Doug Polen (23), the reigning world champion Raymond Roche (1) and Stéphane Mertens with the number 3 – the Ducati Armada began to dominate more and more after the Frenchman’s first title in 1990. The 1991 season should only see one winner who was not on one of the Italian bikes (© WorldSBK).

First half of the 1991 season – the 4th year of the WorldSBK

In Donington this time the fourth season of the near-series World Championship began again at its place of origin, where it all began on April 3, 1988. This time it was once more very early in the year when the engines roared for the first time on March 30, 1991, at the start of the 4th Superbike World Championship. The entry list was huge and comprised no less than 54 drivers, an almost unimaginable number today. By the end of the season, over 90 different pilots should have earned World Championship points. The defending champion was Frenchman Raymond Roche in a Ducati. As in the previous year, his teammate was Giancarlo Falappa again. The Italian had missed the rest of the season after a terrible accident on the Österreich-Ring, see also our report on the 1990 season.

The 1991 entry list for the WorldSBK’s Donington event, with the factory teams in bold. For a better overview, we have adopted the original list in our standard format.

Competitors from the own brand of the reigning world champion
For the third year, the former 500cc racing driver Marco Lucchinelli was the team boss for the Ducati works team, and in the first WSBK season in 1988 he was still a race winner in Donington Park. But, the defending champion should get a strong competitor from the USA for the 1991 season with Doug Polen. The American already very successful in the AMA Superbike before, competed for the private Fast by Ferracci team. Although the works team was already using the new 888 model, the Ducati 851 (with as well 888cc displacement) from Belgian Stéphane Merkel and even more so the 888 from the ingenious tuner Eraldo Ferracci from Doug Polen proved to be at least equal.

Raymond Roche – the Frenchman switched to Ducati in 1989 in the Superbike World Championship, after having competed in the 500cc World Championship before that. The one from Ollioules in the south of France, less than 15 km from the Le Castellet racetrack, was immediately successful. A year later, he won the first title for Ducati (© WorldSBK).

The 1991 WorldSBK season calendar

After Enna-Pergusa in Sicily and Monza in northern Italy, this time the Misano and Mugello tracks were used for the first time for the Superbike World Championship. It was also a premiere that there were two events in Italy. The racetrack from Manfeild in New Zealand was missing from the calendar for the first time, which is why the season finale was held in Phillip Island (Australia). Instead of Jerez, the near-series World Championship in Spain took place this time on the Jarama track, near the capital Madrid. For the first time since the WSBK, the Hungaroring near Budapest (Hungary) was also missing. But this time they (SBK Rights holder and FIM) tried Anderstorp in Sweden. The prototype World Cup was held there several times in the 1970s and 1980s.

The start of the season in Donington Park – England

The reigning world champion, like his predecessor Fred Merkel (Honda), went wrong into the new season. Raymond Roche stopped on lap 10 with an engine failure on his factory Ducati and only two laps later the American had an analog problem. The fact that his teammate Baldassare Monti fell in the tenth round made the first run a disaster for his team.

A very interesting bike was the number 5 Sikolene Honda – an English rider named Carl Fogarty had already contested three laps with a wildcard on a VFR-750 last year and 1991 was his first full season. Nobody could have guessed at that time how deep footsteps he would leave a few years later in the WSBK (© WorldSBK).

The surprise winner from the United States
Instead of one of the favorites, the Ducati private team “Fast by Ferracci” from the USA won Doug Polen ahead of Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha) and Terry Rymer (Yamaha). Four Englishmen classified Rob McElnea, Brian Morrison, Niall Mackenzie and Ray Stringer behind last year’s World Cup fourth, Rob Phillis (Kawasaki). The World Cup third in 1990 Stéphane Mertens (Ducati), however, fell in the eighth lap. Before that, the Belgian had set the fastest lap on his Ducati 851 (which already had 888cc displacement) with a 1:37.98.

The program for the season opener in Donington Park 1991 with world champion Raymond Roche on his Ducati 851 on the cover cost 2 pounds at the time.

The second race at Donington
Two laps before the end of the second race, Doug Polen won the first race with an engine defect on his private Ducati 888. Mertens won ahead of Roche, Rob Phillis, Rymer and McElnea. Ninth place went to a certain Carl Fogarty on a Honda, who was eliminated in the first race with a problem with his gear linkage. In addition to Polen, his compatriot Fred Merkel had a pitch-black day. This time the 1988 and 1989 world champion only came 8 laps before his Rumi Honda gave up its ghost.

Donington Park in July 2019 – before the 2020 Corona season, one of the most spectacular Motul WorldSBK weekends of a very exciting year took place here. We were there and can only say that those who have never been to the track on which the Superbike World Championship held its first round in April 1988 have missed something as a motorsport fan!

World Championship round 2 in Jarama (Spain)

The motorcycle world championship had often been a guest on this route north-east of Madrid since 1969. After 1990 in Jerez, the Spanish WSBK round was planned this time on the Circuito del Jarama. In the first run, Doug Polen shocked the competition again when he won the race with an 8-second lead over the Australian Rob Phillis. Roche, on the other hand, fell on the first lap and Fred Merkel followed suit five rounds later. Shortly after the start, there was also a mass crash that caused Stéphane Mertens to fall, among others. The podium was completed by the Spaniard Juan López Mella in front of his compatriot Daniel Amatriain (both Honda), Pirovano, Monti and Terry Rymer. The German Udo Mark took the excellent 8th place on a Yamaha ahead of Carl Fogarty (Honda).

Start of the WSBK race on the Circuito del Jarama near Madrid on April 28, 1991, the second of 13 laps on the calendar. Practically all riders should then forego taking part in Canada, which means that the Superbike World Championship this year decided on 24 races instead of 26 (© WorldSBK).

The second race in Spain and Polen’s confirmation
The winner of the first race triumphed for the third time in 4 races. Doug Polen was the World Championship leader before it continued in overseas. Stéphane Mertens finished second in front of the reigning world champion and Ducati works rider Roche, who in this case was beaten by two private Ducatis. The top ten were completed by Mella, Pirovano, Amatriain, Mark, Fogarty, the Finn Jari Suhonen and another Spaniard (both Yamaha) with Luis Carlos Maurel. This time, too, there were two prominent fall victims in the first round with Rob Phillis and Baldassare Monti. Fred Merkel also flew off just one lap later. A total of 7 more riders missed the finish line, including Giancarlo Falappa on the second factory Ducati.

Carl Fogarty (Honda, in the picture in front) had already made people sit up and take notice last year with two sixth places in Donington. In 1991 the Englishman drove his first full season in the Superbike World Championship apart from Canada and Australia. After Donington in 1990, the Jarama weekend was his most successful weekend in the near-series World Cup to date. A few years later he was to become one of the most influential figures in WorldSBK (© WorldSBK).

The boycott of the worldclass riders of the Canadian race in Mosport

The highly dangerous route from Mosport in Canada had already led to some discussions in the first few years. If a driver fell in the wrong place here, serious injuries or even fatal consequences were to be feared. This led to a boycott of all world-class drivers in the 1991 season, which was also joined by the best Americans such as Polen and Merkel. Due to the lack of sporting value of this event, we will forego the details of all the results list. In the first race only 15 drivers had seen the finish and Race 2 saw only 13 pilots at the finish.

The $ 4 program for Mosport was not a good investment in 1991 because all top drivers were supposed to avoid the race in protest. The track was simply too dangerous for motorcycle races and the drivers were right.
Not a single one of the classified drivers should ever impress internationally, which is why championship points were completely missed here. First and foremost, it was impressive that all world-class drivers stuck together and not a single one broke his boycott promise in order to gain an advantage. According to a previous Grand Prix driver, something like this no longer worked back then in the GP circus.
Stéphane Mertens (Honda) in front of Canadians Michel Mercier and Fabrizio Pirovano (both Yamaha) in the last race of 1990, in which the world’s best were at the start. After the driver boycott in the following year, the world championship round in Canada flew off the calendar (© WorldSBK).

The actually 3rd round of the World Championship in Brainerd

The circuit in Crow Wing County in the US state of Minnesota was of course very well known to the local heroes. Fred Merkel had already won race victories in the AMA Superbike championship there, but had problems with tires at the WSBK races last year. Also on Sunday, June 2, 1991, the Californian sun boy was supposed to leave Brainerd again dissatisfied. In the first race it was only enough for him to finish 6. Doug Polen defeated his compatriot Scott Russell (Kawasaki) on his Ferrucci-Ducati, who took second place ahead of Mertens on the second-best and also private Ducati.

Rob Phillis (AUS, Kawasaki) finished fourth, ahead of Vice World Champion Fabrizio Pirovano (ITA, Yamaha). Raymond Roche was injured after a fall in the first qualifying session, while his team-mate Giancarlo Falappa took seventh place. Carl Fogarty was eleventh in the first race.

Race two in the US race – another one-two for Doug Polen
The second race was a copy of the first race, except for the first three on the podium. While his compatriot Polen triumphed with another double victory, Merkel had to be content with P4 this time. This time Rob Phillis saw the checkered flag in fifth ahead of Pirovano and Monti. Fogarty repeated his result from the first run and behind him his compatriot Niall Mackenzie was twelfth. A clear improvement after 15th place in the 1st race. Giancarlo Falappa, who recovered after his terrible crash in training at Spielberg in 1990 after 27 broken bones, dropped out halfway through the race.

Terry Rymer (Loctite Yamaha) was the best Englishman in the Superbike World Championship in the first two years until he finished the season only second best in his country in 1990 behind Rob McElnea. But in 1991 he was to become the best Briton again and finish the World Championship in the top ten for the fourth time in a row, a truly impressive record (© WorldSBK).

The return to Spielberg

The Italian daredevil Giancarlo Falappa had no good memories of the Österreich-Ring. The guardrails, which were placed far too close, almost cost him his life in a fatal crash last year. Thirty years later, the circuit was rightly discredited as the Red Bull Ring in MotoGP when the bikes of two fallen riders nearly killed Valentino Rossi and his teammates. But security was generally still written in lower case at that time and so the WSBK heroes returned to Spielberg in 1991. Only after 1999 should the route finally be removed from the calendar.

The layout of the original Österreich-Ring at that time was much smoother than after the first renovation in 1996. Unfortunately, this course was then adopted one-to-one for the Red Bull Ring in 2011 as well.

The first race and the Belgian winner
After his victory in the 2nd race in Donington, Stéphane Mertens triumphed on his private Ducati for the second time of the season in the first race at the Österreich-Ring. Series winner Doug Polen was second ahead of Raymond Roche. Once again, the French works driver on his new Ducati 888 had lost out to two private drivers, of whom the Belgian was even on the older 851 model. But this time it was one of the tightest decisions in history. With 4 drivers within 1.198 seconds, the Australian Phillis only missed the podium by around two and a half tenths. Numerous drivers retired with technical problems, including Fabrizio Pirovano and the Swiss Andreas Hofmann. Local hero Karl Truchsess fell, just like Falappa of all people in the third round, but luckily he did not injure himself again.

When the boss lends a hand himself – the ingenious tuner Eraldo Ferracci, who emigrated from northern Italy to the USA in the 1960s and now with his private driver Doug Polen race after race in front of the works team from Borgo Panigale near Bologna.
Today’s course in Spielberg has little to do with the route at that time, except for the part on the left and the start-finish straight. The Red Bull Ring, which reopened in 2011, was included in the MotoGP calendar from 2016, but not the one for the Superbike World Championship.

The second race and the beginning of an almost eerie series
Doug Polen was the man of the day. After he missed victory in the first run by just 0.27 seconds and won the second even closer to Mertens. Roche was again only third and Phillis crossed the finish line in a thankless fourth place with a ridiculous 6.1 tenths behind the winner. Pirovano finished fifth on the best Yamaha in front of his two compatriots Davide Tardozzi and Giancarlo Falappa (both Ducati). Behind them was former world champion Fred Merkel (Honda) in front of Terry Rymer, Udo Mark, Jari Suhonen and the Dutchman Jeffrey de Vries (all Yamaha). The German Peter Rubatto had also made it into the points in 13th place on his Yamaha, having already taken a point in race 1.

Doug Polen disgraced the Italian works team with Raymond Roche and Giancarlo Falappa from race to race on the privately tuned “Fast by Ferrucci” 888 Ducati of his US team. One retirement was offset by 6 wins and a second place in the first 8 races driven (© WorldSBK).

The Misano premiere of the WorldSBK with round 6

For the first time, the near-series World Championship also took place at the Autodromo di Santamonica near Misano Adriatico. Oddly enough, August 8th was the worst possible date in the middle of summer. The outcome of the two races came as no surprise. The new high-flyer Doug Polen also triumphed in Italy with his third double win of the season. Rob Phillis lost in the first race on his Kawasaki by just 0.748 seconds.

We photographed the Misano pit area 18 years later. This building did not exist at the time and, in addition, it used to be counterclockwise when Roche, Polen, Merkel and the many other pilots competed against each other here for the first time in the WSBK.

In the second race Phillis was relegated to 3rd place by world champion Roche, who had missed the podium by one place in the first race. The classification of Virginio Ferrari on a Kawasaki was strange. The former 500 cm³ star was second to last in the first run with P22 and in the second 23rd and last of the classified drivers.

For the first time in Sweden for World Championship round 7

In Sweden, Barry Sheene, the 500cc superstar of the 1970s, seemed to feel particularly comfortable. On the racetracks of Anderstorp and Karlskoga, the Englishman won no less than six times in a row from 1976 onwards. In the fourth year of the Superbike World Championship, the near-series bikes made their first appearance in Anderstorp. But it was to remain a short guest appearance and after an interruption in 1992 the so-called Dernière took place again the following year and that was that. The first run at the premiere in 1991 was unsurprisingly a prey for Doug Polen. But the privateer from the USA had to fight for victory with Rob Phillis to the finish line. The Kawasaki rider didn’t give the world championship leader a meter. A full 0.31 seconds separated the two at the end, while Fabrizio Pirovano was waved off in third just 24 seconds later.

The program for the 7th round of the WorldSBK on August 10-11, 1991 cost 30 Swedish kronor at the time.

The other placements
In fourth place, Carl Fogarty on a Honda, arrived at the finish line, whose star in the WSBK sky should soon rise even higher. After two sixth places in his home race in Donington last year, this result was his record to date. Behind the Englishman, the Finn Jari Suhonen on the second best Yamaha was fifth ahead of Giancarlo Falappa. The top ten were completed by Englishman Terry Rymer (Yamaha), ex-world champion Fred Merkel (Honda), the French Jean-Yves Mounier and Udo Mark (both Yamaha). The local hero Christer Lindholm (Yamaha), who had to retire due to a battery failure, had bad luck in front of his home crowd. Just like the reigning world champion Raymond Roche. The Frenchman had not even made the first round with a damaged chain and saw his skins swim further and further away in the World Cup.

Doug Polen (Fast by Ferrucci Ducati 888) – as a privateer, he put all factory drivers in the shade on completely new routes (except Brainerd and Sugo for him). Here in Anderstorp after his 1991 triumph (© WorldSBK).

The second run – another double victory for the high-flyer from the USA
In the first two places the picture at the finish was similar to that in the first race. At 2.96 seconds, the gap was much larger this time. In 3rd place, Raymond Roche, the unlucky person of the first run, was 3.55 seconds behind winner Doug Polen. Carl Fogarty on again the best Honda repeated his result from race 1 with P4, followed by the Swede Christer Lindholm, Fred Merkel (Honda), Jari Suhonen and Rob McElnea (both Yamaha). While 8 drivers were out in the first race, the number increased to thirteen in the second race. Including the Belgian Stéphane Mertens, who crashed in the first run, this time due to clutch damage. The Italians Piergiorgio Bontempi and Fabrizio Pirovano did not see the checkered flag either. The latter was third in the first run and this time dropped out due to a fall 3 laps before the end.

Ducati tuner Eraldo Ferracci – the man behind the success of Doug Polen in 1991, lived in the United States since 1967. He had learned his dream job as a motorcycle mechanic at Motobi in Pesaro (Italy) before he emigrated. With his team “Fast by Ferracci” he promptly embarrassed the Ducati factory team to the bone in the year he entered the World Championship.

Interim balance sheet for the first half of 1991

With Doug Polen a driver hit the scene like a comet in the 4th year of WorldSBK. Except for two of his first 12 races contested, he had won all of them and only failed to finish once, and it was due to an engine failure. He finished moreover second in Spielberg (Austria). There had never been such overwhelming dominance of a rider in the first 3 years of the Superbike World Championship. Despite a definitely strong season, Raymond Roche had “only” achieved 8 wins last year, which the US boy had already surpassed in 1991 at half-time. With a 56 point lead ahead of his closest pursuer, the “Fast by Ferracci” privateer was ahead of Rob Phillis (Kawasaki) before the season continued in Japan. Ducati works driver Roche did not even have half as many points as Polen.

Part 8 of the WSBK-History: