Remembering the First World Superbike Race – Final Installment, Part six

Written by  on Thursday, 21 June 2012 17:19

The poor weather caused the start of race two at Donington in 1988 to be delayed, and FIM officials made it clear to Tardozzi that as long as he finished close to Lucchinelli on track, he would be the overall victor.  However things started badly for Bimota, Tardozzi loosing most of his tail section in a start line collision with teammate Stephane Mertens.  Apparently a hiccup in the race one victor’s new-tech fuel-injection caused the incident.

All this drama allowed Merkel to lead from the start, the chasing pack initially headed by Canuk Rueben McMurter on one of the Yamaha Canada entries.  Pole-man Roger Burnett got a poor start with his RC30 but eventually charged to the front, only to run off track when it started to drizzle late in the race.

As conditions deteriorated, Lucchinelli built a safe lead from likely overall victor Tardozzi, but the Bimota rider put on a late race charge for the lead.  Perhaps first race winner Tardozzi didn’t actually understand the combined M/X style scoring, but he was about to unwittingly hand success to arch rival Ducati.

Tardozzi slid off at high speed with a lap and a half to go, trying to get by Lucchinelli on the slick track for the race two win. So “Lucky” gave Ducati a dream debut for their latest Desmo at the history-making SBK opener. 

On his cool off lap, Lucchinelli picked up Tardozzi and gave him a lift back to the pits.  At the end of the season, a warm-up lap crash by points leader Tardozzi in New Zealand would hand the Championship to Honda’s “Flying Fred” Merkel.

Tardozzi is now remembered as one of the best Team Managers in SBK history, thanks to his run of Ducati squad successes.  However back in the day, the usually calm Italian had a habit of snatching “defeat from the jaws of victory” when under pressure.  Lucchinelli also worked for Ducati after retirement, but drug problems ruined his career.

Earlier in the second Donington race, reigning Canadian Superbike Champ Michel Mercier had been running near the front on his Competition Systems built, Don Knit supported  Suzuki, in fact right on the tail of Merkel. 

Third place looked likely for the on-form Mercier in race two, and incredible effort given that Suzuki didn’t officially support SBK at the time and the newest GSX-R wasn’t considered competitive.  Unfortunately there was a mix-up in an area of the track where some oil had been dropped. 

Merkel tried to signal Mercier to stay off line, Mercier though he was getting a wave by, and the Canadian GSX-R went down on the spilled lubricant.  With an engine full of top soil, Mercier was also out of action for the rest of the remaining Match Race holiday Monday program.

After a strong start, McMurter was inside the top ten on the last lap with his Sports Afield II- backed Yamaha, but ran out of fuel. Although he eventually crossed the finish line, McMurter was not classified.  “The Rueb” was back on track Monday to complete his Match Race duties, winding up top Canadian, 16th out of 32 points scorers.  Soon after Donington, McMurter would switch to Honda Canada’s revamped Rothmans backed vee-four SBK program.

Best Canadian finisher at Donington was Montrealer Tom Douglas, making his first race start outside of North America on the Polysport-backed, Pirelli-shod  Yamaha FZR750R.  With limited spares, Douglas played it smart, slowing in the wet conditions to ensure a decent finish on his near-stock entry. 

Douglas was credited with 12th overall, solidly in the points at the Donington opener.  This impressive showing would lead to further opportunities beyond Canada for the youngster, who first attracted attention as an Amateur at Shannonville in 1985 on a stock FJ600!  Later in the 1988 season, Douglas attended the final two races of the series “down under”, netting strong 7th/11th results at the New Zealand final.   

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