Ducati Corse managing director Paolo Ciabatti announced on Saturday night at Virginia International Raceway that Ducati would not be fielding a Superbike team in the US in 2007. This did not come as a complete surprise, as most paddock insiders were aware that the US team has had its head on the chopping block for several months.
Ciabatti candidly explained why Ducati would be absent from the US paddock next year. From Ducati's perspective it boils down to the Italian bike being less than competitive because of the AMA technical rules; this season's poor results and the huge expense of racing.
|"... we find it hard to be fighting for the win." -- Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti|
"There are several different reasons, ... the real reasons are of different nature," Ciabatti explained to an audience that had to agree to a three-day embargo on the information before they could make his comments public. "First of all, we see that here, with the current technical rules, even though we've been allowed from Laguna Seca to use the full electronics, including traction control, we have improved our performances, but still, we find it hard to be fighting for the win.
The lackluster results from the 2006 Parts Unlimited Ducati team of Ben Bostrom and Neil Hodgson has not helped matters; they, like everyone else, are almost in a different race than the Yoshimura bikes. "Ducati as a company has always entered factory teams in championships where we can challenge for the championship win," Ciabatti said. "Sometimes we manage, sometimes we don't. But it is a bit frustrating to see that we are just far behind the leading Suzukis. Naturally, they have a very good team, very good bike, very good riders. Still, we see this gap as maybe too big. At least for us to accept. Naturally, we could improve things here, but we still think that there is something wrong with technical rules which is just making it even harder than it could be to try and win."
"Basically, the decision has been to stop for one year and to consider the option for the future."
Ciabatti said that belt-tightening at Ducati also marked the US team for death. "As you know, Ducati is very successful with the sales in America, which is very good, and hopefully next year they will do even better. But in general, our company is going through a difficult time. We just have a new ownership since the beginning of this year. They're invested heavily with a Euro 80,000,000 capital increase. Naturally, they want also the company to return to profitability quite soon. So we have got some cost cutting down in the company, and racing is part of that."
"First of all, commercial success of Ducati will help a lot to be able to afford coming back to Superbike. It's a very expensive championship, AMA Superbike, because of rider wages, material, going back and forth from the States. Testing a lot. We test maybe four times more in AMA Superbike than what we do in World Superbike. And you test from West Coast to East Coast. It's a very expensive championship, and naturally, up to today we have been able to fund it through some sponsorship, but mainly paying from the headquarters the remaining costs. In the current situation, we have to be very careful with the way we spend our money for the next one or two years."
While Ciabatti's announcement made the situation sound quite dire, he said Ducati's racing future in the US isn't as dark. "Even if we don't race next year, we never said, and which is not our position, that we are quitting from America," Ciabatti continued. "America is the most important market for Ducati--not yet for the numbers, because Italy's still selling more, but definitely is going to be soon the most important market for Ducati. And we want to be able to be back again. So, we'd like to be in the position to explain our ideas, and discuss with the other members about some fair rules which will not be neither an advantage or a disadvantage for the twins."
The US Superbike rules, as dictated by the AMA, are set through the 2008 season.
The irony of Ducati's announcement rang louder to some than others. It's notable that Neil Hodgson scored his second podium finish of the season on the very day Ducati made the announcement that they are pulling out of the series.