Frequently, history unearths something totally unexpected, just like in
archaeology. Sometimes, reconstructing the history of Ducati down to its
very last details is not dissimilar from the job of an archaeologist.
The 1972 Imola "200 Miglia", for example, is a constant source of surprises, just like a familiar, thoroughly excavated site from ancient history, which you think has already revealed all of its treasures.
Recently we came across an official programme produced for the first ever Imola "200 Miglia" race and uncovered a real mystery. Leafing through the yellowing pages and reading the familiar names of race participants, such as Agostini, Brambilla, Tait, Read, Rutter, Spaggiari, Smart, Villa and Brettoni, we discovered two names, next to that of the Ducati 750, belonging to two riders who never graced the track that day: Barry Sheene and Gilberto Parlotti.
To understand the reasons why those two racers didn't actually take part in the competition we started from the renowned names associated with Ducati: Bruno Spaggiari, Ermanno Giuliano and Gilberto Parlotti. Spaggiari, as we all know, was at the time the Bologna manufacturer's most well-established racer, having ridden the Marianna at the Motogiro as far back as 1955; the young recruits Giuliano and Parlotti belonged to the generation of Ducati racers who had already made their name on the Ducati 250 in the late 1960s and took turns riding the brand new 500 GP 1971 from that very year. The only difference was that Ermanno Giuliano was not only a racer but also the official Ducati tester, so he was a full-time employee of the company.
As for the foreign racers, it is my belief that Ducati, or rather the Ducati management team, made up of Fabio Taglioni, Fredmano Spairani and Cosimo Calcagnile, took a lucky dip so to speak. The Imola "200 Miglia" was a completely new race at the time, directly inspired by the more famous
Daytona 200. In those
days, several British racers were tempted across the pond to try their
luck on the American tracks. Smart was one such racer. In fact he
received a transatlantic phone call from his wife Maggie (Barry Sheene's
sister), who told him she had been contacted by Ducati to ascertain
whether her husband would take part in this new race, on the back of a
bike specifically built for the occasion.
Smart agreed, as did the Englishman Alan Dunscombe. But what about Sheene? What happened to him? Ducati did approach the young Sheene that year but he later decided to enter the race on a Triumph 3, at the time considered one of the best bikes in the game. Triumph, however, was not able to meet Sheene's demands, since it was experiencing financial trouble, so in the end Sheene did not take part in the race at all.
As for Gilberto Parlotti, we know that he took part in a few 1971 races on a 500 GP, even winning one, unofficial, competition at Skopja Locka. Parlotti was very close to some of the best known Ducati mechanics such as: Giorgio Nepoti, Rino Caracchi and Franco Farnè, although in actual fact he was not a regular Ducati racer but a sort of motorcycling freelancer, with ties to various manufacturers.
According to some eyewitness accounts from those who were actually involved in the preparation of the bikes for the Imola "200 Miglia" race, in the end more bikes were prepared than racers were available, to the extent that Ducati tried to attract Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini among others, although they did not show any particular interest in the new bike, and Walter Villa, who did take part and came third, but on a three-cylinder Triumph 750.
this stage you might ask why Ducati did not succeed in attracting enough
racers to enter all seven bikes they had prepared for the race. The
answer may well be this: the Imola "200 Miglia" was a brand new race at
the time and the first race ever dedicated to racing bikes based on
production models. So it was to be expected that all the motorcycling
manufacturers active in those days were vying for attention, since
success in that race would lead to economic success in terms of sales.
And let's not forget that the maxi bike boom had just begun, so victory in Imola would undoubtedly have meant a strong demand for a certain kind of bike, especially if it was a winner on the track.
At the time the
multi-cylindered British bikes (Norton, Triumph, BSA), together with the
early Japanese bikes (Kawasaki and Honda), were definitely the bikes to
beat, and practically all the Italian manufacturers of the period stood
as their opponents, producing the first large displacement bikes
(Guzzi, Laverda, MV, Ducati).
So Ducati, which could not boast the same number of past victories as the other manufacturers, was not able to persuade the racers to ride a bike they were unfamiliar with, and which above all did not appear to be competitive. But as we well know, the race had a different outcome altogether. So it was decided to supply two bikes each for Spaggiari (9), Smart (16) and Giuliano (39), while Dunscombe (45) just had one.
For the record, Smart and Spaggiari were triumphant in first and second place (with an unforgettable, historical finale on the last lap when Spaggiari's bike ran out of fuel), while Giuliano had to pull out feeling ill with a high temperature and Dunscombe was relegated to the back of the pack.