An article I wrote for Desmo (the Ducati Owners Club magazine) about my motorcycling trips to Italy together with a postscript.
In search of inspiration for my Ducati artwork, I took my 1998 900 Supersport to Mugello for the 2007 Italian Grand Prix. It has got to be the maddest, most wonderful race meeting there is and needless to say I had an absolute ball! I had incorporated a factory visit into the itinerary and the bike decided that it would like to break down outside the factory gates! I had ridden through the night from Monte Carlo because I was late for the factory tour I had booked - to the tune of one day due to bad weather through France!
Left: Monte Carlo - 2007. One day behind schedule!
Right: Evening in the Alps near Grenoble en route to Bologna - 2007.
So I thought I had better demonstrate that I really had tried my best to get there as soon as possible. The bike could have chosen any moment during the night, and in the middle of nowhere, to come to a shuddering halt but it must have thought "No, that's far too inconvenient!" The guy on the gate explained "Sorry we only build the bikes here, we don't repair them. You need the factory store 300 metres up the road."
On arrival there, I started to discover that breaking down on a Ducati is nothing to fear. Sergio, Luciano and the guys there could not have been more helpful, kind and friendly. The clutch hydraulic problems were sorted without delay and, with the directions for Mugello provided, I was soon on my way again.
The bike never missed a beat subsequently and got me home without any more problems. But I thought perhaps going to Mugello on a ten year old bike that cost a mere £1600 was perhaps a little too daring! Fast forward to early 2008 and I am offered a 2005 999 with 4500 miles on the clock. I thought to myself - I could get to Mugello on that! And as every painting I have done for the past two years features Troy Bayliss on the 999R it just had to be done! It had the loudest Termis you can get for road use, and it went like a rocket!
Left: Troy Bayliss being presented with my original oil painting. Donington Park 2008
Right: The same painting of Troy Bayliss on his 999R alongside my 999.
So a few months later I'm on my way. A Ventura rack and bag on the back and all my camping gear, etc., distributed between the rear bag and a tank bag. Through the Chunnel, no problem as usual, and then off into France from Calais. Within an hour it was raining heavily and it carried on raining until I got to Amiens. Camping was out so I found a hotel. The bike was glorious, in spite of the conditions, and France is just biking paradise and it was great to be getting reacquainted. It carried on raining through the night so when I came out to the bike, it was a pretty wet Triple Nine that greeted my eye. And it wouldn't start! There was a yellow warning light showing which was slightly worrying as that seemed to suggest it wasn't just related to the wet weather. However, after a bit of a delay it did eventually fire up.
A friend of mine back in England sent me a photo over my phone with a map of France showing the locations of all the Ducati dealers. This both amazed me and raised my spirits! People were with me in spirit and helping me out! The nearest one was Ducati Orleans so I aimed for there. But the weather was absolutely dreadful. All day was spent hurtling along French A-roads where there are "beaucoup de camions". And at 80mph every one coming in the opposite direction just drenched the bike still further.
However I arrived at Orleans about 6pm and managed to find another hotel for the night. The mother of all thunderstorms promptly started and went on for the next few hours! It rained all night again so it was with some trepidation that I pressed the start button in the morning - but amazingly it fired up! I found Ducati Orleans and met the proprietor, Jean Louis. "Je suis Anglais" I explained. "Personne ne pas parfait", he replied. We both laughed. We had got off to a good start! Again, great kindness and hospitality was afforded, including lunch, and by 2pm I was on my way. The warning light had been on because the secondary cooling fan was not working and the starting problems were attributed to the severe wet conditions. So off I went. Hurtling down beautiful French A-roads, the bike just singing. Even the sun was out. I have never been happier and all was right with the world. Mugello here I come!
Twenty minutes later, I have to stop for fuel in a little town called Blet. Virtually in the middle of France. There is a Renault dealer with some fuel pumps. I fill up, pay and then come to press the start button. Nothing! Oh no. My heart sank. It was starting to look like Mugello here I come, but in a hire car!
One of my favourite stories revolves round a quote from one of the girls who conducts the factory tours in Bologna. "We believe at Ducati that you can put five artists in a room and they can create so much more than one thousand robots in a factory." This was music to my ears and a great inspiration to me. I rang my friend Martyn Edwards to get someone to commiserate with me. "Andrew," he said, "you need to find those five artists and give them a piece of your mind!" Brilliant!
However all was not lost. The Renault dealer was my insurance company's agent for bike recovery in that part of France (amazingly), and so the bike was merely pushed into the workshop overnight and trailered to Ducati Bourges the following morning. Ducati Bourges - what a place! Fantastic. They race a 1098 in Gulf racing colours in the Le Mans 24 hours endurance race. The race mechanic, Johan, (said to be the best Ducati mechanic in France), was put to work on my bike. They had a crashed Triple Nine in their yard and so Johan took the ECU off that one and connected it up to mine. It started straight away. The connectors on my ECU were contaminated by the atrocious conditions and so Johan cleaned and dried them, and then sealed the whole thing with silicon. I said "What are my chances of getting to Mugello?" He said "If there is not too much rain, fine!"
Going over the tops again - this time on the 'touring' Triple Nine in 2008
Well I am happy to report that, in spite of the fact that there was rain aplenty for the rest of the trip, I had no further problems. The bike was absolutely awesome and just seemed to revel in the European adventure. The racing and atmosphere at Mugello were just fantastic. I got back home from Mugello in three days. About 500 miles a day. Not because I was in a hurry or on a schedule - I was just totally addicted to riding the bike, the roads (pas de radar!), the sound from the termis. The lot!
My Triple Nine (and me) almost at Mugello -2008
When I got home, I sat down in the armchair, reflecting, and thought to myself that's one of the best things I have ever done. And what made it so special was the Triple Nine. As a postscript. I took a photo of my bike by the 'Welcome to Scarperia' road sign a mile up the road from Mugello. Troy Bayliss very kindly signed the photo for me. Needless to say this is one of my most precious possessions.
Yes, you can go touring on a 999!
No, the ukulele is not propping up the bike!
That is the end of the article but not the end of the story. Just to show how much I had enjoyed the two trips in 2007 and 2008, I did it all again in 2009 and this time I was rewarded by seeing Casey Stoner score Ducati's first win at Mugello. Three absolutely memorable trips that will stay in the memory forever.
Arriving back at the Hotel Del Borgo in Borgo Panigale,
Bologna after watching Casey Stoner win the Italian
Grand Prix. June 2009
En route to Mugello 2009.
There is a memorable postscript to this story that involved a subsequent trip to Italy - not on the 999 but using a more prosaic form of transport!
After the painting of Troy on the 999 was presented to him at Donington Park in 2008 (see above), I was asked, via an intermediary at Ducati, if I had done any paintings celebrating Troy's victory at Valencia in 2006 in the MotoGP race. I was told that it was Troy who wanted to know. I had not done a painting of that subject but replied that, if I could be supplied with some photos, I would be glad to do one. I was told that the painting would be presented to Troy at a retirement party for him that was going to take place in Bologna at the end of the 2008 season. I thus had a deadline and so set to work. I didn't leave the house for two months!
Sadly the retirement party didn't take place so Troy never got his painting. However, I was persuaded to drive the support van for the Ducati Owners Club for this year's World Ducati Week held at the Misano circuit in Italy. So before I set off, I produced a full size canvas reproduction of the original and took it with me in the van just in case Troy turned up. It was quite hectic getting everything together for the trip and the reproduction was only completed just before I set off. In fact, it was still wet when it went in the van!
Fortunately, it all proved to be worthwhile because a meeting with Troy was arranged with the help of the Xerox Ducati World Superbike Team and, as you can see, I was finally able to give Troy the painting, albeit a copy.
There was one amusing aspect to the presentation. In almost all cases when a celebrity is involved, it is the celebrity who is asked to provide an autograph. But, in this case, instead of ME asking Troy for HIS autograph, he asked for mine. The reason? In all the rush, I had not had chance to sign the picture!
If you would like to see the original, it was on display in my exhibition in Borgo Panigale and so either click on this link to the exhibition video or use the link on the home page.
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