With World Ducati Week, the Ducati Riding Experience and the Troy Bayliss Academy all happening at the Misano World Circuit in Italy last summer, it became impossible to resist the urge to book a flight to Bologna so that I could participate in all the cool events taking place.
While all the celebrations and good times at WDW are something to look forward to, the top of my list was getting track time on the Panigale S at one of the greatest circuits in the world.
The Ducati Riding Experience 2012 offered classes for riders of all levels. The Basic Course ($1200) taught first-time riders how to use the clutch on a Monster 796; Intermediate ($550) improved road skills and techniques; Racing I ($1200) showed first-time track lappers how to find apexes (on an 848 EVO); and Racing II, for the same price, ramped up the performance envelope of the same bike, but with improved fluidity and style. The Master Racing class was for the competitive racer ready to push personal limits on an 1199 Panigale S, while the Troy Bayliss Academy ($2600) taught the expert racer how to exploit his Panigale S’s full potential. Sign me up! And who better to learn from than the Master of Misano himself?
Our intimate study group of five riders (the max allowed in the TBA) was made up of a few Italians, one Englishman and my Polska-American self. After student and Bayliss introductions and a short briefing, we were each issued an 1199 Panigale S to draw lines around Misano during our six, 20-minute track sessions. My poached Panigale’s OE Pirelli Diablo SuperCorsa SP tires were roached, so I made a note turn up the TC. Paolo Palombaro, a restaurant owner, eased past my ignorance of Italian by telling me about his well-rounded selection of bikes—one of them being a Ducati 1098—in quite comprehensible English. He wanted to add an 1199 to his stable, and Palombaro figured this would be the best possible opportunity to ride and decide.
In session 1, TB led us out onto the circuit for our first guided session. A half-lap in, he waved me past. Off I went to try and figure Misano out on my own. Next session, I was off on my own again until TB caught me, then led me through the Turn 1 and Turn 2 sequence of corners. Then he waved me past again before repassing me again, this time to show me how it’s really done. After mixing late-braking with a compression-slide, he then tied together a critical double-apex with an artistic schmear of rear Pirelli that transcended motorbike physics. Nice.
Lesson two showed how fast and how much track could be used—with fresh rubber—to get through the puckeringly fast Curvone, an almost-flat-out fifth-gear right-hand kink. I clung close enough to witness how much speed could be carried through Turn 12, and see what trajectory was needed get properly set up for braking into 13. But it took a lot out of me, so I stopped for a bit of rehydration, rest and reflection.
“I am a huge Bayliss fan,” said Iain Pulford, our 53-year old Englishman who was sipping on water in the shade. “The chance to be on the track with Troy—both of us on a Panigale—was impossible to turn down. I am loving every minute of the day.”
Between sessions, we eavesdropped on Master Racing students getting pointers from former Italian Superbike and Supersport champion Alessandro Valia, speaking Italian (with his hands) in front of a map of the Misano circuit and with a TV monitor playing portions of video.
Classmate Paolo Palombaro was not as enthusiastic as Pulford. “For my first time at Misano, maybe a less famous, more patient pilot could teach me more things for less money. With no off-track instruction, I have not learned anything new for next time out.” I, however, felt just the opposite—past a certain pace, non-verbal on-track communication is the best way to pass this kind of information along.
In the next session, I started by myself and picked up both my heart rate and pace for most of the allotted 20 minutes before Bayliss zapped me into Tramanto, Turn 10. Excited by all this, I missed a shift and away TB went, building a gap into Curvone. He waited for me into a decreasing-radius corner called Carro, then gave a nod of acknowledgement before peeling into pit lane.
Palombaro, for his part, was still a bit annoyed: “I think the school, it is, ah, real nice to be with Bayliss, this very famous rider, so Ducati can ask for more money from the students, who can watch this very fast pilot.”
Next session, I followed instructor Dario Marchetti and picked up another nugget of track knowledge at a slower pace before applying what I’d learned with more gas. Now I had plenty to work on; I slowed down a little, didn’t rush corners and “outbrake myself,” as they say—I just tried to put together some flowing laps while TB worked with the others, much to the delight of Pulford: “The fact that for one full track session, three-time World Champion Bayliss took the time to show me how to go faster and be more in control, that was priceless!”
In the next session, I was unexpectedly Bayliss-bombed again, with TB outbraking me by 15 yards into the paperclip Turn 14, and then cranking in what seemed an impossible amount of banked-in braking force to get down to the apex. But I saw it with my own eyes and did my best to follow his lead.
After complaining about my shagged rubber, I got one of Troy’s take-offs for the fourth session. I was busily putting the pieces together with some decent laps when TB again snuck up inside me entering 14. But this time I was ready and I used his banked-over-braking-limit lesson to get him back as we exited the corner. Bayliss looked over his wrong shoulder as I snuck past on the inside. Wheeee! Onto the front straight I could see the side of his red machine and tucked in for the run to Turn 1, where I tried my best to get back up the inside, hacked in and on the front brakes so hard I could feel the Pirelli sidewall flexing. Would I peel the tire right off the rim? As I watched Troy drift into Turn 1 (and provide me with more firsthand instruction), I was momentarily mesmerized and had my handlebars touch opposite lock. Surprised, I stood the Panigale up to take to the paved runoff shortcut to Variante del Parco, Turn 3, to continue the pursuit. We were close together until Turn 10, maybe closer than TB realized, because he wound up running off into the gravel when he turned in and I was already there. Whoops.
Before our final session, TB said he’d have more time to ride with me. (Uh-oh. Was it payback time?) For a few laps, I got Troy’s undivided attention and learned a few places where a few more feet of track—the curbs—can be used to shed time, but I was warned by Troy that 129-degree track temps make the paint slipperier than usual. Unfortunately my education came to a halt when my 1199 suffered brake issues. I returned to pit lane as fast I could for another Panigale, but missed out on any more time with the Master.
After it was over, Palombaro had developed an appreciation for the Panigale: “I love the feel, so very light. It handles like my RGV250. The 1199 is less tiring to ride than my 1098, but it does not have the same low-rpm power. I had to rev it more like my GSX-R750. But its braking potential is spectacular. This is all I learned from the school.”
Pulford, the Brit, confessed: “At other schools I have done, I was given feedback between sessions, something to work on for the next time back out on track. At the Bayliss Academy, there was very little of this. There seemed to be no real structure to the time off track. At this level, maybe you shouldn’t need a lot of schooling. I’d say I was a little out of my league!”
I’d say that Pulford has it just right. For me, the on-track actions of the three-time World Superbike champ spoke far louder and clearer than words could ever do, and showed me some of the things that separate multi-time champions from the rest of us, things you can only learn with earplugs in and brain set to Reflex. Thanks to Ducati and Troy for this once-in-a-lifetime thrill. The next World Ducati Weekend takes place in 2014.