It’s hard not to love Misano World Circuit. Located in between the Adriatic Sea and the Republic of San Marino about one and a half hours from Bologna, it’s iconic, well kept, well run and just the right size for walking around. Considered a home circuit for Ducati, the Italian brand’s history is thick here. So when I heard the track was organizing a three day vintage event called the Misano Classic Weekend it got my attention – I figured it was safe to expect a great turnout of interesting Italian machines and with a mini Motogiro event attached to it. I’m not going to lie, the siren call of riding around the Italian countryside on a vintage Ducati was crazy appealing. I sent in my entry and headed straight there from Barber Vintage Festival.
This trip I was traveling with my friend Gary from Southern California. Gary has a long history of Italian bike ownership but had never visited the Motherland and I offered to show him around the Motor Valley a bit before we went to Misano. The ambitious tour schedule included a Ducati factory tour, a visit to the Ducati museum and Ducati factory store. Then over to Maranello to the Ferrari museum and shops located around the factory, a peek at the Ferrari test track to see what was making noise that day and finally, a visit to Rino Caracchi’s NCR shop to visit with Rino and his family and to check on the bike I would be riding. We even had time for a stop by the Imola track on the way to Misano. Throw in a couple of epic dinners. We were ready for the weekend.
Misano’s addition of a mini-motogiro to the weekend schedule came about thru a collaboration of people that had participated in the initial Motogiro d’Italia recreations that Ducati supported starting back in 2001. Those events were elaborate – beautiful vacations wrapped around a competitive event. Focused on great food, upscale hotels and camaraderie the original motogiro’s attracted the most interesting casts of characters from all around the globe you could ever hope to meet. And the riding, if you entered the vintage 125 or 175 class, was epic. We took 12 hp bikes in original 1950’s configurations and rode them tucked in nose to tail to the tops of Italy’s highest peaks, over floating bridges, on washed out roads, on more than a few sidewalks and on hundreds of breathtaking roads that Italy and Sicily are so famous for. And I participated in them all. Hooked from the beginning, my year’s planning wrapped around the dates of the Motogiro d’Italia. For roughly a decade until logo rights lawsuits killed the DreamEngine version and it disappeared in an acrid poof of missing money and accusations, reverting back to the original Italian club event it had been before the influx of cash and upscale vacation planning.
We arrive at Misano to the sound of a running Guzzi V8 (seriously) and a number of friendly faces I know from past Motogiro’s: contestants, staffers, even the best photographer to ever shoot the old event – we are all happy to be together, friends for life from past vacations, sharing the hope that this weekend might lay the groundwork for some newly reorganized sort of vintage bike tour.
The way a standard Motogiro works you are given a road book with instructions and hopefully there are arrows or turn workers to help you find your way. It’s complicated and confusing, there are daily changes to keep track of and road closings or problems with access to the squares and piazza’s we used for route stops. Missed turns and missing contestants were a daily occurrence. The bigger the event the worse the chaos. Because this event was small we could simplify it immensely in a way I would have thought I would not have liked – a route guide at the front and a sweep at the back. The success of this was probably due to Curve Tornanti’s professional staffers who I have ridden with many, many times. The pace was perfect and instead of spending half the time looking for signs of a route change it allowed me to just enjoy the ride. This is no small thing because riding a 1958 Ducati 175SS at speed in the hills requires strict attention to details like not stomping the foot brake because the shifter is on the right, and maintaining the right gear or risk stalling in the tight uphills. All made a bit tougher because I was on the only true Motogiro class bike, everyone else had opted for “sit up” Taglioni class machines, more powerful and oodles more comfortable, this class was added to the Italian ‘giro’s by contestant request a few years back. Behind the group was a truck to pick up the break downs, allowing for a most worry free day of riding. The event was two days, a nice sized amount of riding when your seat has more in common with a bus bench than a sofa, and revolved around lovely lunches at a Michelin star restaurant in San Marino. Each morning we would ride a few hours, stop for a coffee or two and get our time stamp checks and then make our way to the lift to the top of San Marino for lunch which included enjoying what felt like a view of most of Italy, and then more riding (and on day two, a visit to the factory of Bimota) then back to the track for some timed laps which was the regularity trial portion of the event. The idea was to set a time and then run the next laps at that exact time. More like bracket drag racing than MotoGP but seriously enjoyable and because the class was small it really felt like you owned the track riding along in the waning sunlight, a few times with no other bike in sight.
The Misano Classic is a big race weekend, even though it’s a new event the turnout was excellent and a walk thru the paddock kept my camera busy. In addition to the racing exotica, the vast majority of which you would never see racing in the USA, there were two museums set up just for the weekend, and both were simply incredible. One was the collection of Mario Sassi and covered the older (mostly) Ducati’s along with some great memorabilia like a diorama of the original NCR garage and a ultra-rare giant Ducati radio. The other was from the Ducati factory museum, brought by Curator Livio Lodi and included the entire superbike collection and the Paul Smart Imola from the museum. Both displays were really impressive, and honestly might have been worth the trip alone.
Each day we would head to the hotel, a short drive from the track to the seaside where the entrants were staying as part of the package. Dinner was in a private dining room, buffet style. It’s off season so the town by the standards of summer was really quiet which I found a nice change of pace. Saturday night dinner was a party in the Sporting Restaurant inside the Misano Circuit, with the typically Italian endless array of choices. Off in the night while we were at the party you could hear the bikes still on the track, running in the endurance race, playing the music of the night. The evening was crisp and lovely, the company even lovelier with even more of the original Motogiro gang showing up for the party. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Sunday mid-day was the awards, I got a trophy and a hug from the 1956 winner (you know him as “the guy with the cigarette from the poster”. There was a motorcycle swap meet a few kilometers away, an event that coordinates with this one so we spent the last of our euros in old motorcycle parts heaven.
It looks like there’s a good chance this event will become an annual event, with a possibility of modern rental bikes (probably from Ducati) which would make it a doable vacation for people from the USA or countries that were difficult to send a bike from. The entry was a very reasonable 435e which included 3 nights in a hotel, dinners, the party and the event entry itself which came with a bag, hat and t-shirt, the tour with guides and following truck, the track laps and the lovely lunches. That’s $590 at today’s exchange rate. Gary, my traveling companion, did not ride and came with the idea to ride on the truck, and help if someone broke down. But he said he was having so much fun at the track that he’d just as soon stay there. Not absolutely certain but I strongly suspect that Guzzi V8 might have had something to do with it…
Huge thanks to Andrea from the Misano World Circuit and my UK friend Chris all for your help making this such a perfect week