The last couple of years have been abject misery for Ducati racing fans as MotoGP results were pretty much nonexistent and World Superbike glory began to fade. So Ducati sales must be tanking right? Not exactly.
You could well argue that if it weren’t for racing, in particular World Superbike Racing, Ducati would probably still be an obscure Italian brand attracting motorcycle contrarians to a pretty yet outdated model range from a bygone era. Think Moto Guzzi.
Instead the development of the liquid cooled 8-valve desmoquattro led to an almost endless string of racing victories for the tiny Bologna Ducati concern against the might of Japan. Far more people had heard of the Ducati 851 than who had ever seen one, let alone ridden one but it set the scene for the simply gorgeous 916 that followed it and all of a sudden riders were trading their GSX-Rs and Blades in for an exquisite Italian jewel that had the pace to back up its looks.
So us Ducatisti came to claim the first every MotoGP refugee World Superbike champion (Raymond Roche) as our own and go on to worship at the foot pegs of Doug Polen, the mighty King Carl, the Troys all the way through to the new king, Carlos who in the symmetrical way of these things was also a MotoGP refugee.
For most of this story, Ducati was known almost solely as a maker of hard core crotch rockets as beautiful as they were impractical. Although the Monster was a sales success starting in 1993, most of the profit came from the higher margin Superbike range. It was hard to argue that racing wasn’t the best marketing investment the company could make.
Fast forward to now. That basso profundo that catches your ear is far more likely to be from a Multistrada, Hypermotard, Monster or even a Diavel than a Superbike. Yes, that’s right. Ducati is now as much a maker of Adventure Tourers, Supermotos (ok, pseudomotos), Nakeds and even Performance Cruisers as it is a purveyor of fine Superbikes.
Do you think the guy who pulls up at Starbucks on his Ducati Diesel Edition Monster knows the latest MotoGP race results? Didn’t think so. Ducati’s sales are booming at just the time that its race program is falling to pieces. The company has doubled its marketshare by investing in novel takes on new product that has migrated the brand into new segments and attracted a whole new bunch of riders who could care less about race results.
Just as well. After an unexpected championship victory with Carlos Checa in 2011 in a kind of non-factory team, the Ducati World Superbike tilt imploded this year as Carlos tried to override the bike in the turns to compensate for its distinct lack of pace in a straight-line (what’s Marco’s excuse then!).
Naturally the Valentino Rossi Ducati partnership will be written about for decades, analysing every last angle looking for the explanation for such a spectacular failure. The truth is though that it took a miracle and now retired Casey Stoner to take a title for Ducati and that stunning year in 2007 hid a lot of sins. Ducati has been racing in MotoGP for 9 years and won the title just once. Pretty impressive given the firm’s size and lack of premier racing pedigree, but 1 out of 9 means you got beat the 8 other times.
Luckily, racing results are simply not that mission critical anymore. We, like you, can’t wait to see Ducati winning again (but it will probably take a bunch of time and a bunch of Audi cash). Still thanks to canny strategic product planning it isn’t that big of a deal either way. While Ducati Corse stumbled, Ducati Motor Holdings did just fine thank-you.