Ducati's 'big five' descend on Bologna.
With the 2006 World Superbike and MotoGP Championships now just weeks away, Ducati Corse's five official riders descended on the company headquarters in Bologna, Italy, to meet up with their fans in the factory... and the nightclub!
Last Thursday afternoon, Loris Capirossi (MotoGP), Sete Gibernau (MotoGP), Troy Bayliss (WSBK), Lorenzo Lanzi (WSBK) and Vittoriano Guareschi (test rider) met up with Ducati employees to shake hands, sign autographs, pose for photos and hear heartfelt words of encouragement as they prepare to represent the Italian manufacturer in the two world championships.
It was a particularly extraordinary return for Bayliss who, after a gap of one year with Camel Honda, returned to the Ducati factory to find that he is still one of the employees' all-time favourite riders. The times set by the Australian during recent tests in Valencia and Qatar demonstrate that the 2001 Superbike champion has not lost the feeling with the twin-cylinder Ducati Superbike after three years in MotoGP.
Bayliss will be flanked in this Superbike season by talented youngster Lorenzo Lanzi, the first Italian to ride for the official World Superbike team since Pierfrancesco Chili in 1998; Lanzi was able to feel at first hand the full impact of being a factory rider as he was swamped by numerous Ducati employees.
After three-seasons at the Italian team, Ducati 'veteran' Capirossi should feel comfortably at home in the Borgo Panigale factory - but he always appears surprised at the overwhelming reception which awaits him.
A warm welcome was also reserved for new signing Gibernau, who immediately looked at ease amidst the passionate climate of his new family.
Despite the fact that he is not in the spotlight as much as the race riders, long-serving test rider Guareschi was also greeted with affection by the Ducati employees, who are well aware of the vital importance of his work.
After meeting up with Ducati employees, the Borgo Panigale 'Big five' were guests of honour in the evening at 'Rosso di Sera', the annual party organised by the Ducati Owners Club of Bologna in one of the city's most popular nightclubs.
Together with the 1600 people who had come to the discotheque to see them, Loris, Sete, Troy, Lorenzo and Vito welcomed in the 2006 season.
From tomorrow (Tuesday) onwards Capirossi and Gibernau will be taking part in the final winter test session outside of Europe, at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia from Tuesday 14th to Thursday 16th February - where they will once again be joined by all their main 2006 rivals.
Ducati Corse's World Superbike riders have already concluded their winter testing programme and will get their first taste of championship action soon as they head to Qatar next week for the opening round of the championship at the Losail desert circuit on Saturday 25th February.