It’s not often a former World Superbike and MotoGP contender gets to ride one of their title-winning motorcycles, but it’s exactly what Troy Bayliss did when he pulled his 2001 Ducati 996 RS from the pool room in 2018.
The three-time Superbike world champion had the opportunity to roll out the bike that assisted him to a maiden world title during the annual International Festival of Speed in Sydney, where motorcycling legends are celebrated and typically ride bikes from their own era.
Bayliss is considered royalty in motorcycle racing and especially by Ducati fanatics, having served the Italian manufacturer incredibly well across both WorldSBK, MotoGP, and more recently in ASBK.
Despite stepping away from the world stage as a full-time rider in 2008, the famous number 21 has remained as relevant as ever with what is a significantly large and loyal fan-base that continue to follow and support his every move.
The bike that took Bayliss to 15 podium finishes in the 2001 Superbike World Championship had sat in storage for 17 years and was a showpiece in the now 51-year-old house alongside his 2006 and 2008 championship-winning Ducatis.
It was no simple task bringing the Ducati back to life for an exhibition race at the Eastern Creek venue, and it started by craning the 996 from his Australian residence.
Fortunately for Bayliss, who’s a co-owner in the DesmoSport Ducati Australian superbike team, he was able to use the resources within the racing squad to prepare the bike for its highly-awaited return.
When I questioned Bayliss on what it was like to pull the bike from his home and roll it out of pit lane for the first time in almost two decades, this is what he had to say.
“It’s incredible actually - I’ve passed it thousands of times in my house and it becomes like normal to see it there.
“When we craned it out and took it took the workshop and started doing some work to it to get it up running, and to hear it come back to life after so long was really nice, but to ride down and out of pit lane felt really nice. It brought back some really good memories for me.”
Riding it in the same specification as it was for the world championship in 2001, Bayliss admits it felt just like it did 17 years prior.
One of the interesting aspects of Bayliss being reunited with the 996 on-track is that was he was in race shape at the time as the appearance just so happened to unfold months after making his comeback to professional racing on a national level in Australia.
It meant he was in prime condition to put the Ducati through its paces around the Sydney Motorsport Park venue, and it allowed him to draw comparisons to the Ducati Panigale 1299, which was his current ASBK machine at the time.
Bayliss was ultimately met with a number of technical problems throughout the weekend and would only manage a handful of laps, but it didn’t deter him from making the most of what was an incredibly unique experience.
The motorcycle racing legend was somewhat surprised by the bike’s capabilities against his ASBK-spec Panigale, admitting the straight-line speed between them was marginal despite a significant difference in engine capacity and of course technology.
There was one key aspect of the championship-winning bike that was evidently an obvious advantage for Bayliss over the modern-day superbike, which he explained to me...
“I treated it with a bit of care - I didn’t ride it too crazy, but she still felt beautiful and it’s still such a fast motorcycle.
“It felt like exactly like it felt in the past - it was just so nice. The bike is honestly still so fast, and Troy Corser had a ride on our DesmoSport Ducati, and we came onto the straight together so we could see the speed - seriously, there was nothing in them.
“That’s a World Superbike-spec bike from 2001 up against our Australian Superbike which is a 1299, which honestly, there’s probably only 15-horespower difference, but the old bike is definitely more aerodynamic than the new bike. The thing is still fast.”