Valencia: Ducati preview

Ducati Fila's 2004 Campaign Gets Underway in Spain Valencia (Spain), 26 February 2004: The championship winning Ducati Fila team launched its 2004 World Superbike campaign this afternoon in Valencia, Spain, the day before the season action...

Ducati Fila's 2004 Campaign Gets Underway in Spain

Valencia (Spain), 26 February 2004: The championship winning Ducati Fila team launched its 2004 World Superbike campaign this afternoon in Valencia, Spain, the day before the season action gets underway at the Ricardo Tormo circuit. With 2003 champion Neil Hodgson and team-mate Ruben Xaus both moving to MotoGP with the satellite Ducati team, Regis Laconi and James Toseland now have the task of continuing Ducati's successful record in the world's most important and prestigious production-based championship. Fourth and third respectively last year, the Frenchman and his British team-mate start the season amongst the favourites for the Superbike title, which reaches its seventeenth edition this year.

Ducati have a superb record in World Superbike, the Italian manufacturer winning 12 of the 16 titles so far and picking up 10 Riders' crowns. Raymond Roche started the ball rolling in 1990 and the Frenchman was followed onto the winners' rostrum by Texan Doug Polen in 1991 and 1992. British legend Carl Fogarty scored back-to-back championship wins in 1994 and 1995, repeating the double victory in 1998 and 1999. Two Troys from Australia, Corser and Bayliss, both etched their names into the record books with wins in 1996 and 2001, while Hodgson won the title last year with the new 999 model.

After a successful start to their partnership in 2003, Ducati and title sponsor Fila will be lining up once again this year with a new Anglo-French rider pairing, an updated version of the 999 and a new tyre package from exclusive championship supplier Pirelli but with exactly the same desire to win that was demonstrated last year.

"Our commitment to the World Superbike Championship is unchanged" declared Ducati Corse Managing Director, Claudio Domenicali. "We can see the positive effect of the development in the Superbike machine directly in our Ducati production bikes. It's clearly visible in the 999R and the 749R we have produced for this year and therefore we continue to use racing as the best 'dyno' to test and check the development and evolution of the entire Superbike family. Once again considerable development work has been carried out with our technical partner, Shell Advance, to improve the performance of the bike."

"In particular with this year's Ducati 999 Factory '04, we can find a lot of detail improvement, especially with internal modifications that further improve the global performance of the engine. For example, we developed the whole piston and connecting rod group in order to reduce the overall weight and friction, therefore to increase power output. Really the bike is the same but there are a lot of tiny modifications, which are the normal development of a bike that has already proved to be a winning concept last year. It didn't need any major changes to continue to improve its performance."

Team Director Paolo Ciabatti added: "Our 2004 riders, Regis and James, came third and fourth in WSBK last year and showed great determination and potential during our winter tests on the 999. The competition is going to be very even this year because of the spec tyre rule, and also because we have supplied a very competitive bike, the 999RS, which is very similar to our Factory machines, to several other Ducati teams. I am sure that Chili, Haga, McCoy and Martin, as well as our other rivals, will be very competitive and that the Superbike races are going to be as fun to watch as they used to be."

Laconi starts the 2004 season as one of the favourites for the crown after a series of good results in 2003 for the private NCR Ducati team earned him a place in the factory squad. The 28-year-old from St. Dizier is one of a select group of riders to have won at 500cc and Superbike level and hopes to become the first Frenchman to win the WSBK crown since Roche in 1990. "I can't wait to start the first race because we've done well in testing so far and I'm feeling really confident" declared Laconi. "We haven't seen all our potential yet but so far I think we have done a good job with the team and with the new Pirelli tyres. Starting the new season with the factory Ducati Fila team is not a big problem for me, the bike is different and the tyres are different but these are the only two things I have to learn. I think the big difference in me now is that I have more experience and I use it better than before. I've waited a long time to be in a good factory team and they can help me do my best. I'm sure it's not going to be easy out there for me this year because you mustn't forget guys like James, Chili, Haga, McCoy, but the most important thing is to get the first race over with, hopefully with a win, to see where we are."

His team-mate will be the 23-year-old James Toseland, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of his GSE Racing predecessors Bayliss and Hodgson in moving to the factory team and becoming World Superbike champion.

"I'm ready for the new season, now with the Fila Ducati team there's a lot of pressure on board but I'm handling it well and looking forward to the first race" declared Toseland. "I've had a few mishaps in winter testing at Valencia and Phillip Island but now everything is going well, the times are there and thereabouts, I'm just looking forward to getting the first race meeting in to see where I'm at. I actually like Valencia now, testing here two weeks ago was the final shakedown to get the bike as good as you need it and I concentrated on getting the best set-up because it will become the benchmark for the rest of the season. The championship will see things close at the front, in my opinion there will be quite a few winners but until you find out where you're at with a race distance on new tyres and new bikes, you just don't know. With the same tyres, things will be evened out and there'll hopefully be a scrap to the end and that's what people want to watch."

LANZI HEADS DUCATI'S RETURN TO WORLD SUPERSPORT

Following the Ducati Breil team's official launch at the start of this week, 22 year-old Lorenzo Lanzi has the task of spearheading Ducati's return to the World Supersport arena when he debuts the 749R in its head-turning Breil colours at this weekend's Valencia opening round. Ducati make a long-overdue return to the hard-fought Supersport championship with the 749R, the successor to the successful 748 that won three races in the hands of Paolo Casoli and Ruben Xaus in 2000 and which picked up the Riders' and Manufacturers' crowns in 1997.

Lanzi, from Cesena, Italy, was European Superstock runner-up in 2003 with a virtually standard 999S, but is under no illusions about the size of the task ahead as he takes on some fearsome opposition and machinery in his debut season in World Supersport.

"I have prepared well physically and mentally for the season ahead, the team has done everything possible to get the bike ready and I'm raring to go in the first round of the season at Valencia" he declared. "I've got the best possible package - a factory team and a factory bike - so now it's up to me. World Supersport is a difficult championship because there are some really good riders, but I hope to be up with the front-runners pretty soon. I reckon I can get into the top 10 and then from the second half of the season onwards be one of the top 5 riders."

-www.ducati.com

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