Score One for the Little Guys DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 24, 2007) -- The riders may be slight in stature and the budget may be small, but Team Florida Ducati has been doing big things in this year's SunTrust MOTO-ST Series. Heading...
Score One for the Little Guys
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 24, 2007) -- The riders may be slight in stature and the budget may be small, but Team Florida Ducati has been doing big things in this year's SunTrust MOTO-ST Series.
Heading into the 8 Hours At Daytona Finale at Daytona International Speedway Oct. 19-20 the squad sits fifth in the team point standings in the Buell Motorcycle Company SuperSport Twins class with 121 points, just 10 points out of second place, and rider Gustavo Laya is fifth in the rider standings.
The Team Florida Ducati squad has finished in the top-six in three of the five rounds this season with their Ducati 749, with a top finish of third at Road America in July. They've managed all this with a trio of pint-sized riders and a budget to match, meaning virtually no modifications to their bike and no guarantees of getting to the next race.
"I honestly don't know how we've been able to make it to every race," says team founder Rodolfo Ramirez of Sunrise, Fla. "I've never had a race team before. I don't know how to find sponsors. I've called friends to help out and charged a lot on my credit card. Hopefully I can pay it back."
A native Venezuelan, the 29-year-old Ramirez started racing in Florida in 2002, competing primarily in CCS regional events. Last October he participated in the CCS Race of Champions at Daytona and saw the debut of the SunTrust MOTO-ST Series. He decided almost immediately to form a team to race in the new series.
"I thought it was pretty cool," he recalls. "I thought you could be competitive in this series without having a factory bike. There was a horsepower limit to keep things competitive, and everyone was on the same tires. It sounded like fun. Plus, the races were longer than six laps!"
Ramirez called up his friend Chris Boy of Motocorse Performance in Fort Lauderdale (who ironically races for the rival RightsForBikers.com team in MOTO-ST). Boy set him up with the Ducati 749 and became the team's main sponsor. By the time the 2007 season opener rolled around back at Daytona in early March, Ramirez had enlisted fellow Venezuelans Marco Martinez and Gustavo Laya as co-riders.
The unknown team was one of the sensations of the race, rising as high as second place before a broken chain cracked the engine cases and forced the Ducati's retirement.
That was followed up by a similarly strong outing at their home track of Homestead-Miami Speedway in April before once again mechanical gremlins intervened. This time a screw in the cylinder head worked its way loose and led to an oil leak. The problem was fixed and the Team Florida Ducati squad managed an eighth place finish.
The team put together a budget to get to Virginia International Raceway two weeks later. Ramirez had a crash in practice on Saturday and the crew had to borrow parts to repair the bike for the race. Despite limited track time and a mistake in gearing, Ramirez and Laya brought the 749 home in fourth.
Before the next round at Road America in early July, Armando Ferrer replaced Martinez in the team's roster. The 19-year-old Venezuelan and Latin America Supersport champion quickly showed his pace and Ramirez chose to step aside and let Ferrer and the 21-year-old Laya handle the Ducati for the race. "I was about three seconds off their pace," Ramirez explains.
Ferrer did the bulk of the riding and had the Ducati up to second when he handed it over. Laya was unable to maintain Ferrer's pace but the team still managed a third place finish, losing out in a drag race with the No. 5 Aprilia USA bike at the line.
A week later at Iowa Speedway Ferrer again had the 749 up to second place, but soon after taking over Ramirez crashed. He was able to get the bike back to the pits and repairs were made, and the Ducati was running third when a red flag ended the race with just under half an hour to go. Ramirez thinks they could have finished higher if the race had gone its full distance, as the bike had made its final refueling stop.
One of the keys to the team's success has been the Ducati's excellent fuel mileage, which is always important in endurance racing. Ramirez thinks a couple of factors play a role.
"Well, for one thing our riders all weigh around 120 pounds," he says. "We're probably on average 40 pounds lighter than any rider on one of the other teams. So I think that gives us an advantage. And the other thing is this is a stock bike. It only makes about 112 horsepower (the SST class limit is 118hp)."
The team has also saved time in the pits by not changing the rear tire during races, although this is not entirely by choice. The crew found it would take them over a minute to swap rear Pirellis so elected to save time and simply make the tire last a full distance. It wasn't such a big problem in the three-hour races that made up the first five rounds of the series, but won't cut it in the eight-hour grind at Daytona in October.
"We're trying to find a way to make the rear tire changes easier," Ramirez acknowledges.
He is also not completely sure that Ferrer will be able to compete at the last round. Ferrer has a deal with the highly regarded Venemoto Yamaha squad for the Venezuelan season, which starts in the fall and runs through the spring. If Ferrer has a conflict he will have to race in South America, although Ramirez says he is "90% sure" there won't be a problem.
Indeed, Ramirez is optimistic heading into the season finale. He likes the Daytona track and thinks the Ducati will perform well there.
"I really love the Ducati," he says. "It's a little down on horsepower but I think it will run great at Daytona. I think we'll do well on the top end, because of the aerodynamics of the bike.
"The points are close and in an eight-hour race anything can happen. And there is always luck. We've had some good luck and some bad luck this year. That's racing. As long as we can get to the next race, I'm happy."