'Soup sat down for an extensive interview at Silverstone for an extensive, exclusive interview with Corse Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi, the man behind multiple Ducati World Superbike championship wins for Troy Corser, Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, and Neil Hodgson. Tardozzi spent over an hour with Soup, talking about his career, SBK racing over the past 17 years, his successful approach to motivating riders with diverse personalities, and MotoGP.
Editor's note: Tardozzi is Italian and we didn't "American-ize" his dialect.
Soup: You've been involved with SBK for over 17 years, first with Bimota as a rider, then for Ducati, then as a team manager for Ducati. Could you tell us how you first got started in racing?
DT: Yes, I started as every young rider with my own money, on a 125 in Italy, as everybody starts in Italy, then I grew up with 250 and was in the World Championship with 250 for 2 years, 1984 to 1985, and in the meantime I start to work for Bimota. At the time even professional riders needed work, and I start to do something in my free time with Bimota. Then in 86, I been with them as a rider and did only that with them, and from there started my career.
Soup: Can you share some recollections of those first two SBK seasons riding with Bimota?
DT: First, with DB1, I enjoy a lot, because the bike was not performing with the engine like a four cylinder of the time, but the chassis was so fantastic, it was so nice to ride this bike, passing and overtaking the others in the corners was so exciting (smiles). Then, with the YB4 was incredibly good too, first with carburation, then the development of fuel injection too. It was so exciting, 86, 87, and 88, was very good years because at the time Bimota had the top of its history, with I can say personally the two best bikes of it's history, and I was lucky to ride and develop these bikes, the DB1 and the YB4.
Soup: When you were riding in the first couple of years in SBK, who do you think was the best rider you rode against?
DT: (without hesitation) Fred Merkel. Absolutely. Honestly, Merkel was a very good rider, really talented. Maybe if he rode 15, 20 years later, he could have had a fantastic career. At the time there was not all the control that we have now on the riders, on the rider's life, and whatever, otherwise Merkel could really be a fantastic champion.
Soup: And Merkel did not have full factory support.
DT: No, he had a good Honda, but honestly, my Bimota was faster.
Soup: And the RC30 was fairly unreliable in it's first couple of seasons of racing.
DT: He won even if I had the best bike, because I think I had the best bike.
Soup: And riding with Falappa - he had flashes of brilliant riding -
DT: Falappa always impressed me, he always had something I didn't have, it belonged to him, he had the one switch more than mine, he can switch the brain sometimes. (laughs)
Soup: And he crashed a few more times than you. You saved his life at Zeltweg, didn't you?
DT: Yeah, but he was a really fantastic talent. Him too wasn't managed very well, because he was kind of rider that you do not have to put under pressure, he already put the pressure on himself. He needed at the time somebody to relax him, and he did not have this person.
Soup: And what about Raymond Roche?
DT: Yeah, Raymond was a very good rider, a consistent guy, but for some reason I prefer the other two. Even if he won a championship and was a good rider, the other two were talented guys?
Soup: Do you miss riding yourself?
DT: Yes, but when I decide to stop, I stop, and I never touch a bike again, until WDW when Ducati convinced me to do 3 laps for Riders for Health, so I did three laps on the racetrack. But I haven't been on the racetrack since the time.
Soup: So you don't pull a Kenny Roberts and ride the bikes at all?
DT: No, no. Each time has it's job. If you want to do in a proper way this job, you have to follow this job, you have not to dream too much (laughs).
Soup: So if someone starts a vintage SBK series, historic racing of 888s, RC30s, etc, you think you'd ever do that one day?
DT: Maybe, but honestly I can't think about that. Maybe when I am very old! (laughs)
Soup: Getting to the SBK series now, do you think the series has come full circle with more privateers racing and there is a better chance of the independent teams of winning?
DT: It's good and bad in the same time. For some reason it's good because this championship must belong a bit to the privateers, but I think the involvement of the factories is necessary because it's a good championship to develop the roadbikes. Our crowds, our guests, likes to see those bikes on the racetrack, because the people who buy a 999 or a CBR or the GSXR, they like to see the bike racing and winning. Those are our fans, and I think it's good for a factory to be here, to develop, to let them see that the bike is over the top. On the other hand, sure, this championship must belong to the privateer, because factories can't support too much all the championships, and here, this is the possibility like it was in the past to be for some riders and teams at the top of the championship.
You must find the balance. I think the balance is having a competitive bike like Ducati has for the privateers, because the 999 RS04 is a bike that can win not just races, like it already did, but championship. I think right now we are leading because for some reason we were lucky, or our riders were better, each one has his opinion. But sure, privateers have a possibility with our bike to win the championship, and I, and we, Ducati, expect the other factories to do the same.
Soup: Are the victories less sweet because the other factories are not here?
DT: (without hesitation) Sure. I don't like to beat another Ducati, I like to beat Honda, Suzuki, to beat Yamaha.
Soup: Like the competition in 2002?
DT: I appreciate a lot that year, and the last race in Imola I f*cking was almost crying, I was so pissed off for Troy. But OK, we lose the championship in Assen mainly, when Troy crashed. But, till the end, until there is no more possibilities, I was crossing the fingers, thinking maybe, until the last corner of the last lap, then, I f**king was crying because I was so pissed off, mainly for Troy, because I love so much Troy that I was so disappointed for him. But anyway.....
Soup: Similar to Ferrari and Jean Todt, you are in a difficult position where people expect Corse to always win, but complain because you dominate. How do you deal with that?
DT: That's normal, and we've been in that position since years and years ago. But our response is, we give the possibility, okay, the other factories can do whatever they want, and they provide a good bike to Vermuelen, but he's still not racing the range to win the championship, but the answer is, we give our bike to all the others. Mr. Noriyuki Haga is a top rider, and he has our bike, what can we do more than give whatever we have to the others, to try to beat us. That's a challenge that nobody asks us, but we do.
More later ... maybe