8/12-13/06, AFM round 6
Sonoma, California

"Ding... dong.... the witch is dead....!

Oh mother was this a race weekend - long - in the making. We showed up for the AFM's round 6, which was held at Infineon Raceway, still wounded from the tortures of our two past weekends at Thunderhill, and ended our streak of heat scorched bad luck. The MotoItaliano boys kept up their consistent progression by improving our program for another consecutive weekend. We all showed heart by not backing down from the AFM's threat which suspends a rider for having more than two crashes in a year - by still running Formula One and 600 Superbike. We represented Ducati like the champions they are. And we locked horns with our unbeatable Honda mounted arch nemesis, Ken Hill, once again. So sit back and enjoy, because this one's a thriller...

Thunderhill's infamous Cyclone had its angry way with us in our last round. We hit the deck there twice. Thankfully our Vanson leathers fought the good fight for us. But in those crashes, and in a few from last year as well, they've gotten a little bruised up. So we finally decided to send them back to Vanson for a check-up. With such a short time between rounds we couldn't get them back in time so we had to use an old set we ran back east in 2000. Sliding that suit on felt like slipping back into time. It reminded me of some old sponsors we used to run around with, and some old battles we've won, and lost. Having that suit on again was actually kind of cool.

If there is one good thing about crashing, it has to be the opportunity it gives you to learn. Dave Moss, our suspension guy from Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning, went back to the Cyclone the day after our last round. He lied down on the track to get a better view of the bumps that might have set us off, he rode different lines over it's crest to get a feel for what could have happened, and he gave the moment a lot of thought. In fact the crash, and everything that lead up to it, was actually openly discussed on Kneeriders.com. You can read the discussin by clicking on this Kneeriders.com badge: (page will open in a new browser window)

If there is another good thing about crashing, it's the opportunity you get to create a new paint scheme! And boy oh boy, did Jason come through with a great idea for our new 999R. Since the silver 749R is modeled after the "Paul Smart", Jason decided to go retro on the big bike as well. He had our new paint sponsor, Allstar, in Santa Cruz, turn our 999R into a classic F1 replica. And what a beautiful job they did.
If you're paying attention to these race stories, you might have noticed that our bikes have "green" frames this year. So what's the deal with the red frame above? Well, that my friends is just one more piece of history from the pages of our colorful Ducati racing past. That's the frame off last year's Formula Pacific bike, Dennis Harmon's 05 Ducati 999R - AKA "The Bull."

Before we decided to run this bike again Jason did a little research into the bike's history - starting from the day the bike was picked up in August of 2004. As it turns out, and much to everyone's surprise, the Bull had never won a single race in it's entire career in the AFM. Remember, every twins race we won last year we won with our "Giant Slayer" 05 749R. So we all sat there and thought about it. I think it's a pretty well known fact that racers are superstitious by nature, and we do not represent an exception to this rule. But we're also never really jazzed about backing down from the right fight... And getting this Ducati superbke into the winners circle, we all agreed, was the "Right fight." It was well worth meeting the threat of superstition, head on.

So on to Scotty Rumple's trailer it went, and together we all set out to face the odds...


We got through practice at a pretty casual pace. Every corner it seemed we had physics working against us, traffic making things challenging, and the ever haunting threat of that peculiar AFM crash rule hanging over our head. One mistake and our goose was cooked. We made it through Saturday practice fine. No gremlins, and no mistakes. But no fabulous lap times either. Watch the Quicktime onboard video HERE

When Sunday finally arrived we had our plan set with Dunlop. Our schedule was going to be tough. We had race number two (F1), race five (600 Superbike), and then race six (Open Twins). I looked up at Carl and Terry from Sport Tire Services and asked what ultimately turned out to be a stupid question, "Are you guys ready for this?" A simple grin was all the response we needed. And off to the Formula One grid we went...

We started Formula One from ninth on the grid, which meant we were on the outside, final spot on the second row. Not a bad starting place at all. I anticipated a great launch might put us in a commanding spot right off the bat. I still think it would have, but we didn't get a great launch. I totally blew it. We went into turn two pretty much in the same spot we started - @ 9th. It's mostly Gixer 750s that make up this class. At Infineon, my guess is a 750 is an ideal bike, so the competition is strong in this class. But this was the "Bull" after all, and although the Bull never did win a race in it's entire career, it's definitely no stranger to fighting the right fights. We went at them all, one at a time. On the brakes, on the gas, into the turns and out, that 999R outperformed the entire field. We wheelied our way out of turn eleven, and took the checkered flag in style. And that's it. In the end all it took was a new paint job, and a new attitude. Turns out that Bull was ready to win all along.

photo by: Mike Chervenak

- 600 Superbike -

Everyone in life has a great rival. Someone they just can't seem to beat. Someone that somehow, always seems to get the best of them. Well for us that rival is Ken Hill. Ken is a seasoned veteran of road racing in California. He's almost as much a part of the AFM as Infineon is. At least that's the way it seems to me. Ken wins a lot. In fact he won the FP race in our last round at Thunderhill, while we watched from the pit wall with a crippled bike parked next to us. He was in our last 600 superbike race. You know, the one where we set out to fight for the lead but two colliding riders ended our hopes too soon? There was also the Twins race in 04 when our exhaust broke while battling him. Or how about when my big foot wedged our chain guard between our swingarm and tire? That incident ended another chance we had. Believe it or not, the list goes on. So "WE" entered that race to put a Ducati 749R in a field with the best 600cc superbikes in California. I was fine with that, but deep down inside I had an additional goal that had been brewing inside me for far too long. I wanted us to chase down that number 95 bike...

We started way back in 21st spot. Definitely an ugly place to start. It feels like 400 bikes enter 600 superbike. On the warm up lap bikes are everywhere. And when there are that many bikes in one race, well, you better be on your game because "things" are gunna happen. And things did happen. Off what became another remarkably average start, we entered turn two somewhere near 15th place. Not good. As we all crested the hill into turn two, one rider in the mix just up ahead high sided himself. With bikes so close together like they were, another guy went down with him. This other rider was about four feet off our front tire, but luckily for us we were parked just inside his rear tire, so we just kept our eyes on the horizon and stayed in it. We got a few guys in the technical stuff, but still I felt haunted by that nagging AFM crash rule, so we really had to tip toe around. By the third lap we had made some good progress. It feels like we were about 7th or 8th when we all jammed down Infineon's front straight to start the fourth lap. We were the third of a tight pack of three going in to the fast left hand sweeper at full tilt. Just then the lead rider of our pack lost his front and fell immediately. The rider just in front of us checked up as quick as he could, but he had a hand full to deal with. The fallen rider and bike had him surrounded as the three of them headed off line. When the bouncing motorcycle snapped up and hit the avoiding rider just in front of us, it sheared his bar right off. Just then the struggling rider fell to one side, with his chest hitting, then sliding off the tank like a clean cloth slides off the hood of a freshly waxed Chevy. He had no chance, and fell off immediately. Now we had two fallen riders in front of us, and two motorcycles careening out of control. I tugged in on the front and rear brake as gently as I could, while clinging to the hope that we could actually still make turn one. The second fallen motorcycle hadn't actually fallen yet, and was instead ghost riding across the track. I kept us in the struggle to ignore all this madness, while focusing on turn one, and we made it through. As we crested turn two I expected waving red flags. They flew shortly after. Turn one is not a good place to crash at Infineon. Fortunately, though, we later learned that both riders made out quite well. No serious injuries.

In the AFM they make you stop on track in a red flag situation. We got our red flag in turn seven. Everyone stopped, while I rode off track on what felt like a sea of Nascar pavement. I think I just needed a break for a second or two. When my eyes un-crossed from witnessing the carnage, I headed back to the pack and parked our 749R right next to Ken Hill and his Honda. Ken doesn't say a whole lot. He kind of reminds me of my father. I told him this was the maddest race I had ever been in. He agreed with great enthusiasm. But then I thought to myself, "Jeez, if Ken thinks this race was crazy, and all that happened to us happened behind him, then what the hell was going on up front?!!?

On the re-start we did better. I think we went into turn two about tenth. Now the race was "On." Our amazing 749R did everything right. We went inside riders when we needed, stayed outside when outside was smart, and powered our way through the middleweight Superbike pack. On what felt like the fifth lap of eight, we made it to a break in the traffic and really put the hammer down. I could see three riders on the horizon. One was Grant Riggs, with a gap to Ken Hill, then I could see one rider just behind Ken - stalking him. These two were fighting hard, which tends to slow you down a bit, so I kept us focused and got us real close to the action. We all went into turn seven like a freight train - each of us just a heart beat off the others rear tire. Just then Ken and this other rider went into the esses just after turn seven - side by side. And believe me, there's only room for ONE bike through there. I kept us one bike length back from them, anticipating that neither of them knew we were there, and planned to power over the wheelie hill out of the esses and out-break Ken's stalking rider into the chicane. That plan worked out real well because our Ducati has a real good set of legs on it, and super strong brakes. This pass was for fifth, and put us right on the back tire of good ole number 95 - Ken Hill....

photos by: Mike Chervenak

I knew the race was coming down to the wire. And I knew we'd just entered Ducati 749R territory. We had no time to screw around, and our bike was motivated. We powered up underneath Ken's Honda on the exit of the next turn, and made the pass into turn eleven. To outbreak Hill you need to go in deep, which we did. In fact we shot right past the apex by about ten feet. I thought we'd blown our chance and would have to get the job done in the final lap, but even though we came out wide we still made the pass stick.

We actually have a video clip of this lap. You can watch the Quicktime video here..

600 Superbike - "Passing"

Next up was Riggs, but he had a good gap and although we were closing, there just wasn't enough time. We did our best to keep at him anyway, because you just never know until the corpulent lady sings. We finished a couple of seconds off third, with a good gap to Hill in fifth.

So you see...? No matter what the hex you feel you've got against you, no matter who's your nemesis, don't ever give up. Cause you and your Duc can beat it...

Photo by: Mike Chervenak

- Open Twins -

You ever hear the saying, "Be careful what you wish for?" Well I have. And about two years ago I promised a guy who's become a friend of mine, that if we did it right we might be able to help create a stronger Ducati presence in the AFM. So I took a walk through the paddock this Saturday night and I'm telling you I can't even explain how different our Ducati family looks today. It's astonishing how many new Ducati superbikes there are in the AFM today. So why should you be careful what you wish for? Because the one crappy thing about winning is, your picture gets pinned above tread mills, shop benches, and transport vehicle dashboards across the land. Everyone's target is you, and knowing that can either make you, or break you. But in the end, no matter how it feels to be a mark, when you're suddenly surrounded by Ducati superbikes on a grids that grow stronger every weekend, you know you're playing a part in something very exciting.

Go ahead and click on this large image. Once you open it, count the tail pipes... We've got Ducatis everywhere! And this is just the front of the pack!

photo by: Mike Chervenak

We started the Open Twins race from pole position. Our 06 999R came to life very differently than our 749R did, which caught me off guard for a couple of laps. Although we shot into the lead, I made a few mistakes and expected to see some of our new friends shoot by. Luckily we must have had enough of a gap to hold onto the spot. I don't think we managed to make much of a lead until we got into the back markers from the 1,000cc inline race up ahead of us - Open Production. Once we got into those guys, we knew we could relax after throwing a few back markers over our shoulder like hand grenades. We took her home for a very fortunate sixth consecutive 2006 Open Twins win in a row for the MotoItaliano Ducati 999R.

Or was it "The Bull.....?"

The guys at MotoItaliano will never be given enough credit for stepping up, and into racing, quite the way they have. They are true champions in the making.

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Eric "GoGo" Gulbransen, Tracy Gulbransen, Matthew Pilla, Motorcycle racing, AFM, Ducati 749R, 999R, race story, MotoItaliano