Marco Lucchinelli, also known as "Lucky," is a much-loved racer and Ducati idol from the 1980s. Born in Ceparana, Italy (June 26, 1954), Marco is well remembered in the world of motorcycle racing for his many thrilling races and many victories. In addition to his victory in 1981 on a 500cc Suzuki, among Ducati fans, Lucchinelli is remembered for his great victory in Daytona in 1987, the famous Battle of the Twins that he won with a Ducati 851cc.
Lucchinelli began racing at the international level in 1976 in the French Gran Prix and his first victory was at the German GP in 1980. Throughout his career Lucky achieved 6 victories, he was on the podium 19 times and broke 10 records for performing the fastest laps in a race. Lucky participated in the 500cc class 11 times, a rider with one of the most extensive records in the championship.
Ten years before the victory in Daytona in 1977, the Castiglioni brothers, Cagiva's owners, decided to support Team Life, a team directed by Alberto Pagani and including riders Lucchinelli, Cereghini and Perugini. The team raced in the Gran Prix with ancient Yamahas and Suzukis. 1977 was an incredibly difficult year for the Cagiva Team Life because half-way through the year, their sponsor backed out and left them to race by themselves; the little Cagiva elephant was the only logo on the motorcycles. Lucchinelli was not held back by these dark financial times and it was in 1977 that he won his first Gran Prix on a Yamaha TZ on the Assen circuit in Holland, a track nicknamed the "University of the Motorcycle" because of its high speed and challenging curves.
Luchinelli's victory gave the Castiglioni brothers the incentive to restart the obsolete Aermacchi Harley Davidson racing department that they owned. The bikes were painted red and silver to honour MV Agusta and Marco Lucchinelli was their obvious choice as the main rider. The racing season was more difficult than they had expected and the motorcycle they depended on had some serious technical problems. Their only moment of glory was their win at the English Gran Prix on the Silverstone track in the midst of a thunderstorm.
Cagiva's economic crisis pushed Lucchinelli to find himself a new team to race with. After racing in many competitions and on many different bikes, in 1981 behind the handlebars of a Suzuki, Lucchinelli finally achieved his dream of becoming a world champion. Seeing his success, Cagiva found a way to solve its financial problems and begged Lucchinelli to come back to their team with the promise to bring winning results. Lucky as he was for Ducati, Lucchinelli didn't bring winning results; he came in 8th at the 200 Miglia di Imola and he was unable to win the world championship because of unjustified absences. Lucchinelli's worst moment came in the French Gran Prix where, after causing an accident with Franco Uncini, Lucchinelli started a fight with a police officer and was penalized by the racing authorities. After hitting a sort of rock bottom, Lucchinelli left Cagiva and returned home.
After a pause from the world of motorcycling, Lucky came back with a bang, winning on the Daytona track in March, 1987. Everyone had high expectations for the Ducati Desmoquattro 851 with 120 hp and this was the first time that a two-cylinder engine went up against and beat the Japanese four-cylinder engines. Word of Lucchinelli's victory spread throughout Europe; finally an Italian won this famous race! No Italian rider had won since Giacomo Agostini, back in 1974. With this victory, the charismatic rider became a real motorcycling idol all across Italy. This was the beginning of Lucky's relationship with Ducati.
The birth of the World Superbike Championship in 1988 created a perfect opportunity for Ducati to make use of the new engine that engineer Massimo Bondo created with four valves per cylinder. Lucky and Bordi worked together to develop and perfect the 851 Superbike and they presented it on the Donington Park circuit for the first trial of the newborn championship.
The two races at Donington Park were both incredibly memorable. In the first one, Davide Tardozzi, riding a Bimota, won straight out. Lucchinelli then had just a little bit of time to gather his thoughts and energies in preparation for the second
race. As described by Marco Masetti in the book Ducati- A Motorbike, a Myth, a Museum: Lucchinelli "glued himself to his enemy's wheel and shadowed Tardozzi for many laps, breathing menacingly down his neck. The reckoning came on the last lap: a few drops of rain fell, like a sign from heaven. As he turned the accelerator up, knowing that he could not be touched, Marco saw his adversary skid into the grass, vanishing from his field of vision. There was absolutely nothing ahead of him, a totally clear horizon that smelled only of victory and glory."
This victory was as important for Ducati as Paul Smart's win at the Imola 200 Miles in 1972. Overall the 1988 championship was characterised by the title won by Fred Merkel, Tardozzi's bad luck on his Bimota, and Ducati's 5th place position.
The excellent results at the Superbike Championship convinced Ducati that their more powerful engines had great potential. With excellence and success, Bordi and Mengoli showed that in order to increase the power of Ducati bikes, it was necessary to count on engines with four valves per cylinder. Up until then, the Bolognese company had invested primarily in Taglioni's two valve per cylinder engines.
Lucky was dedicated to motorcycles, but above that, he was dedicated to engines in general. The year he stopped racing competitively, Lucchinelli joined the Lola team and participated in a F-3000 automobile race. In 2004, Lucchinelli returned to the Gran Prix motorcycle racing, this time as the sports director of a racing team, but unfortunately, his team was unsuccessful.
Originally published in the Passione Ducati Encyclopedia by Altaya/De Agostini and reprinted with the publisher's permission.