Gianni Degli Antoni

Unfortunately, Degli Antoni's brilliant career dramatically ended with an accident at the Monza Racetrack in September 1956. Gianni Degli Antoni, a rider from Modena, was hired by Ducati for the 1955 Motogiro. The victories achieved in endurance races allowed Degli Antoni to become the reference rider of the new Ducati team. 

Gianni Degli Antoni became the official Ducati test rider between 1955 and 1956.

The experience gained by Gianni Degli Antoni during the long testing sessions allowed Ducati to implement new ideas on racing bikes. Unfortunately, Degli Antoni's brilliant career dramatically ended with an accident at the Monza Racetrack in September 1956. 

In February 1955, the 100cc Gran Sport prototype made its debut on Modena circuit. 

The result of the race was more than encouraging, so much that it was decided to bring forward to the following month the official debut of the 100 GS model - called Marianna - on the occasion of the toughest, the most spectacular and the most popular race among the public: "Motogiro d'Italia". 

Ducati was sure of its bike’s potential, but its riders of the time had yet to prove their worth, they were all young and inexperienced in the racing world: Degli Antoni, Fantuzzi, Tartarini, Maoggi, Spaggiari, Villa and Scamandri. 

Gianni Degli Antoni, 26 years old, was a rider until then unknown to the general public, but easily won the 100cc category at an average speed of 98.90 km/h, faster than many 250 and modern Benelli bikes.

The race lasted nine days and hundreds of kilometres were covered with practically no rest other than at night. 

The 100 GS and Gianni Degli Antoni became the best official Ducati team ever existed till that moment. The bike’s high performance and reliability, combined with the rider's endurance and skills, made him a favourite at Ducati, both for bike's development and competitions.

The results and the positive consequences of such victories surprised the same designer of the bike, Fabio Taglioni.

In practice, Italian riders had the mission to collect the best possible results, but above all to drive with care and intelligence to collect as much technical data as possible. The triumph was surprising and was also due to the great preparation of men and means.

Taglioni meticulously fine-tuned engines and all of the team riders were best prepared for the endurance test, by learning the necessary notions of mechanics and being in good physical shape. Thrilled by its successes, Ducati decided to take part not only in national races but also in Grand Prix, in an international championship taking place all over Europe.

On the 25th of February 1956, the official team led by Degli Antoni, indisputably the best rider of the company, enrolled in the 125cc category. It was the most interesting and stimulating test both mechanically and for the competitiveness of the opponents, since it involved confronting the most prestigious teams of the time, such as: MV Agusta, Mondial, Gilera, the German DKW and the young Spanish brand Montesa.

While engineer Taglioni concentrated his efforts on the new project of the Trialbero Desmo (as the new 125 was called), Degli Antoni continued to compete with the 100 GS. He participated in several endurance races with good results. He won in his category the Milan-Taranto, a race of 1,400 km on open road, recording the impressive average speed of 103.172 km/h. 

In order to take part in the first round of the championship, Taglioni prepared the new bike in record time, so that the team could be on the circuit of Hedemora for the Swedish Grand Prix. On the 14th and 15th of July 1956, more than 40,000 spectators, spread over the seven kilometres of the Swedish track, attended the race. It seemed that the weather conditions were favourable to the Italian team: after a hot summer day, Saturday came with a pleasant temperature that favoured the work of riders and mechanics.

Gianni Degli Antoni entered the circuit for testing with a very limited knowledge of the new bike. Swedish national champion Olle Nygren was also on the track, riding a Ducati 125 GP. Nygren took the lead at the start. Having seen the spectacular tests of the Italian rider, he knew that only by distancing his rival from the beginning would he have any chance to win. His optimism lasted the time of a few corners, because Degli Antoni’s superiority was evident from the first lap, when he took the lead and remained there for the whole race, with a gap of three seconds on the Swedish. The Italian rider, wearing the classic helmet matching the fairing with red and white stripes, entered the myth with a triumph and the absolute record of the race, thanks to the time of 48 minutes and 8.1 seconds.

This victory earned both the rider and Ducati the respect of a very competitive rival, such as MV Agusta, ranking third, and Mondial, which was favourite on the eve of the race.

For Gianni Degli Antoni it was his moment of greatest happiness. The victory gave him a reputation as an unbeatable rider both in endurance races and in the Grand Prix. 

The next race was in Italy, where everyone was waiting for him. The appointment was two months away and Degli Antoni wanted to prepare himself at his best. Therefore, he planned a long session of tests at Monza circuit, but fate prepared a tragic surprise.

On the 7th of August 1956, during a private practice session at Monza circuit, Gianni Degli Antoni lost control of his bike and crashed at the famous Lesmo curve. He died instantly. He was only 27 years old.

In his place, the Ducati team hired Alberto Gandossi. Taglioni's Ducati 125 failed to repeat the victorious Swedish Grand Prix. In a sad and colourless Italian Grand Prix, the splendid Ducati 125 Desmo GP could not count on a rider of the talent and charisma of Degli Antoni. Gandossi and Nygren finally ranked fourth and ninth.

In 1957 Ducati decided to take a break to devote itself to the development of new bikes and the search for new riders.

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