the hurricane reschedule, still didn’t have the fitness to race so he officially withdrew and watched from the Ducati tent for much of the weekend. Lanzi had tested at VIR before but Laconi had never see the track so they both needed time to get up to speed. Lanzi was fast, but not fast enough to win. At the end of the day, I don’t know if the bike, team, or rider question was really answered.
From the official Ducati press release:
World Supersport rider Lorenzo Lanzi ran near the front in both 28-lap races, but saw his shot at a podium disappear when a technical problem ruined his strong run for third place in race two. Lanzi placed fourth in his first Superbike race in America, a remarkable finish on a track which he had seen only once before. In race two, the 22-year-old Italian diced for third place, closing the gap and eventually making his bid for a spot on the box until misfortune struck. “I think we had a shot at the podium, but unfortunately a switch broke with six laps to go,” said Lanzi. “Still, it was really good to race with Regis and Ben Bostrom.”
World Superbike rider Regis Laconi showed his experience and quickly worked his way up to speed at a track he had never seen before yesterday. The 29-year-old Frenchman was fifth in both 28-lap races, held in clear autumn conditions at the scenic Virginia track. “Both Regis and Lorenzo did a fantastic job, especially since neither have ever raced here,” said Team Owner Terry Gregoricka. “Both riders really performed well and tried very hard.”
The winner? Miguel DuHamel who doubled. Mat Mladin had a points lead so his uncharacteristic race one 4th and race two 6th still clinched the championship. I heard more than once during the weekend that the SBK guys didn’t give the AMA racers enough credit. I wondered if they were doing some of just that on the plane ride home.
For 2005 the rumors turned true, Neil Hodgson came to America and immediately put it on the podium with a second place at Daytona. But as the season progressed Eric Bostrom, now healed and with something to prove was the higher achiever. Three wins (again at Pikes Peak, as well as Laguna Seca and Mid Ohio) only one DNF and a number of solid mid pack results carried him to third in the championship with 431 points to Hodgson’s sixth place 384. The two guys in front of EBoz? Matt Mladin and Ben Spies, who won every other race that the Ducati’s did not except one.
To see the photo gallery from that weekend, posted for the first time on line for this story, click HERE