Friday, June 7

WILLING DUCATI ON...

By MICHAEL ESDAILE


LONG time world championship crew chief and technician Warren Willing has a new challenge: helping turn around Ducati's MotoGP fortunes.

Willing has been away from the lime-light for some time but will be best remembered as Wayne Rainey's crew chief in the Marlboro Yamaha team.

A former Australian Unlimited Champion in the Yamaha TZ750 era, Willing contested the World F750 Championship in 1977 and then raced in England for the Sid Griffiths team before suffering a career ending injury at the North West 200 in Northern Ireland in 1979.

In his formative years in racing he was already tuning his own racing motorcycles so while he was rehabilitating from his major leg injury, he started work with the Australian Dunlop tyre importer working with a variety of riders testing tyres.  He then ran a Dunlop race team in Production racing before taking over Yamaha's racing operations in Australia, working with Stephan Gall in motocross at one point and heading up the team's Production racing efforts.  

From Production racing, Willing took the Marlboro Yamaha team Superbike racing with Mike Dowson and a rookie named Michael Doohan and showed the Europeans what a well set-up Superbike looked like when Doohan won both races at the Australian round of the 1988 Superbike World Championship, running the first 15 laps under the lap record.  Not only did Doohan win both races, Dowson was second each time to give the Australian Marlboro Yamaha team a 1-2 finish in both races.


Willing then joined Kenny Roberts Lucky Strike Yamaha team, and continued on with the team when Roberts swapped to Phillip Morris (Marlboro) as his major sponsor.

Working with Wayne Rainey, Willing helped the team take three consecutive World 500 Championships.  

Later he joined Suzuki to work with Kenny Roberts Junior in 1999, when the finished runner-up in the 500 title chase to Alex Creville.  The following year, Roberts won the title, beating a 500 class rookie named Valentino Rossi (Honda NSR500).

Later on he worked with KTM for three seasons, then took time out with health problems before signing on to help Ant West in the now defunct MZ team owned by former World 250 Champion Martin Wimmer.

The move to Ducati has been hush-hush, but veteran Swiss journalist  G√ľnther  Wiesinger has now broken the story on his website, Speed Week.  (To view a basic translation of that story, click here ).

Our understanding is that Willing's brief is to develop a second laboratory bike to test alongside the current 'lab bike' ridden by Michele Pirro.