Troy Bayliss is to swing his leg over a World Superbike Ducati again. Ducati today shocked fans and media by announcing that the three-time WSBK champion is to take the place of the injured Davide Giugliano, who is out for three months after injuring two vertebrae in a crash during testing. Currently, Bayliss will only replace Giugliano at Phillip Island, with Ducati test rider Michele Pirro pencilled in for the remaining races the Italian is likely to miss.
The decision to replace Giugliano with Bayliss came at the request of the Australian himself. In a press release, Ducati said that Bayliss had asked the factory to be allowed to race as a wildcard at Phillip Island, and when injury forced Giugliano out, Ducati were happy to agree to his request. The factory had not originally planned to replace the injured Italian, as test rider Michele Pirro is due to start the second MotoGP test at Sepang on Monday, taking the Desmosedici GP15 out for its first full laps on a proper race track. That currently has a higher priority than replacing Giugliano, so Bayliss' offer was serendipitous.
The ride at Phillip Island comes as a remarkable return for Bayliss. The 45-year-old Australian officially retired from World Superbikes at the end of the 2008 season, after wrapping up his third World Superbike title on a third different Ducati. His retirement was rumored at the time to not have been entirely voluntary: it was said that his wife Kim had given him an ultimatum, demanding that it was time to stop. After an abortive attempt at racing V8 Supercars, Bayliss turned his attention to flat track and cycling, both of which he practices keenly. Bayliss is still fast on a motorcycle: he won the 2014 edition of the Troy Bayliss Classic, the flat track race which he organizes every winter, and which features some top racing names from Australia and abroad. He also regularly rides a Superbike, having worked as a tester for Ducati until two years ago, and still taking bikes out on track, sometimes offering two-up rides at circuits.
Will Bayliss be competitive? There is no doubting his fitness, and there is no doubting his will to compete, but it has been some time since he raced a Superbike. His results are unlikely to matter to anyone but himself, the Australian remains extraordinarily popular both at home and abroad. On an interesting sidenote, the return of Bayliss will see him having competed on four different generations of Ducati. He started on the 996, which later became the 998, and won a championship on it in 2001. When he returned from his spell in MotoGP, he raced the 999, winning a championship in that in 2006. He then raced the bike's successor, the 1098, winning a third title on that bike in 2008, his last year in the series. Now, he will race the 1199 Panigale R. It is truly a remarkable and unique record.
In a press release issued by the Aruba.it Ducati team, Bayliss was quoted as follows:
“I want to start by saying that I really feel for Davide and that it’s a real shame for his season to be starting in this way. The desire to be able to return to the track and see the home crowd and the Ducatisti has always been strong, ever since I last raced and then also Phillip Island, one of my favourite tracks, is celebrating its 25th anniversary of World Superbikes. This gave me the idea to compete as a wildcard and work with the Ducati Superbike technicians once again. I know it’s going to be a very difficult weekend, also because it’s a while since I’ve ridden the Superbike but I do know the track well and so hope to get back into it after a few laps. I’ll try to enjoy myself and will of course be doing my best to score a good result and put on a good show for the public.”