By 1991, the Ducati 888 had won 23 World Superbike races and had only been beaten once. Doug Polen on his Fast by Ferracci bike won 17 races and even held the outright lap record at Jarama for a significant period. World Super Bike had become a huge spectator sport, with recognisable machines that riding fans could relate to, and the 888-cc V-twin Ducatis were dominating the 750-cc four-cylinder Kawasakis, Hondas and Suzukis.
Giancarlo Falappa joined the Ducati team in 1990 after a year with Bimota where he finished 6th in the WSB series, scoring three wins. Known as the “Lion of Jesi” (pronounced “Lesi”) for his hometown, Falappa was a bold and charismatic rider, and 1992 would be his best year in WSBK.
Falappa won four of the 26 WSB races in 1992, in a fearsome riding style developed in motocross, where he got his start. Many of Falappa’s best performances can be seen on video, including leaning on Scott Russell in a corner towards the end of the first race at Spa as well as the close-run battle with future champion Carl Fogarty at Assen, which he followed with a wheelie victory lap.
Hit the jump for more information on the Ducati 888 SBK Corsa.
Falappa showed that he “came to play” in the opener at Albacete on 5 April. He was on the pole and finished 4th in the first race and 5th in the second. He must not have liked Britain’s Donington circuit on 20 April, as he could only manage 16th in the first race but improved to 8th in the second.
Falappa sat on the pole on 10 May at Hockenheim but finished a disappointing 19th in the first race, perhaps due to mechanical difficulties. However, he roared back to take 3rd in the second race. Spa-Francorchamps suited him well on 24 May, as he reeled off a 4th place in the first race, improving to 2nd in the next.
At Jarama on 21 June, Falappa set fastest lap on his way to 3rd place in the first race and 7th in the second, but his greatest day was to come at the Osterreichring. On 28 June, he set fastest lap and won both races, beating Rob Phillis in the first and Stephane Mertens in the second.
By now Falappa was hitting his stride, and back in Italy at Mugello on 19 July, he finished 2nd and 3rd behind Raymond Roche, who was red hot and won both races and set fastest lap.
At Johor on 24 August, Falappa set fastest lap and finished 6th and 4th. Sugo was a much less happy experience on 30 August as Falappa crashed on the 10th lap in the first race but rallied to finish 6th in the second.
At Assen on 13 September, Falappa put in a solid showing to finish 8th in the first race and then got the bit between his teeth and beat Fogarty and Roche to win the second race. Back in Italy at Monza on 29 September, Fabrizio Pirovano would not be denied and took both races, but Falappa improved from 12th in the first race to finish 6th in the second.
Only two races remained, in Australia, and they would be frustrating. At Phillip Island on 18 October, Falappa was 5th in race one when his bike quit on the 5th lap of the second. The season finale at Manfeild on 22 October looked promising when Falappa took the pole, but his bike quit on the 22nd lap. Undeterred—or maybe furious—he came back to win the last race of the season, edging series winner and teammate Doug Polen.
When the dust settled, American Ducati rider Doug Polen won the WSB series with nine wins and 371 points. Frenchman Raymond Roche had six wins and 336 points to take 2nd place for Ducati, and Australian Rob Phillis had two wins and 288 points to be 3rd for Kawasaki. Giancarlo Falappa was 4th with four wins and 279 points, but it is easy to see how close he came to being second. The next year he would finish 5th in the series, but he started with a bang—winning the first three races outright.
Falappa was a factor in nearly every one of the 26 races held that year. Had he not crashed in the first race at Sugo on the 10th lap, or had mechanical breakdowns at Phillip Island on the 5th lap in the second race, or at Manfeild on the 22nd lap of the first race, he might have been contending for the title won by Polen. In any case, he beat Polen in the second Manfield race, the last of the season.
In five years, Falappa made 106 WSB starts with 16 wins and 30 podiums, scoring 964 points. Sadly his career was cut short in 1994 after crash testing the new 916. However, he went on to become a race trainer and popular commentator.