First of all, it is important to remember how the idea of competing on the Santerno track came about. Francesco "Checco" Costa, father of Dr. Claudio Costa (creator of the Mobile Clinic), was the promoter of this competition, which was aimed specifically at racing motorcycles derived from series production. The idea was "imported" directly from the United States, country of the famous Daytona 200, which attracted thousands of fans as well as European riders and motorcycle manufacturers among its participants.
In Europe, a competition like that did not exist, and that was the reason why Checco Costa decided to organize this race for the first time in Imola, a track which was already famous thanks to the "Coppa d' Oro Shell" for cars and motorcycles, and for prototype endurance races with cars like Ferrari 512, Ford GT40 and Porsche 917.
The new competition created great interest, especially for the manufacturers that wanted to participate. Let's not forget that the "invasion" of the Japanese maxi-motorcycles had recently started in Europe, and European manufacturers were actually forced to fight back, in terms of production and sales, the arrival of these powerful Japanese multi-cylinders. At those times, only British manufacturers like Norton, Triumph and BSA offered multi-cylinder motorcycles that reached 500 and 700 cc. In Italy, only Moto Guzzi made a powerful motorcycle, and not long after that MV Agusta, Aermacchi, Laverda, Benelli, Moto Morini and Ducati began to produce models that, could somehow counteract the dominance of Japanese bikes, in terms of sales.
MV Agusta was the undisputed queen in the classes 350 and 500, while the other manufacturers had to come up with new models that were technologically fit for the track. Until 1970, Ducati had only proposed single-cylinder 250, 350 and 450 cc engines, and on some of the models produced back in 1967 the desmodromic system was adopted. In 1971 Ducati unveiled the 500 GP, the first 90 ° L-twin racing engine but not yet equipped with the desmodromic system.
Unfortunately, the bike did not turn out to be competitive, because of the overwhelming success of the MV 500 and its rider Giacomo Agostini, already many times champion with Cascina Costa's bike. In spite of everything, the project was somehow recovered to be able to launch Ducati's first true twin-cylinder maxi-motorcycle for road use, the 750 GT. The intent was to offer Italian customers a new Italian bike that could conquer the public's interest.
Strongly supported by Fredmano Spairani, the CEO of Ducati in that period, Fabio Taglioni designed a bike that, on paper, could have been really great. However, what was needed was a result on the tracks, since the MV Agusta was practically unbeatable. The opportunity came with the 200 Miglia di Imola, since the rules demanded the participation of racing motorcycle derived from series production.
In a nutshell, the 200 Miglia was a true forerunner of the modern Superbike. A crucial issue for Ducati was that in less than a month they had to develop a racing bike on the basis of the 750 GT. Basically, during a period of three weeks a dozen of 750 GT were taken, "cannibalized" and modified to make them suitable for the Imola race.
The first important change that was made on these bikes was the use of the desmodromic system, which at the time was used on a number of single-cylinder bikes manufactured by Ducati. Thanks to its resistance and maximum power output at high speeds, the desmo was in fact considered by Taglioni as most suitable for the race of Imola, which would go on continuously for two hours, for the duration of just about 200 miles (about 340 km).
It was decided that the existing fairings developed for the 500 GP in 1971 would be used, as well as a modified fiberglass tank which could contain a greater amount of fuel. It was on the 750 Imola tank that another one of Taglioni's great ideas made its first appearance: no vertical strip was to be painted on either side of the fiberglass tank. This particular solution allowed to see how much fuel remained before stopping to refuel in the pits. Finally, the front part of the braking system was equipped with two powerful Lockheed discs, at the time considered the best manufacturers of racing brake systems.
With seven motorcycles made, it remained to be determined who were to be the riders of the new motorcycles. We have already discussed this issue and we know who was chosen to ride the powerful twin-cylinder and how it all happened, but it is interesting to know that the choice of Paul Smart was made just a week before the competition. At the time in fact, Smart was taking part in endurance races in the United States and his name was suggested by the English importer Vic Camp as a possible second choice.
The British rider returned to the old continent, and was immediately taken to the old Modena airfield where Ducati was testing the new motorcycles. Visibly affected by the long trip (it took him fifteen hours to fly back from the United States), Smart was not discouraged and began to test the new bike with encouraging results, with times that were not far from those obtained by Giacomo Agostini and his three-cylinder MV Agusta 500.
Basically, in a week the team was ready to tackle the 200 Miglia with the results that we all know. Smart won the 200 Miglia with an amazing overtaking of Bruno Spaggiari, first Ducati rider, immediately after the turn of the "Mineral Waters", when the pilot from Reggio run out of fuel only a few hundred meters from the finishing line. Spaggiari, however, won second place behind Smart: Ducati's double victory marked the beginning of a bright career in racing motorcycle competitions derived from series production for the manufacturer from Bologna.
A little trivia: on April 23, 1972 Paul Smart celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday. Certainly a nice present!